From “podcast” to “poke”, “wiki” to “weblog”, the internet generation has a language all of its own. But since web guru Tim O’Reilly popularised the phrase “Web 2.0” in 2004, even those who never considered themselves internet-literate have worked the new technology into their daily lives. Facebook, the social networking phenomenon, dominates water cooler conversations everywhere, having gained a staggering 42 million users since its worldwide launch in 2006. YouTube, which was founded as recently as 2005, attracts some 100 million page views a day.
New forms of interaction are forcing us to develop new social rules: is it wrong to spy on your ex’s Facebook page? At what point does an unanswered friend request become a gentle hint that you are not wanted? But such rapid change also raises a more serious question: do we need new laws to govern this changing internet landscape?
Despite calls for change, however, established copyright and privacy laws remain relevant and effective, even if they are unknown to many of the Web 2.0 generation.
Certainly, the ease with which people can communicate on the internet now poses a huge legal challenge. Technology allows breach of intellectual property (IP) and privacy laws on an unprecedented scale. Every time we visit a social networking site we find both personal information about the users and unauthorised copies of their favourite songs and videos.
Even signing off a blog post with a copied image of your favourite cartoon character may infringe IP rights. But IP law has faced these challenges from the moment the internet became widely used.