Last summer, Lim Jeong-hyun, a 22-year-old Korean student studying IT in New Zealand, videotaped himself playing Johann Pachelbel`s Canon in D with an electric guitar.
He filed the video footage to the local music website Mule, which was later posted by a netizen on YouTube, a popular U.S.-based free video sharing website which lets users upload, view and share video clips. .
That was last December, since then the clip has been viewed more than 13 million times, making him an international celebrity almost overnight. Lim`s guitar rendition gained attention not only from web-surfers but from the international media, including the New York Times, which published an article titled "Web Guitar Wizard Revealed at Last," after Lim`s identity was revealed. YouTube was named TIME magazine`s "Invention of the Year" for 2006." Google plans to acquire the website for $1.65 billion.
Lim`s success story added impetus to the rising interest in video clips on the internet in Korea, one of the most wired countries in the world.
The nation`s major portal sites, such as Naver and Daum, have been reinforcing their video sites, to compete with video-specialized websites, including Pandora TV.
Experts say the new technology is changing the role of the users as consumers of services and materials found on the internet to content providers. Better known by its acronym UCC, user created content is a term which refers to media content, such as digital photographs and video clips found on the internet that have been produced and posted by the users of various websites.
Increasing internet availability together with developments in digital technology has opened the way for anyone with access to digital equipment to become producers of UCC, according to the experts.
"UCC has become highly popular in a short period of time because it allows the users to have first hand participation," said Choi Eu-gene of Gretech Corp., the provider of Korea`s most popular streaming service GomTV.
UCC materials have also evolved in tandem with the changes in digital technology. What first took shape as text and digital photographs have been transformed into video footage and websites, which are composed of user created materials, such as YouTube and Wikipeida, an online encyclopedia whose content is provided entirely by its users.
Some Korean companies have been riding on the "UCC fever" wave. Gretech Corp. has recently established the "Open Channel" in its GomTV, which allows users to create their own channels and upload self-produced videos.
"The growing popularity of UCC reflects the way the internet and the way it is used are evolving," said Choi.
Because UCC materials can be posted and transferred to a virtually unlimited number of websites by anyone with access to the internet, such materials spread through the internet with astounding speed.
However, the evolutionary process of UCC did not stop at producing a tool for entertainment, but continued to become a major social factor exerting influence on all areas of modern society.
One of the industries to capitalize on the rapid spread of user generated media materials is advertising. Daum, one of Korea`s most popular internet portal sites, has recently started an advertising campaign based on video footage produced by its users.
The spread of such materials has also caught the attention of the National Police Agency which recently announced plans to establish a section in its crime reporting portal site Cyber 112 designed specifically for UCC video footage. The Cyber 112`s "UCC video crime reporting corner" allows citizens to report criminal activities using video footage they have recorded. The agency also said that from March the service will be expanded to allow citizens to send footage of criminal activities in form of multimedia messages to its website straight from mobile phones.
The UCC fever is also affecting political circles who are trying to use it in their election campaign to woo voter support.
The characteristics of UCC allow that anyone with a digital recording device can capture visual and audio images of a campaign candidate and post it on the internet, and that a potentially limitless number of people can view the results.
The U.S. Senator George Allen`s campaign in the Virginia senate election last year is a good example of UCC affecting politics. During Allen`s campaign, video footage of him referring to an Indian American S.R. Sidarth, who was then a campaigner for his opponent, Democrat Jim Webb, as "macaca," a common and offensive term for dark-skinned people used by the French colonists in North Africa, was posted on YouTube. Soon after, Allen`s approval ratings began to drop sharply leading to his eventual defeat.
In Korea, one of the world`s top IT countries, web-based materials are expected to play a highly significant role in elections. Long before the term UCC became familiar, Korea`s political arena has been influenced by the power of the internet.
During the presidential election in 2002, "Nosamo," President Roh Moo-hyun`s fan club, used the internet as an important campaign tool and it helped him win the election.
Some political analysts predict that the role the internet played in the previous election will be decreased as UCC is expected to have an effect on the upcoming presidential elections.
Clearly considering the UCC`s potentially enormous effect on the election, the state-run National Election Commission has set out regulations to prevent the video clips from being used for illegal pre-election campaigning on portal sites.
The rising popularity of UCC is also creating a serious debate on the copyright problem.
According to figures released by the Copyright Commission for Deliberation and Conciliation, 83.75 percent of all UCC materials are in violation of copyright laws.
There have been a flurry of public calls for the government to devise measures to resolve the copyright issue. Last month, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced that it will produce a set of guidelines relating to copyright issues and UCC.
"Once the details have been finalized, the guidelines will provide internet users who produce UCC material with important information concerning copyright issues which will help to reduce the incidence of copyright violations," said Lee Jeong-hui, an official at the Culture Ministry`s Copyrights Team.
Additional reporting by intern reporters Park Jin and Jin Seung-hyun. - Ed.
By Choi Hee-suk