There have been heated debates on the issue of streaming technology considering some legal constraints such as copyright. The concern is that there are websites that are uploading copyrighted materials without their author’s approval. Copyrights laws are infringed when copyrighted materials are used without consultations with the copyright holders.
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This is an offense that is punishable by law in many countries around the world. However, streaming technology is not illegal and is allowed in many countries through Rights Management Information Systems “RMISs”. The illegality concerns of the streaming technology arise with regards to the content of the material streamed.
Streaming copyrighted materials unless with the copyright holder’s approval contravenes his or her rights to ownership of that property (Hugenholtz). Some of the authorized use of streaming technology is when it is for promotional purposes where a site can upload approved short video clips and show trailers to promote movies. However, websites that stream full movies for free are most probably acting outside the copyright’s legal frame and in violation of the law. This paper presents a detailed study on the legality and laws surrounding streaming technology in the United Kingdom.
The impacts and implications of these laws will be outlined in regards to user’s rights, author protection as well as a comparison of the impacts from the public to the private perspectives. The mounting pressure on the UK to amend and update the law has been seen as a positive gesture in solving this issue. The question is; is it really the perfect remedy as it seems or it will end up as another problem altogether.
This paper will be answering this question adequately giving examples and instances where the general good has been compromised or upheld. In this research, the effects of updating these laws in regards to streaming technology will be analyzed and a candid opinion, as well as recommendations based on knowledge, will be presented.
What is streaming
Streaming is a common word in today’s world of technological advancement and the global village. This technology has taken the idea of a global village a notch higher with the possibility of passing, sending, or even receiving information in real-time from all over the world. The technology replacing the old-age postal services has enabled the transfer of data in form of audio and video over the internet without the receiver having to download the files.
For users to retrieve files from the internet and view or listen to them, the files must go through a process before they can be retrievable. This process is referred to as video compression technology and transforms data into codecs such as H.264, MPEG-4, VP6 and VP8, Windows Media Video (WMV), and MPEG-1/2 for video files (Ozer, 2011). Audio files on the other hand are converted to audio codecs which include, AAC “Advanced Audio Coding”, Vorbis, Windows Media Audio (WMA), and MP3 (Hugenholtz).
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The history of streaming is categorized into three sections which are the streaming technology, connection speed and third-party providers. Streaming technology was pioneered by the real networks company and was first used to broadcast a base ball game between the Yankees and the Seattle Mariners over the internet in 1995 (Hugenholtz). The first video stream on the other hand was done in 1997.
Law surrounding the technology; primary, case and acts law
In order to extensively understand the legal environment surrounding streaming technology, it is important to look at the media laws in the UK in general. Media can be divided into electronic and print media and in the case of streaming technology, this lies in the category of electronic media.
Media laws in the UK are very precise and strict (Davies and Withers). Based on statute, the broadcasting regulation is one of the most complicated in the world. The term broadcasting stands for any form of distributing information or any form of data in video or audio files format. This information can be retrieved by users through either downloading the information or retrieving data files from the internet (Clarendon).
However, information can also be obtained via streaming from the internet. Video or audio streaming means getting access to information from the internet without downloading it. Streaming comes along with numerous advantages and makes life and communication easier. Exchange of ideas through internet streaming has further encouraged the growth of so many other sectors in the UK. Streaming has become a strong driving tool for blogging by providing a faster way and alternative interactive media source.
However, streaming poses challenges in the light of rights of people and copyright holders. A good example is the Obama image takedown on flicker (). Below is a picture of Obama retrieved from the internet. Such materials streamed in the worldwide web have a damaging effect on public figures as well as ordinary people as they distort their real image and create a mocking impression on the victims.
These activities are illegal based on the content of the data or information sent through the internet especially without the victim’s knowledge. It is such activities that led to the formulation of the digital millennium copyright act which aims at protecting users as well as copyright holders.
The provisions of this act require the host websites to take responsibility over the contents of materials sent or hosted in their domain. Any form of material infringing the rights of the public is not allow and should be discarded from the viewers’ access. The act holds the host responsible for any infringing material uploaded or found in their domain.
