Digital media platforms are becoming increasingly essential in the traditional, as well as in contemporary, broadcasting businesses (Allan & Fowler-Watt, 2013). The following graph shows that people are as keen on using online sources, including digital media in accessing information as they are getting the same information from traditional media, including television.
Figure 1 Main Source of News (Grupo Reputación Corporativa, 2015)
A myriad of legal concerns are attendant to the usage of the platforms by broadcasters. Ideally, all broadcasters should consider the concerns in their consumption of digital media (Webb, 2011). Some of the concerns are music rights, copyright, privacy, content generated by users, online sponsorship, and attribution (United States, 2002). Many broadcasters have concerns particularly arising from using contents posted online by their creators or users. Such contents, or creative works, include music, pictures, and videos. Some broadcasters appropriate the contents for own platforms without considering the attendant legal implications (Packard, 2013; Snellen, Thaens, Donk & IOS Press, 2012). This paper considers whether the content broadcasters appropriate and use in their digital media platforms is free. As well, the paper considers whether the attribution and fair use legal considerations attendant to the consumption of the content by broadcasters.
Is Online Content Free?
Numerous broadcast staffs consider online content as being available for free usage by others. They do not reflect on the rights they should acquire to consume the content legally. Notably, it is unlawful to consume the content devoid of the requisite legal authorizations, or approvals. The creators of such content can file lawsuits against broadcasters using it without the necessary approvals. In the past, leading broadcasters have been found culpable of appropriating and using online photographs illegally (Allan & Fowler-Watt, 2013).
At first, those holding rights to the photographs sent the broadcasters cease-and-desist letters. The continued appropriation and usage of the photographs illegally sees the broadcasters get demand letters for considerable monetary settlements from those holding the rights (Webb, 2011). That is especially so in cases where the rights holders can demonstrate that their copyrights have been infringed upon by the broadcasters (United States, 2002). The only way for broadcasters and their staff to stem the occurrence of such eventualities is to consider all content found online as not being freely available for appropriation and consumption (Packard, 2013; Snellen, Thaens, Donk & IOS Press, 2012). The creators of the content retain specific rights to it (Webb, 2011).
Although it true that various websites, especially those whose nature is social, allow the sharing of content by themselves, or within them, appropriating and using it outside the legal limits they allow can give rise to lawsuits. The limits include the contemplated scopes of the websites, and circumstances, where the content can be shared (Allan & Fowler-Watt, 2013). Such lawsuits are common when internet-based content is re-consumed in settings that are deemed commercial legally. Such settings include the websites of commercial broadcasters. Ideally, broadcasters should consider the internet as more than a mere platform, or medium, for content dissemination. They should consider it as a platform where legal rights are domiciled, traded or appropriated. The sharing of online content by its creator does not necessarily portend that others, including broadcasters, can reuse it in entirely dissimilar contexts.
Broadcasters commonly reuse online content created by others while attributing the content to them. Many broadcasters share links to websites where they get particular content from. In most cases, the attribution is aimed at adding to the trustworthiness of the news given by the broadcasters.
Figure 2 Public perception of major news media credibility (Cyber College, 2014)
Notably, the mere provision of attributions to online content creators may be insufficient. Clearly, the creators position own content on platforms where they easily exploit, or use, it (Packard, 2013; Snellen, Thaens, Donk & IOS Press, 2012). They can exploit it via various monetization methods, including video pre-rolls as well as banner advertisements (United States, 2002). If broadcasters pick up the contents from the online platforms and put them on own websites devoid of securing the requisite approvals, they unlawfully dispossess the creators the traffic that would otherwise have gotten to the platforms, or own websites (Allan & Fowler-Watt, 2013).
Some broadcasters use content found in various websites, especially the ones described as creative commons, without attribution since the websites indicate that the content can be consumed freely. Even then, the broadcasters should exercise marked caution when appropriating and using it. A careful appraisal of the websites shows that the terms set for the consumption of the content they bear provide that it can only be used freely on personal rather than commercial, platforms. Clearly, the platforms on which the majority of broadcasters use the content are commercial. In some cases, the websites contain mixed contents over which their creators have diverse rights. Some of the contents borne by the websites may permit consumption by others regardless of the reasons motivating them to use the contents. Other contents within the same websites may need that approvals be obtained from their primary creators if they are to be exploited commercially.
