Yesterday, the newest addition to non-compliant EU goods was announced: memes. The copyright directive, recently approved by the European parliament, aims to empower and protect the intellectual property of creative individuals who post on the internet, from record labels to media companies.

But many campaigners have warned of severe unintended consequences, and they’re right to be worried – this is a massive blow to internet freedom. Under the new law, all kinds of content could be censored, from popular music videos such as “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, which has over six billion views on YouTube, to your average Peter Griffin meme.

There are two parts which are a cause for concern. Article 13 (renamed article 17) states that online platforms such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are liable for their users’ copyright infringements. This destroys the long-held principle of not “shooting the messenger” – that platforms should not be legally responsible for what their users say and share.

The controls on content shared on the internet are currently held in a fine balance, and Google was right: the details matter. Naturally, media platforms will overblock content to limit the legal risk and avoid paying huge fines. For ordinary users of the internet, complex upload methods mean that harmless content from cat gifs to Shrek memes could get banned in Europe’s equivalent of the great firewall.

The damage extends to newer and smaller platforms too, which cannot afford the massive costs of an automated filter system. Under article 11, otherwise known as the “link tax”, press publishers will be able to charge platforms such as Google News for using snippets of text, even in search results.

Furthermore, smaller news sites won’t be able to compete as they cannot afford the licensing rights to show content on their sites. This severely hinders innovation and puts even more power into the hands of large publishing companies and tech giants.

The Change.org petition opposing the new copyright law reached over five million signatures, which is the largest vote in the website’s history. But despite the best efforts of campaigners and activists, the final vote on the directive was passed yesterday, with 348 MEPs in favour and 274 against – not a close vote by any means.

This is deeply troubling because it openly displays the freedom-averse mindset that the majority of EU officials have. The EU would rather side with the multinational publishing industry than its citizens and their enjoyment of creative freedom. It is yet another example of policymaking from a distance – is it any wonder that Europeans feel left behind?

So what now? Member states have two years to implement these new regulations. After that, the internet as we know it will never be the same again. There is uncertainty for Britain too, but it’s likely that we’ll adopt article 11 and article 13. If Brexit is delayed or revoked, the country will end up having to accept these restrictions, and even if Brexit happens soon, they may be retained by our own government.

Losing this vote shows just how important the fight for a free internet is. It is no easy feat to stand up for freedom of expression and there will always be paternalists trying to limit our choices and take away our autonomy.

So when policymakers suggest further restrictions for online content, which they undoubtedly will, we must fight for the internet with its original purpose in mind: to decentralise and provide easy access to information. We must resist the advances of statist politicians who would challenge this, whichever parliament they sit in.

Written by Connie Yan

Connie Yan is a student at the University of Sheffield. She attended the ASI and IEA’s Freedom Week 2018 and is a Local Coordinator at Students for Liberty.