This protection is well intended and has gone a long way in the copyright protection. However, the protection is limited when it comes to live streaming where information is relayed in real time and therefore no possibilities of removing infringing material. The challenge is that if a live stream is aired and it causes great damage, the streamer can destroy it and in that way the damage will have occurred and there will be no retrieval of the information to file a case against the copyrights law violator.
Live streaming is a technology that is outpacing the law and has serious repercussions (Burrell and Coleman). In the UK, the Intellectual Property Rights “IPR” are covered in the in the Copyrights, Design and Patents Act 1988 (Burrell and Coleman). The act has however been taken through a number of amendments especially to protect the rights of authors. Materials exposed to the public via internet where the major concern on the rights of authors who had their intellectual creation used without their consent.
The rights act requires authors to be recognized for their work and proper authorization to be sought before usage of copyrighted materials. Intellectual property is one of the most stolen properties in the world as many people use other people’s ideas and intellectual creations for their own gains without paying due acknowledgement to the creator of the IP.
Problems caused by the streaming media to copyright protection
Streaming as discussed above shows that there is a potential challenge in copyright protection. While there are policies that provide guidelines for copyright protection, streaming seems to create a compromise in this effort. This is seen through a number of situations like;
In user rights
Streaming is a way of communication and massages or ideas are intellectual creations of an author. Using other people’s creations without permission is a federal offence and a felony punishable by law especially in the UK. The user on the other hand has a right to know and be informed on whether or not the information they access is legally allowed for public viewing (Hugenholtz).
It is the users’ right to purchase authentic and high quality products in the case of video and audio files streamed by host sites. Some of the material streamed live in real time can not be retrieved and the damage they cause is more or less permanent. This puts the users at a risk that may not be undone in the event that it happens. If the example in the picture above is anything to go by, the damage is already in place and the victim can not change the effects thereof.
Streaming is increasingly making it very difficult to effect authors protection policies against this technology. It is, as described earlier in this paper, outpacing the law (Macqueen et al). Authors’ protection through copyrights is very important to govern the use of intellectual property and protect copyright holders. Use of other people’s property drains the value of the efforts people put in creating the same property be it in writing, video or audio forms of expressing ideas.
Public domain versus private ownership
The public without knowledge assumes that all of the materials found in the internet are in the public domain (Hugenholtz). It should be well understood that materials available in the internet are not necessarily in the public domain. Some are copyrighted materials which means they are original works owned by individuals and copying, photocopying, printing out, scanning or reproducing them without the authorization of the owner is a federal offence.
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Infringement of rights basically means going against the set guidelines in the media industry with regards to intellectual property. Streaming especially live streaming is very critical in this case since it provides no room for retrieving records (Litman). As indicated earlier, when the damage is done, there is no way to undo it. The videos and audio materials accessible in the internet in most cases are uploaded by users without the consent of the original and authentic creator of these materials. This has been made possible by the ability of the public to easily upload video and audio materials in the internet hence infringing the owners or creator’s copyright rights.
UK’s efforts to update the law and the instruments used
The British government is said to be planning on a massive surveillance project aimed at monitoring media activities. This not only supervises streaming over internet but also all other forms of communication (Laddie). Basically what this means is that any instance of data transfer will be under government surveillance.
While this can be deemed to be remedy for increased violation of media laws and copyright infringement in the UK, there are nonetheless unavoidable repercussions towards this move. What the policy proposes is to allow the authorities to have unprecedented level of access to every instance of data transfer be it in the telecommunications, email records, social networks activities and browsing in the world web (Laddie).
This is challenged by the democratic spirit of governance where the public’s privacy is respected. Accessing people’s data and classified information compromises this very intention of free and democratic governance. This has many implications and is sensitive to allow the government to intervene in the media rights and rights for public expression. The major fear is that this policy could be politically driven to monitor the movement of information for political protection guised in the purported copyright holders’ protection as opposed to serving public interest. The internet has created an avenue for majority of industries to promote and pass on massages that promote their market presence (Laddie).
