The Mass Age of Internet Law
Information and Communication Technology Law, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp. 79-94
17 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2008
Date Written: June 1, 2008
This article addresses the topical question of how the increased availability of (and popular interest in) "user-generated content" (UGC) influences the development of cyberlaw. While recognising that the Web has been 'user-generated' since its creation, it is argued that 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. Differing perspectives on the future of Internet regulation are considered in the light of how they relate to understanding 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. This paper has a particular focus on the role of the familiar 'platforms' for creating and sharing content, including social networking sites. Possible responses to the threat of private censorship and control range from community pressure to the application of self-regulation; each response, though, could stifle the creativity and freedom that is at the heart of the shift from mass media to UGC.
The author concludes by arguing that a critical understanding of the role of the private gatekeeper is particularly important in order to protect the rights of the diverse, apolitical users that form a large part of the audience for and membership of user-generated and social networking websites.
Keywords: user-generated content, social networking, freedom of expression, judicial review, self-regulation
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