Spring is here and though we are living in difficult times, the tech industry hasn't missed a beat and once again surprised us on 1 April with exciting and ground-breaking announcements. For instance, Razer announced a full body suit that allows you to immerse yourself in the metaverse by completely syncing with your consciousness and senses.
The social media platform Reddit, on the other hand, repeated a creative social experiment from 2017.
For four days, every registered user of the platform could place a coloured pixel every five minutes on a 1000x1000 pixel (eventually expanded to 2000x2000 pixel) online canvas in the r/place subforum. Users were also able to place pixels over those placed by other users. What sounds chaotic at first turned out to be a social experiment that illustrated today's internet culture at its best. Through collaboration and coordination of various internet communities, everyone wanted to leave their mark on the limited canvas, and thus a collaborative, constantly changing work of art was created. To give you a better idea, r/place is archived here.
The canvas featured content from national murals (the German community managed to draw their flag horizontally across the entire canvas and to defend it to the end) over internet memes (for example, a functioning QR code which resolved to the music video of Never gonna give you up by Rick Astley) to highly complex artworks (such as Rembrandt's "The Nightwatch" or the poster art for STAR WARS A New Hope). On 4 April the project ended, and Reddit finally deactivated the function to place coloured pixels and only allowed white tiles to be placed, which ultimately led to the destruction of the artwork by the users themselves. An atlas explaining each element can be found here.
In conclusion, r/place did not just shed light on a lot of the psychological aspects of modern internet culture, but also raised exciting legal questions. Especially since it did not take long for the first unofficial NFTs to appear. In terms of copyright, the first question to ask is who the author of this collaborative artwork is. Although the answer will probably vary from country to country (depending on the location of the contributor), the placement of a single pixel will generally not be sufficient to establish authorship. Rather, those initiators and coordinators in the communities who were responsible for the realisation of these pixel artworks, and whom the other community members joined, will probably be regarded as authors. And since those do not have to be registered users, even Reddit itself might not have a licence to use the entire artwork. What appears certain, in any case, is that there will be a multitude of co-authors. In addition, since copyrighted material and trademarks also found their place on the canvas, this raises another series of questions, e.g. can the placement of one pixel by a user – that helped complete the copy of the protected work – constitute copyright infringement or does this fall under fair use?
Putting these questions aside, April Fools' Day is certainly a source of creativity especially in the tech industry, as it brings the internet community closer together and fuels our creative legal thinking to find new solutions. Accordingly, please enjoy our latest update on innovative and creative developments across all areas of technology and digitalisation.