Tuesday, May 13, 2008

YouTube, Crime and Real Reality

“Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?”

I used to watch “Cops”, one of reality TVs first entries and one of the longest running television shows in the United States. I was fascinated to see real police officers on duty catching criminals. Sad but true, it was always more fun when they were doing so right in my own town. “Cops” in Portland or Denver, OK. But “Cops” in Lakewood or Pierce County? Sweet. Not only did it tell stories of criminal justice, but you could also play spot the landmark.

“Check it out, they’re right by the Shipwreck Tavern.”

Always edited for action and careful to obscure the criminals identifying features (unless that individual signed a release ((Mom, I’m on TV!!!)), they pointed out where crimes occurred and gave us a closer peek into the real world.

Now it is in our hands as well.

Scott Fontaine, The News Tribune's mobile journalist, has posted a submitted video in an attempt to start a dialog around the subject of citizens who record the actions of other citizens involved in criminal activity and then make the images available to the public. He also made an accompanying comment requesting others thoughts.

In this case downtown resident Laura Hanan sent a video of a group of young men drinking what looks like a fifth of tequila (my guess, could be vodka) out by a parked car in front of a downtown nightclub. At one point it appears that one of them urinates on the wall.

This is not the first time locally that someone has recorded a video to point out problems they would like to have addressed. Scott weighed in on the topic last November in this post.

Not just in Tacoma either, Katherine Sather in a post this week on Citizen Rain writes about a Belltown resident who wanted to draw attention to drug problems in her neighborhood and created a YouTube page called Belltown Crime.

As Katherine notes, “Video titles include "crackheads playing football in my alley" and "crackhead makes pipe out of a can while wearing sombrero."

The videos on the site appear to have gone private again. As the poster explains, “sorry. I only took the videos for two weeks, and it was never my intention to keep shooting videos or to leave the videos on for a long time, just wanted light to be shed on the problem,…”

Which, it apparently helped to do.

Certainly the surveillance video of the criminal dubbed “Captain Jack Sparrow Burglar” once posted convinced the not too bright, unsuccessful break in artist to turn himself in.

At least one police department is considering making it part of their policing process according to the Washington Post. The Arlington County Police Department has turned to YouTube in its quest to get the bad guys by posting surveillance video from crime scenes in hope of generating leads and identifying suspects.

As I commented on Scotts blog, cameras and cell phones record video now, and posting is easy to do. I imagine that we will be seeing more of this type of citizen reporting. As for COPS, I think it is still airing, and the makers have a new show called Street Patrol.

I also believe that at some point laws will be needed or tested having to do with privacy and defamation issues for online posting of videos.


Erik B. said...

I also believe that at some point laws will be needed or tested having to do with privacy and defamation issues for online posting of videos.

Filming and picture taking in full public view has been around for decades. There is no legal issue to test. There is simply no privacy right whatsoever.

Droid116 said...

There are definitely rights issues in commercial use. So if a particular video is captured and posted, then for some reason becomes an income source for the videographer, is there recourse for the person whose image is captured?

More so, I am thinking of incidents that have yet to occur, but might. Stalking via video posting, defamation through altering videos to hurt a person or group. That sort of thing. Taking video in a public place and then posting it without comment is fine.

Droid116 said...

Not the last word on it, but here is a nice summary of various legal issues surrounding video, including some public use info.

"What About Shooting in Public?
If, for example, I'm standing on the sidewalk near a hospital shooting video of a passing ambulance for a video I'm making, I am in a public place and I am entitled to shoot it. If, on the other hand, I zoom in on the face of the victim being removed from the ambulance, even if I'm standing on a public sidewalk, that's a violation of privacy unless I get a model release form.

Although you can tape relatively freely in public, as soon as you enter private property, restrictions may apply. It should be obvious that you can't go into someone's back yard and tape them in their home without permission. Sporting events and theater or music productions are good examples where confusion can arise. Check with the administration department of the school, theater or arena for guidelines.

Privacy also covers exposing intimate details of someone's personal life without his or her permission. If you reveal private facts in a video production, you could be held liable. If the facts are false and damaging, you could be sued for libel."


Erik B. said...

Good response Andree and nice to see you at Frost Park Chalk Off on Friday.

Overall, I would say the general legal guideline rule is that anything in the public is open for videotaping.

From that general rule, the federal and state governments have made a few exceptions where intellectual property rights.

For someone not making money off the taping, the leeway is even greater.

For an activity from the street, it would be very hard to find any restriction.

Hopefully you have seen the press release from the EDB about Infoblox renewing its lease in Tacoma for another six years. Growing from sixty...