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Restrictive nonsense from the EU

Europeans on track to approve ‘link tax’ in push to make U.S. platforms pay up.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivers his State

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivers his State of the Union speech at the European Parliament on September 12, 2018 in Strasbourg, eastern France. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images / FREDERICK FLORIN

In an act of unmitigated stupidity, the European Union Parliament has adopted a ban on Star Trek parodies. And posting photos at sporting events. Or photos with anything copyrighted in the background. The EU wants to tax your memes.

This new Copyright Directive is not final law. But as the directive has a 200-vote majority, it is unlikely to be changed much before a vote is held to finalize it early next year.

The directive gives organizers of sporting events an exclusive right to all public media from the event. Want to take a selfie at the game and post it on Facebook? In the EU, that’s a violation of the law.

The EU has banned linking to any news article if you quote more than one word from that article unless you’ve bought a license to link. The directive’s opponents call this a “link tax.” That’s exactly what it is.

And if this was the EU, if you didn’t like my column and you quoted a few words from it without buying a license, I could shut you down. There will be no freedom to quote and criticize.

Then there’s YouTube. You’ve probably tried to play a video on YouTube and found it’s been taken down for copyright violation. Now Europe would require that all but the smallest sites use automatic filters to prevent any copyrighted material from being uploaded in the first place.

These filters don’t work perfectly. They make no allowance for parodies or fair use. And they are expensive to develop. But big sites like YouTube can afford them, and small sites don’t need them. That means filters are an EU tax imposed only on sites with an ambition to grow.

Just as bad as all of this is what the EU decided not to do. It turned down a proposal for “freedom of panorama.” If you post a photo taken in the EU with a Marvel movie poster in the background, you’ve a criminal.

The EU also turned down a proposal to exempt satire. You know those videos of “Star Trek” Capt. Jean-Luc Picard wearily putting his head in his hand? Or photos of Boromir of “The Lord of the Rings” saying, “One does not simply write an article about memes”? All illegal.

Unlike its libertarian critics, I believe in copyright. I don’t want my writing stolen. And my publishers, like all media firms, have legitimate interests in making sure my work’s not stolen. I support strong, enforceable ways of protecting these interests.

But linking to me using two of my words doesn’t hurt my publishers. Photos at sporting events aren’t a problem: they’re free advertising. Satire does not need a license. Fair use allows quotations a lot longer than one word. The EU’s directive is restrictive nonsense.

Why did the EU do it? Well, partly because big media firms told it to. But mostly, it did it because the EU has almost no major internet firms of its own.

If YouTube was German, this directive would never have been adopted. As a backer of the directive put it, it’s about making “huge American platforms” pay up.

The EU Parliament’s vote is proof that the EU is pathetic and backward-looking. Europe has lost the battle for the internet. It has therefore decided to curl up into a defensive ball and demand that the mostly American firms that lead the internet pay it lots of money.

No way, no how. For every EU effort to tax the First Amendment, we fine back.

As soon as the EU finalizes its law, Congress should retaliate by allowing U.S. courts to impose punitive fines on bogus or excessive European copyright complaints made under the law against U.S. companies or persons. Those fines should be enforceable by seizure of the complainant’s U.S. property.

This law will be an attack on free speech. It is motivated by anti-Americanism. So when anyone tells us that the EU is our friend, remember it’s not. The EU wants to tax your memes.

Ted R. Bromund is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Thatcher Center for Freedom.

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