How Europe’s New Copyright Directive Targets Your Favorite Mods

How many images or videos have you seen of Minecraft? If you’ve seen versions of the game with fantastic characters from some of your favorite franchises or exotic lands, then you may have been looking at a mod. Modifications (or “mods”) are how members of the gaming community add to the games they love. Mods are changes and additions to a game's code and assets that can alter the appearance or experience of a game. Mods have become quite popular over the years, and some game developers -- such as Valve -- even encourage mods by releasing software development kits through developer portals. Companies realize that mods are great for business and keep games alive and popular, enabling them to stand on their own for much longer.

On June 20, the European Union Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs voted in favor of Article 13 as part of their Copyright Directive. Because the internet is a global network, what happens in Europe can affect the United States. (Most recently, the rollover effects of GDPR flooded Americans’ inboxes with updates to privacy policies and terms of service email alerts.) Article 13 would require that platforms that "provide to the public access to large amounts of works or other subject-matter uploaded by their users" must check for copyright violations through "the use of effective content recognition technologies." In other words, Article 13 means that where users were previously held liable for copyright infringements of uploads to the web, that responsibility now falls to the platforms, making them liable for a user’s potential copyright violation.

Some platforms are already trying to do the kind of content-scanning Article 13 requires. Youtube, for example, has invested a lot into its Content ID checker. It’s not perfect; sometimes videos get flagged that shouldn’t, while other videos aren't flagged which should be. But by the standards put forth in Article 13, that isn’t even enough to comply. Article 13 asks smaller platforms to create a perfect algorithm to check all the code and assets uploaded for a new mod to a game like World of Warcraft.

The cost of this will be extremely high for platforms. If platforms invest a lot in this for Europe, it is likely that they will use these same systems on content generated by American users. Many mods right now are just uploaded onto popular forums for the games; while there are some large portals (such as Valve’s Steam), the price of creating these upload checks will decimate smaller platforms.

Modders are a vibrant and active community of developers online. They participate in forums, play each other's mods, and help resolve issues on their GitHub repositories. Many game developers and some companies got their beginnings in modding. When developers need help on code for their mod, they are often asked to post that segment of code online for other developers to see on sites like StackOverflow. Uploading such slices of code may trigger Article 13 filters, leaving the developer unable to find help. Consequently, Article 13 could reduce the number of developers creating mods -- which could ultimately result in fewer developers and game studios.

Today, the full Parliament will vote on Article 13. The vote will not just affect the EU. If you are part of the EU, visit https://saveyourinternet.eu/ to urge your Member of Parliament to vote against Article 13.

Image credit: VG24/7

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