Deepfake Map History

Here’s a weird footnote in deepfake history…

Old publishers of “facts” like map makers and encyclopedias gave up inserting fake data after the US Supreme Court ruled their facts can’t be copyrighted, as a New Yorker article from 2005 explained.

If Mountweazel is not a household name, even in fountain-designing or mailbox-photography circles, that is because she never existed. “It was an old tradition in encyclopedias to put in a fake entry to protect your copyright,” Richard Steins, who was one of the volume’s editors, said the other day. “If someone copied Lillian, then we’d know they’d stolen from us.”

The clever habit of sprinkling fake facts among the real ones declined when money couldn’t be made from proving someone copied facts.

It kind of makes sense that they lost the copyright.

Stealing a fact seems absurd, made only more absurd by polluting a fact to prove it was stolen (an act essentially proving it impossible to steal a fact), and then made even more absurd by trying to prove the decoy (deepfake) is NOT a fact.

“Its inherent fakeitude is fairly obvious,” she said. “We wanted something highly improbable. We were trying to make a word that could not arise in nature.”

They had to make the fake obvious, yet hidden, because they wanted to prosecute people for copying facts that couldn’t be distinguished from fakes. Uh-huh.

In the end there were better ways to create uniqueness (such as very specific distances) versus these silly falsifications. Money for copyright violation seems like such a low bar though, in terms of why someone would insert fakes into a map.

Food for thought when you look at your next map and wonder if you can detect a deepfake. As I wrote in 2020, maps are inherently political and about power.

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