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The law related to social media space and privacy is a tough one and is changing daily. As we’ve discussed extensively in class, and as mentioned repeatedly in this panel titled, Intellectual Property Issues in Social Media, and others, the technology is simply evolving too fast for the law. Yet, as discussed and encouraged throughout this week, it almost defaults to the coders to allow for and encourage responsible use; giving users clear cut options on security and privacy.

One panelist mentioned that 25 pages for policy changes is fine for lawyers, but users really want and need a bulleted recap and a link to the full text if its something they are super into or have tons of time for. Another thing to consider for responsible development is default settings. Many times these settings are bent to what works best for the corporation, not the user. Consider the most widely accepted settings and make those the defaults was one panelist’s advice to the crowd. 

EXTREMES

Privacy should always be considered, especially in the law. The speed at which technology is outpacing the law continues to exponentially increase. For example, NetFlix can’t share movies you rent because of a law from the 80s, protecting privacy. So even if you opted into something like that, it becomes illegal for them to create social sharing of what you’re renting. 

While it was joked about all week, that anything you did would be on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other platforms, it was funny because its true. In fact, one panelist gave the example of a privacy hack friends did even in college, because of the rise of cell phone cameras. His friends would have a massive house party, but would only drink in a single room, in the dark, so nobody could take pictures. Seems a little extreme, right? But the point is, we’ll always find ways around the system. 

CONSIDERATIONS

How is it social without sharing information? Privacy issues have to be balanced. Currently, user data equals currency, and that tends to swing companies to the side for less privacy protections, so the burden gets placed on the user. But as one panelist said, “there are other ways money can be made.” We just have to be more creative. Instead of forcing users to exchange personal data for experience, the challenge for the future becomes, finding a way to profit that’s not tied to exploiting the user’s personal privacy. 

For users, the advice is this, know what your privacy rights are, know when you’re signing them away in a terms of service agreement and make a point to assert your privacy rights and demand more from digital services. It all comes back to one point discussed in class, without continually challenging the encroachment on your rights, we risk steadily losing them because companies will continue to push the envelope. 

Is aggregation theft? This is the not so simple question asked as the title for one of the SXSW panels I attended. The panel included Simon Dumenco of Ad Age, Julia Turner of Slate Magazine, Bill Faulk of The Week and Felix Salmon of Reuters Counterparties.

It’s important to understand, for the purposes of this panel, the conversation focused more on reworked stories instead of straight aggregation of headline and link. The discussion was more on the kind of sites link MediaGazer, Huffington Post, Drudge, The Daily Mail and others.

While the conversation mainly focused on the ethics of aggregation, many references to the law were made, primarily the transformative nature and supplementing the need for the original, both included in the fair use test. Interestingly, it was noted that the concept of fair use is an entirely American legal notion and not understood or recognized in the rest of the world.

Theses issues of fair use came up time and again while discussing rehashed content across different sites. What became most apparent in the majority of cases was this: if they gave credit, drove traffic to your site, did it differently for their audience or created something entirely new, aggregation was seen as acceptable. In fact as one panelist explained, sometimes looking at how others rework a story can be a learning experience, for example if your story is made “shorter, funnier and better,” you should look at the way it was done for future stories.

One example, given by Julia Turner, was where Slate had done a story and both Media Gazer and Huffington Post picked it up. Media Gazer did just a headline and a short summary and linked back to the original story, while Huffington Post did a complete rewrite of the story and linked to the original story at the bottom of the article. Media Gazer, the much smaller site, drove tons more traffic because many still wanted to read the entire article, while HP readers didn’t really need to read the original because the HP story was so complete.

It’s cases like these that make you consider not just copyright law but also ethics. So consider the four parts of the fair use analysis, especially transformative and desire for original, but also consider if it feels underhanded or lazy. Just because you might be able to get away with it legally, doesn’t mean you should do it; because what doesn’t get you fined, could still make you slimy.

OTHER NOTES

Check out the point-counter-point between David Carr’s article, A Code of Conduct for Content Aggregators and Gawker’s article, We Don’t Need No Stinking Seal of Approval from the Blog Police.

One panelist made the point that Pinterest and Tumblr have massive intellectual property issues that will likely end up in court.

One audience member pitched his product Free Range Content as an answer to aggressive aggregation and a way to share your content, while still getting credit, but he didn’t seem able to answer the question of what happens when someone doesn’t use your syndication tools and just rips you off? Guess fair use is for the courts to decide, if jurisdiction is in the U.S.