As earlier noted, many broadcasters share links to websites where they get particular content from. In many cases, the sharing of the links in that manner is permissible legally. Even then, it should be executed carefully (Packard, 2013; Snellen, Thaens, Donk & IOS Press, 2012). If a significant amount of content from a given content creator is appropriated and then used by broadcasters in own digital media platform accompanied by the requisite link, the need for other users of the content to visit the creator’s platforms is significantly diminished according to Webb (2011). That deprives the creator the capability of exploiting the content. In such cases, the creator may elect to sue the broadcasters for damages, or lost earnings (Allan & Fowler-Watt, 2013).
Many broadcasters are awake to the likelihood of such action by content creators. Traditionally, they posted many paragraphs of content appropriated from other persons or other entities’ digital media platforms and shared the attendant links. The likelihood of lawsuits stemming from such appropriation and attribution has compelled them to post just the content’s headlines or lead sentences describing its gist plus the related links. When broadcasting diminish the need for others users to visit particular digital content creators’ platforms, they make themselves vulnerable to lawsuits. Broadcasters’ likelihood of facing fair use-related charges is significantly related to the amount of materials they get from external sources.
The legal concept of fair use arises within particular contexts. Fair use legal considerations are rather context-specific rather than being absolute factors (Williams, Calow & Lee, 2011). Different broadcasters have different thoughts on the amounts, resolutions or sizes of digital content that they can appropriate and consume freely, devoid of all legal concerns. Such thoughts are all erroneous when they are not informed by and hinged on the appropriate factors. Notably, broadcasters only get definite determinations whether the consumption of given content is fair or otherwise in form of court rulings when they are sued (Webb, 2011). Like other charges, judges may or may not agree with defendants’ submissions in fair use charges.
Notably, as a concept, fair use, is yet to have universal adoption. In USA, fair use provisions are found in the Copyright Act, Section 107. Based on the act, broadcasters should base their fair use considerations as regards digital media or content on various factors. First, the broadcasters should consider the character, or nature, of the consumption of the media or content. For instance, they should consider whether the consumption is for educational aims, charitable purposes or commercial ends (Allan & Fowler-Watt, 2013).
Second, the broadcasters should consider the character, or nature, of the rights held by particular parties over the media or content. Third, the broadcasters should consider the substantiality and amount of the media or content they consume or are set to consume (Webb, 2011). Fourth, the broadcasters should consider the consequences of the consumption on the content’s possible market worth. Notably, each of these four considerations is singly determinative. Any of them may be critical in a specific case.
Even then, in the light of the act, it is obvious that consuming digital content in business, or commercial, contexts makes broadcasters susceptible to fair use lawsuits according to Webb (2011). Most of the broadcasters who use the content in business advertisements are sued almost always. On the contrary, when broadcasters use rather limited components of the content in criticism contexts or commentary, they are likely to be deemed as having used them fairly. For instance, if a broadcaster uses two seconds of a given song in reviewing the concert staged by a given band in a given town is likely to be deemed as having used the song fairly. That would be especially so if the concert is staged in the broadcaster’s hometown and the broadcaster focuses on how the band performed the song (Packard, 2013).
If a broadcaster uses a given digital content for purposes that its creator characteristically paid for, the broadcaster becomes highly susceptible to fair use lawsuits. For instance, if a broadcaster utilizes a given music for a mobile phone application’s background or for an introduction to a television program, the broadcaster becomes highly susceptible to fair use lawsuits filed by the creator of the music (Allan & Fowler-Watt, 2013). The factors stipulated in the section are considered in every instance.
This paper has considered whether the content broadcasters appropriate and use in their digital media platforms is free. The creators of such content can file lawsuits against broadcasters using it without the necessary approvals. The sharing of online content by its creator does not necessarily portend that others, including broadcasters, can reuse it in entirely dissimilar contexts. As well, the paper has considered whether the attribution and fair use legal considerations attendant to the consumption of the content by broadcasters. Notably, the mere provision of attributions to online content creators may be insufficient. Broadcasters’ likelihood of facing fair use-related charges is significantly related to the amount of materials they get from external sources and use with or without attributions. Even then, in the light of the USA.
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