Brexit results in 'eU-turn' on Meme Ban

The UK leaves but Memes are here to stay!

Following the UK leaving the EU on Friday 31 January 2020, albeit in a transitory period until the end of 2020, there was one immediate positive outcome for UK based memelords and meme fans alike. The anticipated “Meme Ban” will not be brought into UK law.

What is the so called ‘Meme Ban’?

The EU Copyright Directive is a controversial piece of legislation that is due to be implemented across EU Member States. It addresses how copyrighted material is shared on online platforms and its most controversial component is Article 17, which requires online platforms to stop copyrighted material being shared on their platforms. With so much content shared between users of online platforms, there have been fears that such platforms will be left with no choice but to use automated filters to takedown and remove copyrighted content. The goal being to redirect revenue from the tech giants to the original creators of the content.

Given this new and very significant burden of responsibility added to the shoulders of online platforms, Tech giants such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have naturally been against the Directive. Whilst memes technically fall under the copyright exception relating to content that is merely “for purposes of quotation, criticism, review, caricature, parody and pastiche”, the fear is that the automated removal technology that platforms may implement will not be able to distinguish between genuine copyright infringement and excepted copyright material. The internet therefore coined the term ‘Meme Ban’ for the EU Copyright Directive.

However, UK Minister for Universities and Science, Chris Skidmore, has confirmed that the UK will not implement the EU Copyright Directive now that we have left the EU and so memers can all rejoice.

Why has the UK opted not to implement the EU Copyright Directive?

            The UK was actually a key player in the original inception of the EU Copyright Directive and originally supported it. If the UK was really not keen on the Directive or on Article 17 (previously Article 13), as a strong EU player, it could in fact have blocked it. Many are therefore now suggesting that this reversal of adoption of the Directive is a mere PR stunt.

The topic of copyright freedom online has been hotly debated and will continue to be hotly debated with a very tricky balance between freedom to share content online and obtain knowledge versus the right for creators to control or benefit from their content. Legislators argue that online platforms are the one benefitting from the content at the expense of all the creators – the artists, writers, journalists, and so forth.

Will the decision not to implement the Directive benefit business?

            One industry that will particularly be hit hard by the lack of implementation is the music industry, who have been campaigning for years for platforms such as YouTube and Facebook to face more responsibility for tackling content that contains infringing content belonging to record labels, songwriters and artists alike.

There are suggestions that, on the other hand, this could benefit startups and smaller platforms who cannot afford to implement the technology required to scan and remove content. Julia Reda, a former MEP for the Pirate Party Germany, predicts that “not implementing Article 17 makes the UK more attractive for running platform businesses”. However, the Directive does not require smaller companies to act in such a manner regardless. Any companies that meet all of the following 3 criteria would not have been required to implement takedown technology:

  1. It has been around for less than 3 years;

  2. Annual turnover is below €10 million; and

  3. It has fewer than 5 million unique monthly visitors.


Furthermore, the lack of implementation of this law is unlikely to be a significant consideration for many businesses about whether to do business outside the EU, in comparison to the other consequences of Brexit.

Not much will practically change over the next 11 months, but for now we can all rest easy that we can share and enjoy memes without any fear of copyright infringement.

Dates Feb 03, 2020

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