Law in the Internet Society
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Chatroulette: The Microcosm of the Internet

-- By LuciaCaltagirone - 31 Jan 2010

Chatroulette, the relatively new website that randomly links users for videochatting, highlights a number of the major legal issues concerning internet usage today. Namely, Chatroulette focuses our attention on user privacy and copyright infringement.

Threats to User Privacy

Chatroulette Map:

The appeal of Chatroulette appears to be due in large part to the perceived anonymity of the encounter. ( Users have also expressed feelings of nostalgia using the medium, citing a time when the internet was far less ordered and interactions with other people over the web were chaotic. (see “Chatroulette …also has the sheen of nostalgia. It’s reminiscent of my earliest encounters with the Internet – firing off messages about schoolwork and television shows in AOL chat rooms…”). However, not long after Chatroulette appeared on the scene, the anonymity of its users was threatened by the creation of the Chatroulette map. ( The Chatroulette map publishes screenshots of users as well as their IP addresses and maps their actual geographic location on a Google map. The Chatroulette map immediately raised privacy concerns, prompting the creator of the chat site to consider developing a tool that will allow users to hide their identifying IP address information. ( In fact, the creators of itself have decided to “hide I.P. and host information as some user-identifiable information was found in some entries.”

Publishing Videochats:

Another legal issue presented by Chatroulette (among other sites) is the legality of one user publishing an internet conversation between themselves and another user without the knowledge or authorization of the other user. Few courts have ruled on the legality of unauthorized publishing of chatroom conversations, but of those that have, some have ruled that participation in a chatroom chat constitutes automatic consent to the recording of those conversations, based in part on the theory that the users are well aware that these text-based conversations can be easily stored and copied. ( The fact that Chatroulette conversations are not purely textual, as they would be in an internet chatroom, but rather, are video-based may present a novel legal issue, however. If the legality analysis centers on the users’ expectations as to the permanence of their communications, then it may be too soon to determine what expectations are reasonable in the Chatroulette community. Yet, a court may instead look to the expectations of the internet community as a whole in this analysis, and determine that it is not reasonable to expect communications over the web to remain completely confidential or private, given that internet users are typically aware of the recordability and ease of publication of videos thanks to sites such as YouTube? . However, I would find that argument unconvincing. In the context of telephone conversations, this same argument could be made. Most users of the telephone are aware that there are ways to tap into phone conversations and record the verbal communications between two parties. If we were to extend this same expectations analysis, then all telephone users would consent to the recording and publication of their private telephone conversations, by virtue of knowing about the existence and availability of the technology to record and publish such conversations. Recently, and illustratively, YouTube? removed a viral video of “Merton: the Chatroulette Improve Piano Player” because of “terms of use violation”. The takedown by YouTube? seems to be due to the fact that the users shown in the video were unaware that they were consenting to recording and publication. (

Copyright Implications:

One of the most fertile areas of legal debate in the internet context is the field of copyright law. The nature of the web makes it incredibly easy for users to infringe copyrights. However, many scholars argue for a change in our culture, which would loosen the laws against copyright infringement on the internet. For our society to be truly free, we must foster a “remix culture”. ( In this opinion piece, Lawrence Lessig argues for the decriminalization of the amateur remix: “We need to restore a copyright law that leaves "amateur creativity" free from regulation…Digital technologies have democratized the ability to create and re-create the culture around us.” Chatroulette is yet another medium that makes this sort of amateur creativity possible, and has the potential to produce what Lessig would consider valuable derivative works. One such example of an amateur derivative work is the immensely popular Chatroulette remix video of Lady Gaga’s single “Telephone”: Chatroulette inspires creative expression among and between strangers, and such expression should be protected through altered copyright laws.

Despite the bite-sized nature of the interactions on Chatroulette, the site’s impact may be substantial. Chatroulette serves as a self-contained case study of some of the most pressing issues concerning the law and internet.

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r2 - 24 Apr 2010 - 01:36:19 - LuciaCaltagirone
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