Why the emerging new copyright landscape is both good news and bad news for creators and the public

The Walled Culture blog has been writing about the hot topic of generative AI and its impact on copyright for nearly six months now. One of the sharpest commentators on this area is Dr Andres Guadamuz, whom we interviewed a year ago. He’s just written a great blog post about a video by Corridor Crew entitled “Anime Rock, Paper Scissors”. It’s a fun, short animation – only seven minutes long – that is of note for the following reason, as described by Guadamuz:

What makes this a remarkable exercise is that the animation was made with artificial intelligence tools, particularly Stable Diffusion. While the voices, music, and acting are all human, the animation was achieved by training an SD model using stills from Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust, and using other SD tools to superimpose the images to the actors.

As Guadamuz says in his commentary, Anime Rock, Paper Scissors is particularly interesting as a harbinger of a new kind of user-generated content, where copyright is increasingly irrelevant:

for a generation of content creators, copyright is not something that bothers them greatly, their only interaction with it has been through platform enforcement, so for them copyright law has become whatever YouTube, Instagram, Twitch and TikTok say it is. Infringement are seen through the lens of not falling foul of whatever rules the platforms have, while copyright ownership is also less important in a world of subscriptions, endorsements, and merchandise. Sure, there will be some people who will still benefit from copyright, but for the most part an entire ecosystem is growing without any thought towards copyright.

It’s good news that the outdated and restrictive framework of traditional copyright is largely being ignored by creators, including those using these new AI-based tools – all released as open source in the case of the Anime Rock, Paper Scissors project, another welcome development. But as Guadumuz rightly notes, it is being replaced with rules laid down and policed by the platform giants – YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. To a certain extent, those rules are arbitrary, and individuals have little recourse against decisions based on them, unlike formal laws, which can be challenged in the courts. That’s a retrogressive development.

Moreover, the shift to this kind of privatised law-making provides the copyright industry with multiple opportunities to shape those new rules. It can do this through backroom chats with Internet platforms, “encouraging” them to move in a certain direction, using carrots and sticks. It can publicly threaten and then instigate legal action against the online companies. And it can lobby governments to bring in laws that force platforms to change the rules in favour of the copyright industry, as happened with Article 17 of the EU Copyright Directive.

That shift is something that groups working to empower creators and the public in the digital world need to bear in mind when approaching future battles that will take place in this new copyright landscape.

Featured image by Corridor Crew.

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