The EU Copyright Directive has been rubberstamped. Now what?

So, our worst fears came to be. The legacy content lobby, using a lot of lobbying (read: bribes) muscle and about as much appeal to MEPs’ and people’s sentiment, as it always had, managed to pass the draconian EU Copyright Directive, in the name of “protecting creators’ rights”. Funnily enough, it’s the legacy content lobby (i.e. publishing houses, record, TV and film companies) that’s historically:

  • sought not only to monopolise and control what content you access, but also who gets to have his / her work published;
  • stopped technical and scientific progress through the patent system that’s always been rotten to the core from the very beginning;
  • made sure that the multitude of cases where perfectly legitimate content gets pulled down through fraudulent and frivolous copyright infringement claims goes entirely unpunished;
  • made sure artists get only a miniscule portion of their work’s worth – in many jurisdictions, an author gets 6% of his / her book’s shelf price and, more often than not, the publisher demands that the author foots the bill for the proofreading, copy editing, and publishing costs – in the music world, many record companies nowadays will tell you to pay for studio time, recording, mastering, and printing yourself, and then they’ll pay you a pittance from the sales of the record, if they even bother to promote it, that is.
  • scientific publishers like the Axel Springer / Elsevier / John Wiley etc mafia (yes, it’s a mafia) keep taxpayer-funded research out of the public’s reach by putting it behind paywalls, charging exorbitant amounts of money for article downloads and journal subscriptions. Interestingly enough, they don’t foot the bill for the research, proofreading, or peer reviewing of the scientific articles they sell. And they don’t pay the authors a single penny from the download price.

Yet, the fine gentlemen and gentlewomen in these “pillars of our culture” have convinced MEPs, EU commissioners, congressmen and congresswomen (in the US), senators, MPs, ministers, and – of course – you, the public, that they are the only ones who care about the rights of the creators, and that their interests are 1000000% aligned with the interests of the creators; the very creators that, as I’ve demonstrated, they’ve been ripping off for ages.

Where do we go from here?

Under the auspices of Article 17 (formerly 13) of the Directive, an online platform where users upload content (any kind of content, from 3D meshes to images, from text to audio and video clips) is obliged to install upload filters to identify any attempt to upload and share copyrighted material and prevent it. Are any online platforms exempted from this rule? Yes and no. To be exempted, an online platform must:

  1. Be younger than three years, and
  2. Have less than five million unique monthly visitors, and
  3. Have an annual turnover of less than €10 million.

From this, it is quite clear that Second Life cannot be exempted. It is an old platform, it has a very large annual turnover… So, upload filters it is. As I and Odysseus Giacosa wrote a while back, these upload filters will have to identify if what you are trying to upload and share in-world is copyrighted by someone else, and block it.

Affected content:

The legal text of the Directive is deliberately vague, so what the filters will be required to block is anyone’s guess. I’ll list below what can be affected, and how:

  • Text (instant messages, group chats, notecards) – to identify and prevent the uploading and sharing of copyrighted texts in-world. Axel Voss, the Directive’s poster boy, wanted to prohibit reposting (Article 15, formerly Article 11) “snippets larger than two consecutive words of an original article title or text” – which means that even the most basic in-world communications could be automatically and pre-emptively censored by the filters.
  • Images (textures, snapshots) – let’s face it, we all buy textures, and we either apply them outright on our builds, or edit them and combine them with our own works. Do you think your favourite couturiers in SL make every texture all by themselves? I’m sure they make many of them in-house, but, to speed production times up, they often use third-party textures that they’ve bought legitimately.
  • Meshes – If it’s a copyrighted or trademarked design, or if you’re trying to upload a mesh that is either copyrighted by someone else, or contains such a mesh (even if you’ve actually purchased the mesh legally and have the necessary licence), kiss it goodbye.
  • Sounds – This is really tricky. Many in-world pianos and such play back sound clips of music. Some are licensed under a Creative Commons licence, others are no longer covered by copyright. This, mind you, also applies to in-world voice chat. If you’re reciting a poem that’s still under copyright, your speech will be bleeped off.
  • Video – Since very little video content is not covered by copyright, you can be sure that, unless it’s a video you recorded yourself and doesn’t contain any copyrighted or trademarked stuff in it, it’ll be blocked. Even things like Maya tutorials can be blocked, as the UI of Maya is copyrighted, trademarked, patented, whatever – and this also goes for in-world “books” (see images).
  • Scripts – Even code is not exempted from upload filtering.

