User-generated content (UGC) refers to a variety of media available in a range of modern communications technologies. UGC is often produced through open collaboration: it is created by goal-oriented yet loosely coordinated participants, who interact to create a product or service of economic value, which they make available to contributors and non-contributors alike.
The term entered mainstream usage during 2005, having arisen in web publishing and new media content production circles. Today it is used for a wide range of applications, including problem processing, news, gossip and research, through a variety of media: question-answer databases, digital video, blogging, podcasting, forums, review-sites, social networking, social media, mobile phone photography and wikis. In addition to these technologies, user-generated content may also employ a combination of open source, free software, and relaxed restrictions on intellectual property and flexible licensing or related agreements, in order to further reduce the barriers to collaboration, skill-building and discovery. UGC has also gained in popularity over the last decade, as more and more users have begun to flock to social media and content-based sharing sites.
Many commercial websites rely on UGC. For example, Amazon.com and Trip Advisor rely on users to rate products and hotels and restaurants, respectively. These reviews are important part of what the two respective websites offer. When UGC is contained in commercial websites it is often monitored by administrators to avoid offensive content or language, copyright infringement issues, or simply to determine relevancy of the content to the site's theme.
Because user-generated content is generally free to store, the world's data centers are now replete with exabytes of UGC that, in addition to creating a corporate asset, may also contain data that can be regarded as a liability.
The advent of user-generated content marked a shift among media organizations from creating online content to providing facilities for amateurs to publish their own content.
User generated content has also been characterized as 'Conversational Media', as opposed to the 'Packaged Goods Media' of the past century. The former is a two-way process in contrast to the one-way distribution of the latter. Conversational or two-way media is a key characteristic of so-called Web 2.0 which encourages the publishing of one's own content and commenting on other people's.
The role of the passive audience therefore has shifted since the birth of New Media, and an ever-growing number of participatory users are taking advantage of the interactive opportunities, especially on the Internet to create independent content. Grassroots experimentation then generated an innovation in sounds, artists, techniques and associations with audiences which then are being used in mainstream media. The active, participatory and creative audience is prevailing today with relatively accessible media, tools and applications, and its culture is in turn affecting mass media corporations and global audiences.
- Publication requirement: While UGC could be made by a user and never published online or elsewhere, we focus here on the work that is published in some context, be it on a publicly accessible website or on a page on a social networking site only accessible to a select group of people (e.g., fellow university students). This is a useful way to exclude email, two-way instant messages and the like.
- Creative effort: of creative effort was put into creating the work or adapting existing works to construct a new one; i.e. users must add kont their own value to the work. UGC often also has a collaborative element to it, as is the case with websites which users can edit collaboratively. For example, merely copying a portion of a television show and posting it to an online video website (an activity frequently seen on the UGC sites) would not be considered UGC. If a user uploads his/her photographs, however, expresses his/her thoughts in a blog, or creates a new music video, this could be considered UGC. Yet the minimum amount of creative effort is hard to define and depends on the context.
- Creation outside of professional routines and practices: User generated content is generally created outside of professional routines and practices. It often does not have an institutional or a commercial market context. In extreme cases, UGC may be produced by non-professionals without the expectation of profit or remuneration. Motivating factors include: connecting with peers, achieving a certain level of fame, notoriety, or prestige, and the desire to express oneself.
Mere copy & paste or hyperlinking could also be seen as user generated self-expression. The action of linking to a work or copying a work could in itself motivate the creator, express the taste of the person linking or copying. Digg.com, StumbleUpon.com, and leaptag.com are good examples of where such linkage to work happens. The culmination of such linkages could very well identify the tastes of a person in the community and make that person unique
Adoption and recognition by mass media
The BBC set up a user generated content team as a pilot in April 2005 with 3 staff. In the wake of the 7 July 2005 London bombings and the Buncefield oil depot fire, the team was made permanent and was expanded, reflecting the arrival in the mainstream of the citizen journalist. After the Buncefield disaster the BBC received over 5,000 photos from viewers. The BBC does not normally pay for content generated by its viewers.
In 2006 CNN launched CNN iReport, a project designed to bring user generated news content to CNN. Its rival Fox News Channel launched its project to bring in user-generated news, similarly titled "uReport". This was typical of major television news organisations in 2005–2006, who realised, particularly in the wake of the London 7 July bombings, that citizen journalism could now become a significant part of broadcast news. Sky News, for example, regularly solicits for photographs and video from its viewers.
