The Meme-ing of Life: The Reform Copyright War


Once, right after the internet, there was an expectation for lex informatica to appear – a legal order, non-determined by borders and territories that should regulate digital world. It did not happen. The regulation of digital world is still related territorial principles in the legal regulations.” Popova said. Image: Alexander Kachkaev, Creative Commons License, Flickr.


Outdated laws in some member states could make you a criminal for sharing photos of the Eiffel Tower at night, a delinquent for posting a meme, and a teacher an outlaw for screening educational films for students. Under new EU legislation promising “wider online access to works by users across the EU” copyright law will be transformed – but the above laws will remain stoically in place.


While most member states offer a “Freedom of Panorama” (FoP) exception to their copyright laws, allowing public works and buildings to be photographed and published, Italy and France offer no such exception. This means that while a picture of the Eiffel Tower during the day could make you Insta-famous, one at night could make you Insta-jailed, due to the copyright on the evening light display by the artist.

Intellectual Property Law expert Plamena Popova explained the legalities further: “FoP could be regarded (and it is in fact) a limitation of the exclusive rights provided in favour of the creators.”

“Thus, the strong protection of authors’ rights [in France and Italy] represents a certain philosophy in authors’ protection which is determined by cultural, economic and historic (pre)conditions. This is one reason why balance is not easy to be achieved and existing provisions to be overruled” Popova said.

Non-profit group Mozilla have criticized proposed reforms by the European Commission’s Digital Single Market Strategy.

The reforms “fail to update the existing, outdated framework” a Mozilla spokesperson said, “we need to update and harmonise the rules so we can tinker, create, share, and learn on the internet. Education, parody, panorama, remix and analysis shouldn’t be unlawful to empower everyday people to shape and improve the internet.”

Mozilla have called for reform in these areas, arguing that current laws stifle opportunity and innovation. They have launched an online campaign urging the EU to bring internet laws into the 21st century, provide harmonised law for transformative works like memes, gifs and parody, and sending a message to the EU, “don’t break the internet”.

“We believe the internet is a global public resource that must remain open and accessible to all” a Mozilla spokesperson commented.

The proposed laws create further contentions within Europe’s copyright system. “The regulation of digital world is still related to territorial principles in the legal regulations” Popova said.

“We’re not asking to legalise plagiarism or piracy. It’s important that creators are treated fairly, including proper remuneration, for their creations and works. But wrong-headed copyright law dissuades internet users from working freely” a Mozilla spokesperson said.

The current proposals presented by the Commission in September will now go to the European Parliament and Council of Ministers to be debated over coming months.

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