Every new technology seems to pose challenges for legislators - whether its copyright and other intellectual property issues, privacy, threats to security, morality, children, and indeed the uses the new technology will be put to by the great unwashed.
The latest social media phenomena is the picture sharing app Snapchat - you can share pictures - but the recipients can only see the image for ten seconds - and then it's gone - forever (well, unless you are techno savvy and can grab it). It's free to download and has grown hugely - and the company behind the app is now valued at more than $500 million - and has raised $50 million in venture capital - with an estimated 5 million using the service daily - and is growing rapidly with 200 million images now shared every day according to the company. The app is the brainchild of Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, who met at Stanford University, and the spark for the app was watching college friends frantically trying to repair their digital history by removing and de-tagging embarrassing images from social media networks before important job interviews or even marriages. The company says its users share four times as many images each day as users of Facebook's Instagram (which Facebook only recently acquired for $1 billion).
One popular feature on Snapchat appears to be the sharing of 'selfies' - now I can't promise to be right here - but use your imagination - and remember that 54% of users have received 'inappropriate' images (for all of 10 seconds but that can be more than enough) and 47% had received nude images. Ho hum!
But what of copyright? Undoubtedly a large proportion of the images shared will be self generated (literally!) but some will not be and may well be images owned by and valued by others - whether they are professional photographers, news services, archive and image business like Getty, or private individuals. Will they care if their images are used in a mass sharing - but are visible for only 10 seconds to each recipient? Will they even be able to prove any infringement as the 'evidence' will probably have gone after 10 seconds? Has any damage actually been done for such a transient use? But what happens if users 'commercialise' images for advertising and marketing? And if content owners DO care (and I am sure they will), how does current copyright law facilitate the right to protect copyrights and ultimately bring an action - when the 'copy' is time limited to a ten second life only - unless the recipient pro-actively saving the snap. Is a copy made? Is a copy issued to the public? Is there a 'communication'?
And what next? Instagram and Twitter's Vine already have video sharing services for very short clips (pint sized popster Justin Bieber seems particularly fond of the former service - he posted a very random clip on Instagram the day its video service launched, and yesterday posted a (somewhat blank) video about falling down stairs) and they to will provide ever more challenges - until they are superseded by the next fad. I was asked to give professional advice on the legal ramifications of six second videos from the Glastonbury Festival posted on Vine yesterday - privacy, copyright, performers rights - all came into play!
Any [polite] thoughts, comments and opinion are, as ever, welcome!