Feb 9, 2018

Reddit bans "Deepfake" content

Reddit, also known as "the front page of the internet", has banned all "Deepfake" pornographic content from its website.

Deepfake is a type of video that has been rife online since the release in January of "FakeApp", a feat of software engineering that allows users to (amongst other things) select thousands of ordinary images of a person's face, and then seamlessly superimpose him or her onto another person's body in video format. While this might sound like a bit of harmless fun (who doesn't want to see a grandparent's face on their 3 year old's body dancing to the Hokey Cokey?), its uses were quickly turned to porn.

There have been two main issues surface in that regard:-

the use of celebrities' faces on similarly framed pornstars' bodies to give the impression that a mainstream actor or actress has performed in pornography; and
the use of minors' faces on pornstars' bodies to create child pornography without directly filming minors in an indecent way.

Obviously there are significant objectionable morality issues here, not to mention the potential that criminal offences may be committed by the posting of such material. Leaving those aside, the primary commercial issue to come to light so far is that otherwise respectable celebrities have been forced to engage in PR exercises and takedown notices of pornographic works featuring their likeness without permission.

The decision by Reddit (the world's sixth most popular website by traffic) has received a mixed response from users. Some have been pointing out that Reddit has opened itself up to a future which does not contain any pornographic (or "NSFW" – not suitable for work – as it is known on Reddit) content. The reason Deepfake has become so popular is that carefully put together videos are almost indistinguishable from legitimate ones. Will every NSFW post be carefully moderated before it is displayed?

Some have gone so far as questioning the reasons for the ban: with /u/Goonred posting "It's quite clear they started enforcing the rules because of the attention on deepfakes and not their own morals, which is fine, but they should just say it." This seems to be a common sentiment: the decision was a commercial one, rather than a legal or moral one.

These are early days in the artificial intelligence and pornography sector, and with other class-leading websites like Gfycat and Twitter having already banned Deepfakes, it remains to be seen whether the future for this otherwise useful tool now lies in the hidden depths of the dark web, rather than as a mainstream editing tool.

While there are obviously intellectual property, defamation, and privacy concerns about the software, simple bans are unlikely to be effective in the long term: there will surely be a competitor or a new site willing to step in and accommodate those users who want to access Deepfake material.

If you have any questions on the above, please do not hesitate to contact the team at McDaniel & Co. on 0191 281 4000 or legal@mcdanielslaw.com.

in: Digital/Tech, News

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