Monday, November 27, 2006

Legal Precedents In Support of Users as Publishers Mount

User-generated content becomes more diverse and powerful by the day. Where a questionable performance in a relatively obscure venue may have been excusable by a big media name in the past, the all-seeing eye of user content puts it out there for the world to see - and to judge. Recent court decisions in the U.S. and in Canada have recognized the rights and responsibilities of individuals who act as news agents independent of media companies or technology providers, providing a much stronger legal underpinning for these user-publishers.

In the U.S. decision information posted to a Web site that could be considered libelous was deemed the responsibility of the person posting it and not of the services supporting them - a big win for portals supporting user-generated media services. In the Canadian decision a weblogger covering a public event who was harassed by local officials was deemed to have the same rights as official members of the press covering the event who were not troubled by the authorities - yet another precedent of press freedoms being extended to citizen journalists.

Both of these decisions come at a time when the recognition and use of user-generated content sources forces the hand of the courts to defend content producers who have become valuable publishers in their own right. If they were not so, then the courts would have been far more easily convinced that portal providers were responsible for users' actions. Instead, the courts see that user-generated content producers, for better or for worse, are now fulfilling an important part of the role in public debate once reserved for traditional media sources. It's a very crucial step forward in creating a broader commercial framework for intellectual property management that can encompass all content producers effectively and fairly.
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