Web 2.0 and user-generated content: legal challenges in the new frontier
The advent of Web 2.0 has enabled a host of new services and possibilities on the Internet. Among many new possibilities, users can easily upload online content that can be accessed, viewed and downloaded by other users around the globe. This has resulted in an explosive growth of User-Generated Content (UGC) which although creating exciting opportunities for users, presents many challenges, especially related to law and regulation. This paper discusses Web 2.0, UGC and the legal /regulatory challenges that have arisen in this new 'frontier' characterised by having a liberating democratic ethos (on one hand) but also sometimes tainted with illegal activity and disregard for accepted norms. Citing various researched case studies and legal cases, the paper highlights possible 'dangers' where traditional legal rules may be inadequate to address certain types of online activity, and discusses many of the legal challenges which this new frontier brings. These challenges are widespread and relate to intellectual property, liability, defamation, pornography, hate speech, privacy, confidentiality and jurisdiction among others. The paper also discusses the role of intermediaries (web hosts and service providers) and whether they can aid in effectively policing the new Web 2.0 frontier. Finally the paper attempts to discuss possible solutions for the way forward.
Keywords: Web 2.0, Internet, User Generated Content, Legal Rules, Protection
User-generated content (UGC) exists in a large variety of forms (such as photographs, videos, podcasts, articles and blogs) allowing users to express their creativity and register their comments on anything imaginable. This has resulted in users gaining unprecedented power (in a virtual environment) to initiate and influence change on various social, cultural, political and economic issues in the non-virtual world. Examples of the extent of the power of these citizens include, ousting a sex predator from public office, exposing inappropriate behaviour resulting in election defeat, influencing musical and artistic tastes, detailing first-hand accounts of war, influencing book readers on a national scale, and creating global celebrities. This power appears to emanate from a ground swell of popular culture rooted in the western democratic value of free speech/expression, together with the decline of trust in traditional organisations (such as established media) and institutions of governance. TIME magazine's edition of January 1st 2007, profiles many citizens of this new digital democracy including a whistle-blogger, web-artist, social-networker, military-blogger, web-chef, book critic, web-celebrity, 'Intertainer', and Wikipedia author among others.
This paper examines the development and use of UGC and this new 'virtual community', with a view to analysing the legal challenges that currently arise, or may arise in the future. The paper begins with a background to the environment (Web 2.0) that has facilitated the widespread use of UGC. It then examines into greater detail what UGC is and attempts to give a taxonomy of UGC, classifying types of content and the intended purpose of such content. Next the paper examines the general regulatory framework for such content. This is followed by a discussion of some of the legal challenges that UGC bring to the law and to...
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