Examining Online Video Sharing and Legal Responsibility

Rick Fried
Rick Fried

DOWNTOWN HONOLULU (KHNL) --  A YouTube video of what appears to be a U.S. Marine throwing a puppy into a ravine continues to cause outrage. Wednesday, the people for the ethical treatment of animals, or PETA, calls for the court-martial of the Marines involved.

And that's not the only shocking video that's popping up on YouTube.  The latest controversy involves the videotaping of an alleged gang rape in front of the victim's young children. That video was then uploaded onto YouTube.

It was taken down when people complained, but what are the legal responsibilities of video sharing sites like YouTube?

Controversy surrounding the most popular video sharing Web site.  Just in the past few days, the spotlight has been on YouTube, after members posted video clips of U.S. service members engaging in alleged animal abuse.

Wednesday, more heat on YouTube, after an alleged gang rape was uploaded onto its Web site.  These videos violate YouTube's user agreement and have been taken down.

"YouTube's lawyers have been very careful," said prominent Honolulu attorney Rick Fried, a founding member of Cronin, Fried, Sekiya, Kekina & Fairbanks, the largest personal injury law firm in Honolulu. "They say in their material that this is not a shock site.  We're not supposed to post things that are gross like this rape incident."

Fried said YouTube and parent company Google probably are protected legally since they took down the videos after they were flagged.

"An example that comes to mind: let's assume you take a picture of your neighbor's wife and put a copy of it on a Hawaiian (Telcom) telephone pole. Is Hawaiian (Telcom) responsible?" asked Fried. "Probably not, unless they see it and don't do anything about it."

That's why YouTube says it has a zero tolerance policy on violators.  In a written statement, a YouTube spokesperson said, "If the content breaks our terms then we remove it and if a user repeatedly breaks the rules we disable their account. If the police ask us for information, we will cooperate, so long as they follow the correct legal process that the government introduced."

YouTube users upload about ten hours of video every minute, which makes it almost impossible to monitor content.

"One of the advantages of something like YouTube is the instantaneous nature of it," said Fried.  "And so for them to be obligated to check every single posting before it goes on, is kind of a murky and difficult situation."

So unless YouTube did not take down the offending video after they were notified, people like the alleged rape victim probably don't have a case against YouTube.

"Unless they were to ignore their own warning which is check if inappropriate, I think at this point, it would be difficult to prevail in litigation against them," said Fried.

An intersection of the Internet, crime, and responsibility in cyberspace.

A YouTube spokesperson points out that the site is used by millions of people in positive ways.  She added, there is only a tiny fraction of people who try to break the rules.