The supposedly private yet very public execution of Saddam Hussein has given us the first big cyberlaw story of 2007.
The story can be tackled from a wide range of angles: Who owns the video? Can (and should) it be banned? Is there any law that could be applied to stop its distribution? Is this what the User Generated Content (UGC) future will be like? However, I think that one of the most interesting questions posed by the viral propagation of the video clip has been one of regulation of online content.
Some people could make the argument that the distribution of the video is detrimental for many reasons: security, peace, national unity, politics, etc. The video has helped to give Saddam the semblance of martyrdom, and it will undoubtedly be used as a rallying call for insurgents. After all, his last words have already become memorable. Are these reasons enough to ban the video? Perhaps yes, perhaps not. However, how can you stop it? This is an example of an area that will become more relevant in the future. A large number of us now carry in our pockets a small multimedia centre, we can take video and pictures in situations that we would not have conceived ten years ago. And following the principle of Replicator Technology, once something has been released in digital format, copies of it can (and will) be made.
Perhaps I'm not very imaginative this new year, but I cannot see how we can stop undesired UGCs from spreading. Be it snuff film, terrorist instructions, bullying videos, abusive behaviour on camera, privacy violations, etc. I just cannot see any manner in which you stop digital copies from replicating. Self regulation from some of the largest players like YouTube have removed some of the worst offenders, but once the video is out in the open, it will continue to be copied, distributed and viewed all over the world. National legislation will only shift the problem to those unregulated jurisdictions, and the problem will not stop.
And what does this mean for the mainstream media? After all, there is a user rebellion afoot. Consumers are not content with news media showing restraint and not displaying the video, people will vote with their clicks and download the content wherever they can.
Perhaps we could just learn to live with the UGC future. If 2006 was the year of YouTube, this one may very well be the year where it all becomes mainstream. Citizen journalist, citizen rebel, citizen criminal?