Texas A&M Law Professor Brian Larson and University of Kansas colleague Genelle Belmas published a chapter together in a timely collection on live streaming.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered large sections of society, people have turned to live streaming for everything from performing music to education and Supreme Court hearings. The prominence of this technology invokes persistent questions about the ethics of content online and how the law handles it. In this context, two scholars have published an essay analyzing the law of live streaming and how it could possibly be adjusted as the nature of web streaming evolves.
Brian Larson, Texas A&M University School of Law, and Genelle Belmas, William Allen White School of Journalism—University of Kansas, have written “Fixed? The Law of Live-Streaming,” part of the book Legal and Ethical Issues of Live Streaming, published this month. Most chapters in the book address ethical concerns with live streaming. Larson and Belmas’s chapter reviews the law of liability and legal protections for live streaming, including Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides near-blanket protections for social-media and internet platforms.
Live streaming through means such as Facebook Live is legally very similar to uploading content that is streamed later through means such as YouTube. In cases of live streaming, content appears to be broadcast on the internet as something is happening, but technology of various platforms ensures recordings are being made during the whole process, triggering traditional legal mechanisms. There are a few areas in which live streaming has been singled out, such as court proceedings and public meetings held via Zoom.
Larson and Belmas point out that in the COVID era government institutions are holding public meetings via means such as Zoom and are having to find ways to allow public comment, make meetings and records accessible, and post notice of meetings. Courts are holding session remotely, and even institutions as storied as the United States Supreme Court have made changes to allow streaming of their proceedings, at least the audio of them. That can have a democratizing effect but could also make less government function publicly open, depending on how entities handle it.
“In one sense,” Larson said, “streaming court proceedings is very democratizing. Courtrooms are designed to emphasize the distance and authority of the judge. But in Zoom, we all look like idiots. A judge’s kid or cat can walk into the shot just like yours or mine can.”