Ellen DeGeneres' Oscar Selfie Signals a Lot of Thorny Legal Issues to Come

4:15 PM PST 03/07/2014 by Alex Ben Block
@TheEllenShow/Twitter
Ellen DeGeneres' Oscar selfie

That was the message during the opening State of the Industry presentation at the annual UCLA Entertainment Symposium: as cell phone cameras proliferate, so do problems of privacy, copyright, libel and more.

On the heels of Ellen DeGeneres' Oscar selfies, the hot topic during Friday's opening presentation of the UCLA Entertainment Symposium was the legal issues presented by such high-profile pictures.

"We're headed for a time when around-the-world live video networks are viable," says Tom Wolzien, a media consultant and former producer and news executive at NBC News. "When everybody has a camera … when every story could include copyrighted material, libel … only one thing is positively clear. Only one group is assured, even guaranteed employment in that live-camera world and it is, ready."

"The lawyers!" responded an audience filled with members of the legal profession.

In a world where Wolzien estimates 91 percent of people will have smartphones, there are numerous questions about he tricky terrain ahead: What happens when you take a picture of a copyrighted work of art, of children at play, of strangers who happen to be in the frame when you shoot that selfie? When the transmission of those photos goes worldwide, how to you deal with the laws in all the different countries where the images may be seen? Who is a journalist deserving of protections offered to the media in some places -- such as shield laws -- and who is just somebody taking pictures and sharing them worldwide?

Wolzien noted under the reigning law, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the ISP that provides the worldwide distribution platform is not responsible. However, he added, if your rights are being infringed, you can demand they take down the content. But that may not happen until long after the words and pictures are out.

Noting over one billion smartphones were shipped last year -- almost all containing cameras and transmission capacity -- even the definition of piracy is changing. Wolzien says his research shows physical piracy of DVD's, for instance, is down, but it has been replaced by greatly expanded distribution of pirated content online. "Now," he says, "even the pirates are getting pirated."

Drawing on a wide range of resources and his own analysis, Wolzien provided a snapshot of media today and tried to put it in modern context. He said that despite what you hear and read, people still watch a lot of television.

He said time shifting live TV is something mostly done by people from 25 to 34 who have established households. Web video skews a little younger, mobile even younger and games are still mostly consumed by kids. He added that in the U.S. there are still about 110 million people who never watch streamed TV, such as Netflix or Amazon. Those who stream do watch about 10 times more TV than the rest of the population.

One shift has been in advertising -- which, according to Wolzien, is at its lowest level as a percentage of gross domestic product in 50 years.

He said advertising overall on TV, the Web and in print was up in 2013 by about 2 percent. That breaks down, says Wolzien, to about 40 percent spent on TV, 20 percent digital, 20 percent print and the rest on radio, mobile and other things. His analysis is that the adjustments in advertising reflect a change from what we traditionally call advertising to something more like product placement.

"The real question here," says Wolzien, "is whether this is some sort of temporary drop or is what we're actually seeing is a shift of advertising dollars flowing to the Web not as advertising but as advertising in marketing."

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