User generated content was featured in Time magazine's 2006 Person of the Year, in which the person of the year was "you", meaning all of the people who contribute to user generated media such as YouTube and Wikipedia.
Motivation and incentives
While the benefit derived from user generated content for the content host is clear, the benefit to the contributor is less direct. There are various theories behind the motivation for contributing user generated content, ranging from altruistic , to social, to materialistic. Due to the high value of user generated content, many sites use incentives to encourage their generation. These incentives can be generally categorized into implicit incentives and explicit incentives.
- Implicit incentives: These incentives are not based on anything tangible. Social incentives are the most common form of implicit incentives. These incentives allow the user to feel good as an active member of the community. These can include relationship between users, such as Facebook’s friends, or Twitter’s followers. Social incentives also include the ability to connect users with others, as seen on the sites already mentioned as well as sites like YouTube, which allow users to share media from their lives with others. Other common social incentives are status, badges or levels within the site, something a user earns when they reach a certain level of participation which may or may not come with additional privileges. Yahoo! Answers is an example of this type of social incentive. Social incentives cost the host site very little and can catalyze vital growth; however, their very nature requires a sizable existing community before it can function.
- Explicit incentives: These incentives refer to tangible rewards. Examples include financial payment, entry into a contest, a voucher, a coupon, or frequent traveler miles. Direct explicit incentives are easily understandable by most and have immediate value regardless of the community size; sites such as the Canadian shopping platform Wishabi and Amazon Mechanical Turk both use this type of financial incentive in slightly different ways to encourage user participation. The drawback to explicit incentives is that they may cause the user to be subject to the overjustification effect, eventually believing the only reason for the participating is for the explicit incentive. This reduces the influence of the other form of social or altruistic motivation, making it increasingly costly for the content host to retain long-term contributors.
Types of user-generated content
There are many types of user-generated content: Internet forums, where people talk about different topics; blogs are services where users can post about many topics, the most important blog services are these: Blogger, Tumblr and WordPress.There are also wikis, where every anonymous user can edit and make changes as, for example, at Wikipedia or Wikia. Another type of user-generated content are social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or VK, where users interact with other people chatting, writing messages or posting images or links. Companies like YouTube are enticing a growing number of users to not only consume the content, but to create it as well.
Other types of this content are fanfiction like FanFiction.Net, imageboards; various works of art, as with deviantArt and Newgrounds; mobile photos and video sharing sites such as Picasa and Flickr; customer review sites; audio social networks such as SoundCloud; crowd funding, like Kickstarter; or crowdsourcing.
New business models
The media companies of today are starting to realize that the users themselves can create plenty of material that is interesting to a broader audience and adjust their business models accordingly. Many young companies in the media industry, such as YouTube and Facebook, have foreseen the increasing demand of UGC, whereas the established, traditional media companies have taken longer to exploit these kinds of opportunities.
Realizing the demand for UGC is more about creating a “playing field” for the visitors rather than creating material for them to consume. A parallel development can be seen in the video game industry, where games such as World of Warcraft, The Sims and Second Life give the player a large amount of freedom so that essential parts of the games are actually built by the players themselves.
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The term "user-generated content" has received some criticism. The criticism to date has addressed issues of fairness, quality, privacy, the sustainable availability of creative work and effort among legal issues namely related to intellectual property rights such as copyrights etc.
Some commentators assert that the term "user" implies an illusory or unproductive distinction between different kinds of "publishers", with the term "users" exclusively used to characterize publishers who operate on a much smaller scale than traditional mass-media outlets or who operate for free. Such classification is said to perpetuate an unfair distinction that some argue is diminishing because of the prevalence and affordability of the means of production and publication. A better response[according to whom?] might be to offer optional expressions that better capture the spirit and nature of such work, such as EGC, Entrepreneurial Generated Content (see external reference below).
Another concern is often raised relating to the privacy of personal information. Uninformed producers of online content may fail to make the distinction between public and private/personal information, sharing data that could make them vulnerable to harm ranging from financial to physical. Further, the social networking sites sometimes reveal personal information by default, either requiring the users to turn off viewing or sometimes not providing a way to hide or cancel information deemed personal by many. Public criticism has helped to correct the worst of such situations.
