The plan to ban memes is typical of the ham-fisted EU
TWENTY years ago in these pages, my friend Christopher Booker came up with an apposite phrase to describe EU rules: “using a sledgehammer to miss a nut”. For the latest example, consider the European Commission’s Copyright Directive which, in its present form, will ban memes.
Yes, ban memes. That image of the woman looking on crossly as her boyfriend stares appreciatively at someone else, the one that has been endlessly captioned online? If you’ve used any social media in the past year you’ll know the one I mean. Under the proposed new law, which goes before MEPs in committee in Tuesday, it would disappear from our timelines.
Eurocrats want to place an obligation on internet platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, to take down such content unless there is agreement from the author – in this case, a Catalan photographer called Antonio Guillem. Since it will generally be impractical to check whether an agreement is in place, companies will design their algorithms to block unrecognised material.
Whom will that help? Without the dissemination of his meme, few of us would have heard of Sr Guillem or seen his facially expressive models. The issue for a photographer in his situation is not whether he gets fees for every reproduction. It is whether his craft is exhibited at all. While online popularity does not guarantee increased sales (in Sr Guillem’s case, sadly, it hasn’t) it does at least let an artist advertise his wares.
Dan Dalton, the Conservative MEP, is waging a brave rearguard battle against this latest power-grab, aided by Labour’s Catherine Stihler. As Dalton explains: “Far from helping to nurture creative talent, it means artists, musicians, and writers who upload content to share on the internet might find it is deleted without their consent.”
Brussels is not acting from malice. In a perfect world, intellectual property would be protected just like any other form of property. Artists would receive royalties, however small, from each reproduction of their material. So would, ahem, writers and journalists. But technology has made such a world passé. Once again, the regulators are wheezing several furlongs behind the innovators.
You might think that the banning of subtitled Downfall memes would be no great loss to humanity. But the proposed directive could also block news. When a similar law was passed in Spain, Google stopped linking to the websites of small and medium news organisations, causing their traffic and income to collapse.
Since the Brexit referendum, several tech firms, including Apple, Google and Snapchat, have expanded their London operations. Though they are too polite to say so, I wonder whether they have had enough of the EU’s hostile and ham-fisted approach.
Imagine that meme again, the woman in the foreground labelled “UK”, the ogling man labelled “internet companies” and the cross girlfriend marked “EU-27”. Brexit means we free ourselves from cack-handed laws like this. Not before time.
There is not a scrap of evidence for the existence of King Arthur. But, as the French say, et alors? To quote a particular Frenchman, the 19th-century philosopher Ernest Renan: “Getting your history wrong is part of what makes a nation.”
Thomas Mallory invented a character so inexhaustible that actual events in post-Roman Britain seem trivial next to his story. We glimpse Arthur’s ghost in mounds and fallen stones all over Britain, especially in Wales and Cornwall. And it is hard to think of anywhere more apt than ruined Tintagel, clinging spectacularly to Cornwall’s northern coast. Even its name, stressed Cornish-style on the penultimate syllable, sounds eldritch. It was here, legend has it, that the once and future king was conceived during a storm, his father magically disguised as his mother’s husband.
Now it turns out that Tintagel might plausibly have been a Romano-British centre when Arthur is imagined to have existed. Script carved into a seventh-century window ledge suggests the existence of a literate, prosperous and presumably Christian population. Do those bare scratches strengthen the case for a historical Arthur? No. But they enrich the legend; and that, surely, matters more. FOLLOW Daniel Hannan on Twitter @DanielJHannan; at telegraph.co.uk/opinion
Online phenomenon: Antonio Guillem’s “disloyal boyfriend” meme swiftly became ubiquitous on social media