The plan to ban memes is typ­i­cal of the ham-fisted EU

The Sunday Telegraph - - Sunday Comment -

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

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