Sometimes creative works made by individuals are lost because there are limited or no ways to precisely preserve creations when a UGC Web site service closes down. One example of such loss is the closing of the Disney massively multiplayer online game "VMK". VMK, like most games, has items that are traded from user to user. Many of these items are rare within the game. Users are able to use these items to create their own rooms, avatars and pin lanyard. This site shut down at 10 pm CDT on 21 May 2008. There are ways to preserve the essence, if not the entirety of such work through the users copying text and media to applications on their personal computers or recording live action or animated scenes using screen capture software, and then uploading elsewhere. Long before the Web, creative works were simply lost or went out of publication and disappeared from history unless individuals found ways to keep them in personal collections.
Liability of websites that allow UGC: Websites are generally immune under U.S. law from liability if user generated content is defamatory, deceptive or otherwise harmful. The website is immune even if it knows that the third-party content is harmful and refuses to take it down. An exception to this general rule may exist if a website promises to take down the content and then fails to do so.
Copyright dilemma: This notion refers to situations where copyright infringement is not explicit and might occur unintentionally. It may include posting a video on popular video-sharing websites, such as YouTube, showing a number of people dancing to music which is protected by copyrights. Despite the fact that such material is created by the author who in turn decides to publish it, the music which can be heard in the background is still protected by copyrights and should not be made accessible to the public without the permission of the original rights holder (except under fair use). As such, violations of copyrights are bound to occur frequently especially on international websites which unite users from all around the world. As a result of this unity, the issue of copyrights is considered convoluted because its treatment varies in different countries.
Internet service providers' liability: In the context of third party copyright violations, it is important to consider the liability issues between the content provider and the Internet service provider (ISP). In the legal literacy scholars have established two distinct models of liability as regards to ISP. These can be divided into "publishing information doctrine" and "storing information doctrine". According to the former view, ISP controls or at least has the ability to control the content published by using their services. In other words, ISP acts as a host and has the editorial control to take down and monitor content posted online. In order to establish secondary liability it is pivotal to evaluate the level of control practiced by the ISP. The latter view, on the other hand, applies to situations in where ISP acts as a mere host provider lacking any editorial role to the content posted online. Even though ISP might have awareness of the content run by using their services, it has no possibility to monitor or modify information.
In general, there are some differences in legislation between the US approach on ISP liability and the EU approach. In the US, the ISP liability is regulated under the DMCA which deals only with copyright issues. Section 512 stipulates so-called Safe Harbor provisions under which ISP can in certain detailed conditions escape liability. For example, ISP's are required to adopt a special take down policy, which allows individuals to respond to alleged copyright violations. The EU approach is horizontal by nature which means that civil and criminal liability issues are addressed under the Directive 2000/31/EC of the E-Commerce. Sections 4 deals with liability of the ISP while conducting "mere conduit" services, caching and web hosting services.
Content providers liability: The question of direct liability of the content provider might arise when uploading and downloading material in the Internet. Prior to UGC, direct liability issues have been tackled in so-called file sharing cases. This technology, much like in UGC, allows unauthorized reproduction and dissemination of information and the fundamental question of liability is determined according to copyright exceptions.
Copyright exceptions: In certain cases use of copyright protected material can be allowed without a permission from the original right holder. In the US, the notion of fair use doctrine is used to determine whether the use of copyright protected material is allowed or not. Within this assessment the courts must focus on following list of non-exhaustive factors:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
- The nature of the copyrighted work;
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
In the EU level, the possibility to allow copyright exceptions is tackled by the article 5 of the so-called Copyright Directive, also known as the Information Society Directive. Article 5 of the Copyright Directive stipulates an exhaustive list of optional defenses which are subjected to the classical Berne three-step test. The list of optional defenses is conditional to members states implementation but these include use of copyright protected material for private use, education purposes, quotations and parody among others.
In general, unauthorized use of copyright protected material in the context of UGC might be allowed if it falls under the fair use doctrine or can be justified according to the list set out in the Copyright Directive. The fundamental difference between the US and the EU system is the more lenient case-by-case assessment practiced by US courts in relation to a more rigid system in the EU level.
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- 17 U.S.C. § 512(i)(1)(A)
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- See art. 12–13 of the Directive 2000/31/EC[clarification needed]
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- OECD study on the Participative Web: User Generated Content
- A Bigger Bang an overview of the UGC trend on the Web in 2006
- Packaged Goods Media vs. Conversational Media a comparison of UGC and professional/corporate media
- Social Media Database a user generated list of social media sites launched by Wildeffect