The EU Copyright Directive: the answer to many SL users’ prayers, but also a mortal risk for Second Life itself

NOTE: Post co-written with Odysseus Giacosa.

One of the most popular demands among Second Life’s community, and especially the content creators, has been the development, installation, and deployment, of technologies and technical means that would prevent the upload of content that infringes on their own intellectual property. Such a technology, which computer developers and internet experts call an “upload filter”, is supposed to work as follows:

When you attempt to upload something to an internet platform, the upload system analyses it and compares it to a database of copyrighted material. If it is found to bear any similarity with a copyrighted work, then it is rejected and you are told what a naughty something you are for attempting to rip off a poor creator. This is pretty much what YouTube’s Content ID system does: you upload some music, it checks it against its database and, if you can’t get an ad-powered licence for it to be uploaded, it’s rejected. You may appeal the automated system’s decision if you think your upload was rejected in error, but don’t hold your breath.

Now, such a system is supposed to protect the intellectual property of the creative people among us. Well… Not quite. For starters, record companies and royalty collecting agencies (yes, the ones that pay a pittance to artists and keep all the profits to themselves and can’t seem to get enough get enough) hate ContentID, because it doesn’t catch everything, and because it allows users to bypass their marketing policies and decisions (like not providing certain content to certain countries), although they’re still happy to get the ad-generated revenue. Artists, commenters and creators hate it, because filters are never going to be smart enough to understand context. So, ContentID generates far too many false positives, and on many occasions it’s stopped the creator of a certain work to upload his / her own work! Not to mention the “censorship through fraudulent copyright claims” practice, which is rampant.

In Second Life, many prokanoid creators believe that everyone who visits their in-world stores is a copybotter, or a potential copybotter. Therefore, in their prokanoia, they’ve resorted to using devices of dubious conformance to Linden Lab’s ToS, and they’ve often demanded the deployment of such an upload filtering system in Second Life. LL’s techs have said, time and time again, that they simply wouldn’t and couldn’t do that.

In comes the European Union…

Seeking to “update” its already draconian (and retroactive!) intellectual property laws, the European Commission, which is the only body in the European Union that is allowed the legislative initiative, embarked on a project led by Axel Voss, which, in the name of “going after Google and making it pay the artists more” removes many rights from users, small artists, journalists, archivists, librarians, scientists etc. In fact, in a vulgar display of bait-and-switch, the clauses that provided for fair remuneration to the struggling artists were removed. Mr. Voss got them to support (at least initially) his plans and then he threw them under the bus. Not surprising, given that the biggest academic publishers (Springer, Elsevier, Kluwer among them) support his efforts – academic publishers are notorious for charging ridiculous money for article downloads and journal subscriptions, while paying NOTHING to the scientists that toiled to write and review all of this stuff.

The most controversial articles are #Article11 (linktax) and #Article13 (upload filters). In a nutshell, the linktax thing boils down to the following: If you link to a news site’s article and include even a small part of the title, or a caption consisting of part of the original text (the original ambition was “more than two consecutive words”, which is bloody insane), you’ll have to pay the news site. Never mind the fact you’re sending traffic, clicks, and possibly ad-generated revenue, or even subscribers their way!

As for the upload filters, these are every prokanoid‘s wet dream:

If you’re about to upload something to any platform that makes enough money (the current threshold is 105 million euros or thereabouts) and has been active in Europe long enough (more than three years), then the platform is obliged to set up an upload filter that will scan whatever you’re trying to upload and reject it if it’s even remotely  similar to something that’s been copyrighted. This includes:

  • Email texts;
  • Instant messages;
  • Source code (scripts and such), unless it’s open source, but determining stuff like that can be rather hard;
  • Sounds
  • Videos
  • Images (textures in Second Life)
  • 3D models

As you can guess, we’re all in for a major clusterfuck. Communications will be preemptively censored in the name of “copyright”. Yes, that includes your pixelsex emoting and the steamy IMs you exchange with your SL partner. Especially those pixelsex sessions. When it comes to the rest, I think it’s all pretty obvious how your hobbyist, prosumer, semi-pro, full-time professional SL activity will be affected. Especially if you’ve bought third-party 3D models and intend to upload them to SL, they’ll be rejected. Don’t hope for an appeals system – LL isn’t big enough to employ staff that’ll examine your receipts for the purchase of the rejected 3D models or check to see that they are, in fact, in the public domain.

It’s such a horrible piece of legislation, that Germany’s  Data Privacy Commissioner is against it. It’s not just the “techno-communists” of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Article 13’s potential impact on Second Life

Your esteemed, award-winning bloggers have been caught sleeping at the wheel. They’ve been too busy trying to stay on the content creators’ good side, either to avoid drama, or to get a few freebies for “reviews”, or get to be first to enter a new, cookie-cutter event. They didn’t see it coming. In RL, we’ve both been working hard to get people to realise how dangerous it all is. And we both know full well, as we’ve both been around long enough, that Article 13 is just what most SL content creators have been whining for all these years.

But here’s the irony: All these creators that have been clamouring for upload filters built into SL? Yeah, well – ALL their stuff would be rejected, and quite possibly retroactively removed, under the auspices of the upcoming EU Copyright Directive. You see, there’s nothing original in SL: There’s just soooo much stuff that’s been copied from RL furniture catalogues, RL fashion magazines, etc. If LL wants to retain its European users and creators, it’ll have to, well, ban them from uploading anything – that’s how heavy-handed the filtering will have to be. And if its effect is retroactive (because the right-wing European People’s Party, which drafted this law, loves giving stricter copyright laws retroactive power), then basically anything that was uploaded from Europe all these years will have to be removed. SL will lose a huge chunk of its marketplace products and in-world content. The virtual economy would suffer like crazy. So much, that we doubt it’d be able to survive or recover.

Honestly, if we were in Ebbe Altberg’s shoes, we’d seriously consider removing all EU-based users and banning them from Second Life altogether, to avoid going back and forth in the courts day in and day out, just because a bunch of sleazy conservative Eurocommissars and Members of the European Parliament thought it was a good opportunity to get a bunch of money below-the-tables. But even that might not be able to mitigate the harm.

At any rate, get back to your gossip. Just don’t say we didn’t warn ya about what you’ve been whining for, now that you’re getting it.

Oh, and if you want more info on the state of play and what you can do to prevent this crap from happening, follow these people and institutions on Twitter and on the web:

Electronic Frontier Foundation@EFF

European Digital Rights@edri


Julia Reda (Pirate Party MEP)@Senficon

Save Your Internet campaign@SaveYourInternet

Corporate Europe Observatory@corporateeurope

Glyn Moody@glynmoody



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