Media Policy and You: Crash Course Video Summary

This week’s blog summary focuses on technology and the law. This relationship is made particularly difficult because technology is always changing and developing, laws and regulations are forced to constantly try to catch up.

Before the internet, there were three pillars of Intellectual Property in everyday media: Copyright, Fair Use, and Public Domain. Copyright gives creators of media exclusive rights to their creations, enabling them to copy, modify, distribute, or show off their works however they want. Others need to get permission to use them and creators are able to make money from and get credit for their work. Fair use allows the public to use others’ work without permission as long as it transforms the work in some way. There are four factors to determine whether a use is fair: the purpose and character of the work, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount of the piece used from the copyrighted work, and the effect of the use on the market for the copyrighted work. Public domain is the set of works whose copyright has expired and are free to use by anyone.

This was all pretty cut and dry before the internet complicated things. Music and video were being copied and shared and moved around faster than ever before, so the 1998 Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) was put into effect. The DMCA gives copyright holders the ability to make claims against content on digital platforms. The thing that makes the DMCA and intellectual property interesting is that it shows laws trying to play catch up with how media has changed due to technology. Many of the old definitions and approaches start to grind when used in this new media ecosystem. Some challenges to media laws are more high-stakes.

Crash Course wastes no time jumping into the legal problem of sexting. Something that has become an every day, widespread practice has the possibility of severe consequences, especially to minors. In the United States, there are laws against the production, possession, or distribution of child pornography, defined as any visual depiction of explicit content involving someone under the age of 18. The law becomes complicated when teenagers above the age of consent, but still minors, are in romantic relationships and sext. Technically, although they’re above the age of consent, it’s still legally considered child pornography.

Federal laws carry mandatory minimum sentencing of five years in prison and registry as a sex offender for related charges. For example, if a 17-year-old girl willfully, voluntarily, and consensually sends her 17-year-old boyfriend a naked picture of herself, even if they’ve been dating for two years, they could potentially go to jail and be placed on the sex offender list. Although these laws are meant to protect children from sexual abuse, situations like this have caused some states to reduce charges. There’s still a gray area between federal and state laws and local jurisdictions, like whether police are allowed to search a teen’s phone. The point is, the gap between current technology practices and traditional laws can and are impacting people’s lives.

Another gap between technology and the law that Crash Course identified is the issue of online privacy. Privacy refers to the access, collection and sharing of personally identifiable information. Online that includes our browsing habits and history, plus the personal information we share with all the websites and apps we use. Traditionally, privacy has determined what information was allowed to be used in court cases. Some private information was protected from unlawful search and seizure. However, on top of these shifting notions about what constitutes privacy online, protections for accessing that data are even less clear. When and where law enforcement can request or demand access to phones, computers, and social media accounts is often a gray area.

In May 2018, the European Union put into effect a law to help protect people’s privacy. General Data Protection Regulation affords those living in the European Union a stricter right to protect themselves online. Part of this law, the Right to be Forgotten, will make it easier to get rid of personal information that’s been collected about you and make clear what that data is, too. But since this legislation affects multinational corporations like Google and Facebook, the ramifications won’t be stuck over in Europe. The media giants are expected to follow suit across the globe to ensure they remain compliant.

Technology is constantly outpacing legislation. As laws and regulations continue to develop, Crash Course warns viewers to stay vigilant: know what data you’re sharing, be careful of downloading or sharing others’ work online, and remember that your words and your images have meaning and can be used against you.

Until next week,


Jordan Price

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