576 German Artists Want EU Copyright Directive Made Worse, With No Exceptions For Memes Or Mashups
from the promise?-what-promise? dept
When the EU Copyright Directive was being drawn up, one of the main battlegrounds concerned memes. The fear was that the upload filters brought in by the new law would not be able to distinguish between legal use of copyright material for things like memes, quotation, criticism, review, caricature, parody and pastiche, and illegal infringements. Supporters of the Directive insisted that memes and such-like would be allowed, and that it was simply scaremongering to suggest otherwise. When the Directive was passed, BBC News even ran a story with the headline “Memes exempt as EU backs controversial copyright law“. The MEP Mary Honeyball is quoted as saying: “There’s no problem with memes at all. This directive was never intended to stop memes and mashups.”
But just as supporters insisted that upload filters would not be obligatory — and then afterwards changed their story, admitting they were the only way to implement the new law — so people who insisted that memes and parodies would still be allowed are now demanding that they should be banned. Copyright companies were the first to make that shift, and now a group of 576 German artists have sent a letter to the German government and politicians complaining about the proposed implementation of the Copyright Directive in their country (original in German). In particular, they are appalled by:
the introduction of all kinds of exceptions, some of which are so outrageously contrary to European law, that we can only shake our heads: up to 20 seconds of music, remixes, mash-ups, samples etc. — everything should be freely usable, without a license.
In other words, precisely the things that supporters of the EU Copyright Directive promised absolutely would be freely usable, without a license, when experts warned that the new legislation could threaten these legal activities. Now these artists are demanding that the German government ignore all those assurances that user rights would indeed be preserved.
However, as Heise Online reports, not all German artists are so selfish in their desire to take away what few rights ordinary members of the public have in the use of copyright material for memes, remixes and the like. A group of 48 top German artists using social media to great effect, and who together have around 88 million followers on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Twitch and TikTok, take a very different view of the German government’s proposed implementation (original in German):
Article 3 paragraph 6 describes the public reproduction of a tiny excerpt of works protected by copyright and parts of works by the user of a service provider, for non-commercial purposes or where insignificant income is involved. In these circumstances, thanks to Article 3 Paragraph 6 it would be legal to use up to 20 seconds of a film, up to 20 seconds of a sound track, up to 1,000 characters of text and a picture of up to 250 kilobytes without having to purchase a license, since the rightsholders are compensated for the usage via the service provider. We content creators expressly support this rule.
This so-called “legalization of memes” shows that the politics of [the German government] is close to how reality operates. What defines our culture is always evolving, also through digitization. Memes have been part of our culture for many years and are finally recognized by this ministerial draft.
The statement from the 48 social media artists also includes a neat encapsulation of why their position is so different from the 576 artists whining about memes and mashups:
we would like to point out that content creators are simultaneously users and owners of copyrights, i.e. [they are both] creatives and companies in the cultural industry.
The 576 artists who wish to deny an Internet user the right to draw on copyright material for memes, parodies, mashups etc. forget that they too draw constantly on the works of others as they create — sometimes explicitly, sometimes more subtly. To cast themselves as some kind of creative priesthood that should be granted special privileges not available to everyone else is not just unfair, but insulting and short-sighted.