A good case is the football game. Football clubs have been the most users of the internet platform to market and promote themselves in the industry. Through their individual websites, football clubs are able to advertise about their upcoming matches and also sale their ticket online as it has been over the last few years where technology has been so rampant (Bailey). The internet is evidently a huge platform for any piece of art to find its way in the market. Incidentally, it has been described as a shopping mall where users come seeking to purchase or view materials either for free or in some instances at a fee.
Either way, it is obvious that this is a busy platform and needs Technical protection measures “TPMs” as it is the place where copyright laws are highly infringed. In the case mentioned above, football being streamed live for free over the internet by some peer to peer websites is working in contravention to the law (Laddie). This infringes the premier leagues rights to commercialize their broadcast and sale to the national televisions. In addition, it is a breach of the premier leagues copyright.
Effectiveness of the efforts put by the UK in updating the law
The efforts put in the fight against breach of copyrights in the UK are well intended and good (Macqueen). However they are ineffective since the main issue to address is not yet solved. Streaming is the main issue and finding a solution in terms of authors’ protection is the main agenda (Davies). The challenges put forth in this fight against copyrights violation is a tricky affair as describe earlier in the paper due to the technicality involved in the event of streaming. Streaming to begin with is not retrievable especially with the live streams.
The policy on mounting nationwide surveillance in itself is an infringement of other human rights like the right for freedom and respect for individual privacy. It is not in order to uphold one right at the expense of another. Accessing peoples’ phone records, communications and personal information not only infringes the right for free and fair right of expression but also violates the law of private property. This policy is not effective in a country that is seen and perceived to hold the principle of democratic rule of governance (Christie).
The media is compromised by the enactment of this policy as the information released by the media will have passed through the governments’ scrutiny. This may cause the communication industry to suffer a decrease in the average returns due to decreased use of communication services due to lack of confidence in the privacy levels of information.
A crumpled communication system is adversely dangerous for an economy as it may lead to a decline in business activities hence economic repercussions all caused by a simple policy in the name of protecting copyright holders (Davies).
While it is a well intended move to shield the copyright holders against exploitative activities of streaming unauthorized intellectual properties, the angle that the UK is approaching the issue is questionable and highly ineffective. It is a violation of other peoples right as well and can not be used to safe guard other rights and if it does then it is a bad image to the government to be seen like it protects some people or a certain group by oppressing others.
Effects of the proposed directives to update the law
Present effects of the proposed directives are already in effect currently in the UK (Lessig). The slow responses in an emergency situation by the network operators in the UK is a clear show of how much the government is unprepared for any eventuality. Traffic in the communication sector is slowing down things and leading to great loss in the economy. The moral lesson that can be drawn by the governments’ actions is unfortunately that of oppression in that two wrongs make a right (Davies).
By ignoring the peoples right to freedom to achieve the streaming protection pursuit is a very farfetched ideology. The future however is not secure either as the control of the media may limit and comprise the voices of the people hence may breed bad governance. Information sharing and the media critiquing government is very important as it helps to keep the government on toes.
Streaming is a technology that comes along with numerous advantages but also with tricky disadvantages that may prove difficult to solve. While the technology provides the world with the solutions to many problems especially in the communication industry, it also hurts some other areas of our existences. The copyright laws are greatly infringed as a result of streaming since it is nearly impossible to regulate or come up with a way to avoid this form of violation around the world.
The streaming technology however can not be ruled out and discarded as a bad invention. The positive inputs provided by this technology are something to lean upon and embrace. However, host web sites should be held responsible if copyrighted materials are accessible through their web sites. This is the only way we can try to minimize the negative effects of the technology.
Through out my research, I establish that indeed Streaming technology represents particular problems for copyright protection in the UK and efforts to up-date the law both in the UK and the EU have proven inadequate. This inadequacy is as a result of the difficulties in finding viable ways to deal with streaming copyrighted material.
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