But why will all of this content be at risk of being blocked? What if I’ve bought a bunch of textures legally and want to use them in my SL builds? What if I want to kit-bash a bunch of meshes I’ve bought legally and upload the end result to SL? What if…? Well, it doesn’t matter. The legal text’s approach is clear: Identify and block. If it’s copyrighted (or trademarked) and if Linden Lab does not have a licence to host it, it’ll be blocked. It doesn’t matter that you have purchased a licence from the creator / merchant of the content. The Directive demands that the host (i.e. Linden Lab, or any other similar platform) get a licence for it, BEFORE you even think of uploading it. If that sounds stupid and insane, it is. And how exactly is Linden Lab supposed to have a licence for whatever you might possibly want to upload, or even say, while you’re in-world? You have the copyright fetishists to thank for this, and all the prokanoid idiots who, for so many years, have been foaming at the mouth, pestering the Lab to deploy upload filters to “prevent copybotters”.

What does this all mean for Second Life and other similar virtual worlds?

Death. Plain and simple. They rely on user-generated content, and users create virtual environments reminiscent of what they already know. Users know Coca-Cola, BMW, Barcelona chairs, Eames lounge chairs, the Eiffel Tower, Technics SL-1200 Mk 2 record decks, iPods – so that’s what they’ll recreate. These things are all part of our popular culture. If we can’t depict any of this stuff, if we can’t even create derivative works based on what we know and love, then not only will our virtual worlds become deserts, but our own creativity outside of the context of virtual worlds will be silenced, thanks to the idiotic belief that derivative works are bad, and that there is a parthenogenesis in the creative process. I must point out here that “artists” and “creators” who claim that everything they make is “original” are hypocritical liars, to say the least: they’ve been influenced by others, they’ve copied others’ works while they were learning, they’ve copied others’ works in their active years. Would you like to look for evidence of this in the blues and jazz scenes?

Sadly, in the face of this existential threat, the Lab was caught asleep at the wheel. They were too busy throwing money at Sansar, instead of flying to the EU Commission’s headquarters in Brussels to lobby for your creative freedom and their own survival. Frankly, even though I kind-of like Ebbe, as he’s the only CEO the Lab has ever had who seems to know what he’s doing, I won’t shed a tear when this Directive kills off virtual worlds. And, honestly, I won’t shed a tear when SL content creators’ businesses die with it. LL had one job: to protect their investment. They sat idly and watched the copywrong extremist lunatics install an automatic censorship machine across Europe. SL content creators had one job: to ensure that their creativity would remain unimpeded by the torches-and-pitchforks copywrong mob. Both parties did sweet fuck-all. I don’t have an SL business, I’m not employed by LL, I’m not an award-winning (ROFLMAO) pundit with a monetised blog, so I don’t have a horse in this race.

At any rate, you all can’t say I didn’t warn you beforehand. I was always there to provide advance and fair warning. You just didn’t listen. So, you have two years left to enjoy the last days of your beloved virtual worlds, whatever they’re called – Second Life, Sansar, High Fidelity (yeah, right), OpenSim… Kiss them all goodbye. There’s a very slim chance to undo this damage in the European Court of Justice, but, given that it recently ruled in favour of ISDS and corporate bullying against national and regional governments, I’m not holding my breath. I’ll put it bluntly: Virtual world developers have failed you. Your MEPs have failed you. Your MPs have failed you. Your governments have failed you. And you have failed yourselves.