How will proposed European Union Copyright Law affect the United States?

How will proposed European Union Copyright Law affect the United States?

Laws related to the ownership of property like a house or a car are typically easy to determine.  The law itself might not be easy to read, but which law to apply is generally easy to figure out.  The government that physically surrounds the property makes the rules that apply to that property. If your house is in New York, you don’t have to worry about Georgia laws.  If your car is in New York, you don’t have to worry about Georgia laws unless you decide to drive to Georgia.  Georgia property law is not going to apply to a homeowner in New York, or a car owner that drives in New York.  A plaintiff that sues someone in a New York court for violating a Georgia law will be told by the court they have failed to state a claim.  A plaintiff that sues a person that lives in New York in a Georgia court, will be told that the court does not have personal jurisdiction over the defendant.

Intellectual Property is similar, and probably less complicated.  In the United States, Patent law and copyright law are governed exclusively by federal law.  The United States is a common law jurisdiction so federal courts in different states can interpret the same law in different ways, but eventually the diverging court opinions will be harmonized by the Supreme Court of the United States. Trademark Law is a little more complicated in the United States because it is governed by both state and federal law.

Laws between countries are typically treated the same way, the laws of a country only apply to residents of a country and the courts within a country will only trouble themselves with matters that involve a defendant that resides within a country. However, recently proposed laws within the European Union are raising concerns around the globe.

The European Union’s  Legal Affairs Committee approved a piece of legislation in June 2018, called the Copyright Directive, which would update the copyright laws within the member nations of the European Union.  The law still must be approved by the European Union parliament to be adopted, but many legal scholars are concerned that the Copyright Directive will negatively affect people outside of the European Union.

The purpose of the Copyright Directive is to update European Union law to deal with the unique issues created by the internet.  Two provisions of the Copyright Directive are considered controversial.  Article 11 of the Copyright Directive would require content providers on the internet to license media to which they link.  Article 13 of the Copyright Directive would make content providers liable for copyright infringement committed by users.  Article 13 creates an obligation for content providers on the internet to screen user uploads for content which is copyrighted.  Both of these Articles directly conflict with provisions of United States Copyright Law and the copyright laws of many other sovereign nations such as the People’s Republic of China.  Both the United States and the Peoples Republic of China have laws in place which shield internet content providers from liability for copyright infringement committed by users.

While the European Union is free to regulate activity within its borders, Articles 11 and 13 of the Copyright Directive are not limited to internet content providers within the European Union.  Copyright owners in the European Union could sue companies like Google and Baidu for activity which is allowed in their home countries.  For one country to attempt to regulate the activity of citizens within another country is unheard of in this age.  Hopefully the Copyright Directive will be amended to respect the borders of sovereign nations.

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