IRIS Special

The publications in the IRIS Special series tackle current issues in media law and related legal fields.

The themes covered are of direct practical relevance and are explored with academic rigour. The particular value of the IRIS Special series lies in its international approach or the comparison of different legal systems as the case may be. Recognised as a reliable source of information, the series has a track record of supplying both the audiovisual industry and also legislators and other decision makers at national and European level with highly useful data, overviews, ideas and analyses. The European Audiovisual Observatory publishes one or two IRIS Specials annually. Depending on their theme, they each contain 50-150 pages. In many cases, background material – standard-setting legal texts for example – is included.


The issues are available online for free in PDF file hereunder. For a print version, you may purchase it on our online shop for a cost price.

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DLI IRIS Special 2008 - Searching for Audiovisual Content

IRIS Special 2008 - Searching for Audiovisual Content

Author: Susanne NIKOLTCHEV (Ed.), European Audiovisual Observatory

Published: 12/12/2008

CERN was not only the Web’s midwife, it might also serve as its role model for generating gigantic amounts of information. CERN expects to produce more than 15 million Gigabytes of data each year as a result of accelerating hundreds of millions of subatomic particles in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest particle accelerator. This bears some resemblance with the swelling mass of information floating on the WWW. What drives both systems is our desire to gather information.

When CERN launched its recent experiment to reconstruct the big bang that gave birth to our planet, critics reminded us that not all that technology can do is without risk. Certainly the responsible managers and scientists at CERN will do all they can to make their experiment safe, yet they also admit that a single mind can no longer control and overlook an experiment of that magnitude. Accordingly, supervision is carried out by a team with each of the many team members handling only a small part of the project.

Are there similar developments to be noticed for the WWW? Are we still in a position to handle it or have we created an information monster that a single human being can no longer control? Are we gradually being washed away by a deluge of information? These questions must lead us to reflect about the principal role or even several principal roles that the electronic information supply plays in our lives:

I. The amount of information electronically processed is mind-boggling. One of the contributions to this publication mentions that in 2008 electronically created, stored and replicated information reached the equivalent of three million times the information in all books ever written and that the amount will multiply by six over the next two years. No doubt somebody looking for relevant audiovisual content faces a big challenge. The fact that we still manage to find what we are looking for is largely owed to electronic helpers such as search engines and electronic programming guides. In short: the abundance of electronic information compels us to develop and trust in new
search facilitating tools.

II. The more content from an increasing number of sources is stored on a rapidly growing number of platforms and made available to more and more users with increasingly diverse backgrounds, the more difficult it is to provide a coherent system that will enable everybody to achieve satisfactory search results. The successful search for audiovisual content is a heightened challenge because most existing search tools are text-based. A coherent approach to render data searchable requires a coherent methodology for identifying and classifying them. We need systematic ordering and tagging just like we did when we could still tidy away printed material in bookshelves. In short: the abundance of electronic information might necessitate universal content
identification systems.

III. The ease with which anybody can put anything about any subject online has a significant impact on how we can intrude upon each others lives. We may find online the most irrelevant and even manipulated but also the most pertinent information on any subject and any person. Moreover, we ourselves might be the target of such information without even knowing that it exists. In short: the abundance of electronic information renders any control about personal information impossible.

IV. The need to channel or filter the vast array of information available on the Internet so that each may find the relevant pieces may clash with the right to freedom of expression. When search engines and electronic programming guides list relevant sources they also always decide what information to exclude from that list. In short: Should the user be content that the selection among the abundance of electronic information is made by someone else and with the help of an automated system?

V. Given the importance of search engines and electronic programming guides for finding and accessing information, isn’t there a need to control their functioning? Who, if anybody, steps in if information is excluded through the algorithm of a search engine for no apparent reason? According to which rules do search engines and electronic programming guides produce their results? In short, does the European regulatory framework address audiovisual search tools?

VI. Not by chance has the World Wide Web also been referred to as the World Wild Web. It seems that regulators are necessarily limping behind technical developments and cannot move as fast as the World Wide Web expands. What can we, indeed, what must we do in order to ensure that the online information supply is in line with the European value system? How do we, for example, secure the delicate balance between the freedom of information and the right to privacy? Isn’t there a strong need to regulate? Could self- or co-regulatory mechanisms achieve what traditional regulation may not? In short: Who, if anybody, can adequately delineate the legal framework for searching audiovisual content in an electronic world of abundance?

These six aspects are further developed in the six chapters of this IRIS Special emphasising the legal context in which they become relevant. The highly complex matter of this publication also provoked an intense exchange of views during a workshop co-organised by the Institute for Information Law (IViR) of the University of Amsterdam and the European Audiovisual Observatory in April 2008. The gist of the discussion is summarised in the Workshop Report with which this IRIS Special begins.

We would like to thank all participants to the workshop for their committed contributions to the discussion. Their names are listed at the end of this publication. Especially, we would like to express our gratitude to our colleagues at IViR who were instrumental in putting together and leading us through the workshop as well as to the authors of the six articles and the summarising report. Nico van Eijk and Christina Angelopoulos of IViR provided additional support by pre-editing the original (English) texts. And we like to point out once again that the success of the IRIS series is also the success of highly qualified and motivated translators and proof readers. We thank them for their valuable work on this edition.