I attended a half day legal briefing organised by the publishers of E-Commerce Law & Policy (with Harbottle & Lewis) on Tuesday morning on Web2.0: Business Opportunities and Legal Challenges.
Speakers included people from Vodafone’s legal group; the World Wide Web Consortium, Ofcom and Harbottle & Lewis, with the topics discussed covering: User Generated Content and Social Networking; Understanding the evolving world of Web 2.0; Data Protection, Data Security, Data Sharing, and Net Neutrality.
Lots of good stuff, especially the talks by Mark Owen and Douglas Scott (best slides I have seen by anyone trying to explain net neutrality – you should post them on the Ofcom website) but these is just some random thoughts/comments that I scribbled down:
General / W3C
* Web 2.0 all about search mechanisms, whereas web 1.0 was all about access mechanisms
* Examined the argument of whether eBay’s reputation system is any different from a credit rating agency? Should reputation systems be regulated, and if so, should it be in the same way as credit rating agencies?
* Continued move in focus to the ‘mobile’ web. Mobile devices globally outnumbered PC’s by 2:1 and the end of 2006.
Monetizing Web 2.0 – Seb Belcher (Harbottles) / WAYN
* One billion people on the web : – that is the potential customer base.
* Several speakers stated they thought anyone who just answered this question ‘advertising’ was probably deluding themselves unless they were the size of MySpace/YouTube.
* The creators (two ex accenture consultants) of WAYN – a location/travel social networking site believed there was still scope for charging for services as long as there was the perception of added value to the consumer/user. The saw partnering with other providers (in their case, the travel industry) as a way to add this value.
* UK Treasury told Harbottle’s it had no interest (yet) in taxing virtual world commerce – such as the buying of things in Second Life, and would only take interest if the situation arose where you could, for example, order your tesco shopping in second life in Linden Dollars and have it delivered to your real world home. Several delegates pointed out that you could already buy ‘real’ goods in second life – software etc.
Copyright Risks Around User Submitted Content – Mark Owen (Harbottles)
* Looked at the secondary liability issues raise by Grokster and made a point, sometimes overlooked, that the decision was not simply a win for the content industry because the court also found that the technology legal, it was just a matter of how you used and promoted that technology.
* He was also of the opinion that most content owners seemed to avoid pursuing similar cases in the UK courts, in some cases because they still see the decision in the Amstrad case as being unhelpful to them.
* On the issue of safe harbours – he believed that Google / YouTube would probably offer up a ‘hosting’ defence under safe harbour provisions if taken to court on copyright/liability issues.
* Expects DRM to dominate discussions for delivering online content for the next couple of years.
Net Neutrality – Douglas Scott of Ofcom
* Questioned whether the net has never been neutral.
* Asked whether or not the question/issue applied to Europe at all? He felt that the healthy competition in internet access market made abuse less likely in the EU.
* Example in the mobile world of when T-Mobile choose to block VoIP traffic on its network, and how this blocking/prioritising still left consumers with a choice on what mobile network to use. The same he felt would happen with the internet.
* Felt that the issue of prioritising which traffic gets priority could also be something that benefits the consumer. He used the example of the difference if you VoIP calls drops for 5-10 seconds as opposed to your software download pausing for the same period. One is critical to what your doing and the user experience , the other isn’t really
* On arguments that such prioritisation would harm innovation, he said there was also the argument that a lot of these new innovations would actually benefit from that very same prioritisation – streaming, IPTV etc.
* He pointed to the decision to attached a net neutrality condition to the AT&T / Bell merger in the US, and noted that AT&T’s IPTV service had been exempted from this.
* Ofcom’s position is that it does not see that there will be need to intervene in the debate/issue. It sees the possible issues as all part of an emerging market that should be given a chance to find its own solutions.
* The W3C position was that you already get what you pay for. The issue is keeping equal access to resources and not for example blocking one person over another just because you like person more than the other.
This was a highly enjoyable event and I need to say a big thanks to Lindsey Greig, who is the managing editor of Cecile Park Publishing who publish E-Commerce Law & Policy (and other fine titles), who was kind enough to invite me to the event as a guest of Cecile Park. Much appreciated.