Diversity and Difference: SLS Annual Conference 2007

Durham Castle (license information in body of post)

The provisional programme for the Society of Legal Scholars’ conference in the University of Durham (taking place in September 2007) has just been circulated. I’m looking forward to it – I couldn’t make it to SLS last year, and this year I’m also presenting (“Mass-aging Internet Law for Unwise Crowds” – special prizes for spotting the silly puns) as part of the Cyberlaw subject section. I will hope to master the art of bilocation, as there are some excellent papers in the Media and Communciations section at the same time.

Abstract follows below the fold…and as always, your comments are welcome!

Mass-aging Internet Law For Unwise Crowds
Daithí Mac Síthigh
School of Law, Trinity College Dublin

This paper addresses a topical question: how does the increased availability of (and popular interest in) so-called user-generated content (UGC) influence the development of cyberlaw? While recognising that the Web has been ‘user-generated’ since its creation, the commercial and critical interest in small-scale and individual contributions to the audio/video Web, and the use of such material by established media providers (online and offline) presents a challenge to those who are interested in Internet regulation and the evolution of Web media law. In my contribution, I analyse the ideas presented by Murray (1) and Zittrain (2) on the future of Internet regulation, and consider how useful they are in attempting to understand the UGC challenge.

UGC does not necessarily ‘create’ novel issues or problems, but it brings questions of law, regulation and control that have traditionally assumed a small number of regulatory subjects into contact with a wide, non-legal audience. Copyright issues, too, are of paramount importance, and often act as the only realistic source of regulation in the early stages of new media development; with regard to Internet broadcasting, for example, legislators have been much quicker to modify copyright law than libel law.

The role of UGC-creators in building an audience for ‘rich’, bandwidth-heavy content has also played a major role in the political and legal debate on network neutrality, particularly in the US. In the EU, the slow-moving debate on the proposal to revise the Television Without Frontiers directive (3) saw a significant change in tone after the launch and growth of YouTube and similar services.

In addressing these questions, I will also consider the different environments for text and audiovisual formats, and reflect on how recent cases dealing with the status of bloggers and ‘citizen journalists’ viz. the traditional position of journalists in media law can assist or hinder the protection and control of the author of creative (non-news) UGC.

(1) Andrew Murray, The Regulation of Cyberspace (Routlege-Cavendish, 2006)
(2) Jonathan Zittrain, The Generative Internet, 119 Harv. L. Rev. 1974 (2006)
(3) COM(2005) 646

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