Copyright Implications of 5 April Fools’ Jokes

Freedom Bay LogoToday, as most of you likely already know, is April Fools’ Day. A day of pranks, fake news stories and joke headlines.

It’s also one of the worst days to follow news of any type.

Personally, I’ve taken a pact to avoid April Fools’ jokes on this site. I outlined several that I could do in 2008 and even did a joke 3 Count column the next year, which went over like a lead balloon, so since then I have abstained and tried to enjoy the jokes played by others.

On that note, 2013 seems to be a pretty good year for April Fools’ jokes. Though there are too many for me to track or report on, a few have raised some pretty interesting copyright hypotheticals that I wanted to take a look at.

So, without any further ado, here’s a quick look at some of this year’s April Fools’ crop and the potential copyright implications of them.

1. The Freedom Bay

Following its fake move to North Korea, The Pirate Bay has announced that it has moved to the United States.

It’s also replaced it’s trademark brown logo with a red, white and blue one and renamed the site “The Freedom Bay”.

Obviously though, if The Pirate Bay were to “move” to the U.S., it likely wouldn’t be long for the world as there would be a race between copyright holders and law enforcement officials to try to shut it down.

2. The Play-Doh Printer

Also today, Think Geek announced that it is selling a 3D printer for Play-Doh. The printer, which is aimed at kids, connects to an iPad for easy creation and transferring of designs.

While the printer doesn’t exist, with the interest in copyright law and 3D printing, it’d be interesting to see what the fallout would be of this printer if it were to become reality.

Currently, 3D printing is seen as an issue that’s on the horizon for copyright law, having only recently been a topic of discussion at all. In fact, the first 3D-printing-related takedown notices being sent in 2011 and are still moving at a trickle.

A $50 3D printer aimed at kids, even if it just made temporary objects, might go a long way to bring this issue to the forefront, making it less of a “tomorrow” problem and more of a “today” one.

3. Bing’s SEO Tag

Google may be better known for its April Fools’ jokes Bing pulled out a couple of its own, with one parodying the plain layout of Google’s site and the other taking a shot at the entire search engine optimization industry (SEO).

According to Bing, the premise of the SEO tag is simple, it allows users to select where they will rank in the search results. Simply select your query, set your position and be done. You can also say that your site must be ahead of a competitor.

Obviously, if this were real, spammers would be having a field day with it, using the SEO tag to rank themselves ahead of legitimate sites, including those they took content from. This could, theoretically, increase the motivations for copyright holders to file DMCA notices with the search engines.

After all, many don’t bother simply because, most of the time, Google and Bing do a decent job preventing the copycats from rising to the top. Change that and a lot more people might suddenly start caring.

Clearly, there are many good reason why Google and Bing set the search rankings, not the webmasters.

4. Google Nose

Probably the best known April Fools’ joke this year, Google Nose is a fake new product that enables smartphone users to smell the things they search for.

The idea is simple enough, search for what you want to smell, tap the “Smell” button and then hold your nose against the designated spot on your phone to smell.

Of course, if you try it, everything will smell oddly like your phone (or case) but if it were, it would represent a major breakthrough in scents.

Traditionally, smells and the process for making them have not been copyrightable. Though trademark and patent issues are often raised, smells and how to make them don’t qualify for copyright protection.

But if smells could be reproduced electronically, it could be different. If a scent can be shown to be a work of creative authorship fixed into a tangible medium of expression (IE: saved to a hard drive) then it could qualify. The question becomes, who wants to copyright the smell of wet dog?

5. YouTube is Shutting Down

Finally today, YouTube announced that it would be shutting down at midnight tonight and begin selecting the winner of the site, a process that would take a decade.

According to the video, YouTube has always been a contest to find the best video in the world and, since the deadline for entry is tonight, they’ll be taking everything offline when the clock strikes midnight.

If this were true, it would raise interesting questions about what rights, people signed over when uploading to YouTube. Given that the new YouTube, due to launch in 2023, will feature just the winning video, it could change the rights YouTube had to acquire.

Of course, the real fun in this one is that it’s somewhat believable. Similar to the South Park episode “Humancintipad” almost no one knows what lurks deep in the terms of service agreements we all accept, giving this a feeling of plausibility.

If the South Park episode is anything to go on, YouTubers may have gotten off easy.

Bottom Line

While April Fools’ Day is all fun and games, it’s often times interesting to look at the possible implications of the jokes if they were real.

Though YouTube isn’t shutting down and we probably will never see a 3D Play-Doh printer, these revelations would raise some interesting questions, questions that don’t have easy answers.

Fortunately, these are just fun hypotheticals for the moment, that is, until Google does find a way to transmit smells via cell phones.

Then all bets are off.