The deal … aims to ensure that the rights and obligations of copyright law will also apply to the internet. The co-legislators also strove to ensure that the internet remains a space for freedom of expression. Snippets from news articles can thus continue to be shared, as can Gifs and memes.While a modernisation of copyright for the digital age is needed, there are serious doubts as to the impact of these new obligations on freedom of expression as well as cultural diversity. These concerns are exacerbated when dealing with parodies as these require the public to understand that the expression is for parody or satire purposes. Striking a balance The dissemination of online parodies generally involves three types of actors. Firstly content creators – authors for example – who receive copyright protection for the works created. Then there are the platforms hosting content – including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Finally, there are those users who copy copyright-protected materials to create parodies and, in turn, disseminate these on various platforms. Incidentally, users can receive copyright protection for the content they create. Copyright law should aim to strike a fair balance between the protection offered to rights holders and the needs of society to have access to creative works without the interference of rights holders in certain specific circumstances. To balance the expansion of protection for rights holders, territories, including the US and the EU introduced exceptions and limitations to copyright laws to allow the creation of parodies. These are the “fair use” rule and an exception for parody, pastiche and caricature. Parodies involve the humorous reproduction and transformation of protected works – which means that without the defence offered by this exception there is a danger that they will infringe the original creator’s copyright if prior authorisation has not been given. A good case study would be the many memes created using the 2004 movie Downfall, set in Hitler’s bunker in the last days of the Third Reich. A scene towards the end of the film shows Hitler reacting furiously to the news of Germany’s imminent defeat. By rewriting the subtitles (the movie was made in German) hundreds of people have turned the scene into a spoof vehicle for commenting on bad news – whether it’s that Twitter has gone down or that Oasis has split up. The rights holders, Constantin Films, issued infringement claims and many of the memes disappeared leaving only the notice reproduced below.
The EU is trying to protect your memes: but it’s a battle against humourless algorithms – Sabine Jacques
The European parliament will vote at the end of March 2019 on a proposal to reform EU copyright law. Under this proposal, online platforms arguably have to introduce technological filters to tackle copyright infringements. This will be of particular interest to people who make satirical memes or parodies based on online content such as art or films, much of which is subject to copyright protection. According to a statement from the parliament released at the end of February: