Category Archives: Law

Digital copyrights

This morning I read an interesting post by my friend Miljenko Williams called My wife’s no copyright infringer – but if this was digital, a crime would’ve been committed in which he talks about a subject that should probably worry me but I refuse to let it.

I put it that way because a lot of my work is in the public domain and I should be very worried that people are stealing it. Actually I took the basic decision some time ago that if they did – they did. It was not going to cost me anything although I accept that I might have earned more than I have had I been more careful. I could, for example, have put a watermark on all the photographs and videos on the blogs and web sites – but that is tiime consuming and a bore and then you have to have a system of selling them without the watermarks – and that, of course, assumes that someone wants to buy them.

Some of my video work is rather more commercial but this is sent to Newsflare who handle it for me and their watermark appears unless the clips are sold. Meanwhile, if I am commissioned to take photographs I get paid for what I supply. The rest? Well, I like to feel that they bring a bit of pleasure to a few.

Sadly this attitude is unusual and I can understand why that is so. It’s quite hard enough to make a living as a freelance without people stealing your output. However, some of the methods now in place to crack down on the sharing of music, videos and images etc. has become draconian and is probably catching the innocent and the minnows. None of which is to suggest I have the answers. I am, of course, grateful that most of our income continues to come from normally published works (both printed and as ebooks) which probably means I can afford to be a bit careless when there are others who can’t.

A link between lead and violent behaviour?

Browsing through the blogosphere can offer some interesting insights into all sorts of situations. One of my pet fascinations (probably to the extent of it being extremely unhealthy) is causation. So much legislation is passed which is based on an assumption of causation that may or may not be right. Often this assumption is based on statistics and that can be very misleading. There are many reasons for this.

First and foremost is the creation of the statistic which will usually involve the selection of the group to be analysed (people in the case of a poll but it can be almost anything such as soil samples). Unless the group choice is both neutral and comprehensive, the statistics will be inaccurate.

Then comes the interpretation of the statistics. Clearly I am in the area of crime in this blog so the obvious example is to look at the statistics that indicate that crime rates are dropping. These can be interpreted in two ways: crime rates really are dropping – thanks to the perception that the police are useless less crime is reported. In my view the truth is probably a bit of both but that opinion is pretty worthless (how could I really know?).

Lastly there is the determination of the cause based on these statistics. If crime really is dropping, the next stage should be to try to find out why. However, in the frantic world of politics where people are trying to combine two activities that are mutually exclusive (doing what is right for the nation plus remaining electable) the reaction is simple: if it ain’t broke don’t mend it. Actually not a bad reaction since “mending” always carries “unexpected consequences” but that is another subject.

If you think, however, that the cause is poor policing you will up the police anti by employing more and giving them greater powers. This could well prove a disaster if you have misread the causation: it could create an even greater divide between the people and the police but do nothing toward reducing crime.

So it was with the greatest pleasure that I stumbled on a post by Reality Swipe canned “The Rise and Fall of a Violent Society“. In short it demonstrates (and I feel conclusively) that when youngsters ingest – from the atmosphere or from painted objects, etc. – lead there is a fundamental change in the way in which the brain develops that means they will be more likely to become violent in later years. Read it for yourself if you want to be convinced and be grateful that we now live in a world where lead is no longer used so widely (especially in motor fuels – which resulted in high lead levels in the atmosphere –  and in paints). Thus we do not need to take further action in this case but it clearly shows the need to find causation before acting to correct a problem.

Obviously removing one cause of violence will not remove all violence so now we need to look at what else needs attention. Since I was complaining about statistics and now I am accepting that statistics enabled us to uncover this causation I should add that these statistics come from the right group and are comprehensive. The one crime that is bound to be reported to the police is murder (unless carried out so discretely that murder is not suspected in which case it is hardly an example of a violent crime) so we may accept the reductions in the murder rate as an accurate figure. Likewise the drop in the level of lead in the environment is not disputed although more needs to be done to lower it further.

Let me finish with a quote from Reality Swipe’s blog. “Like most good science, this has fallen on deaf ears. There is minimal political push around the world for this to be addressed. Most politicians, like good old Rudy Giuliani, are happy claiming that their policies are the reason for this drop in crime . . .”

The EU, regulations and a haircut.

I know that I have become obsessed by the matter of the relationship between the UK and the EU recently so I will just touch on the subject here. When it was announced that there was to be a vote on the amendment to the Queen’s speech on the matter of a referendum, I emailed my MP – Dr Sarah Woolaston – and asked her which way she intended to vote. As far as I know, she is the only MP to have been selected following primaries held in the constituency (sometimes I wonder whether David Cameron may regret that) so she is a good example of an independently-minded Conservative. She emailed back to say that she would be voting for the amendment so I know that my MP is only too happy to let the electorate decide on this divisive and difficult matter. 

I would add that if my MP had voted against that amendment, regardless of their party I would fight tooth and nail at the next general election to encourage people to vote for someone else. If my MP feels he or she cannot trust their voters, why should not expect to be trusted. 

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The international rules and regulations that control maritime affairs are creating more problems than they are solving – mainly because they have been written with the ship design, manufacturing methods and control systems which applied at the time they were written. They do need to be brought up to date but that raises all sorts of problems in an age where technical advances are so rapid – unless there is a complete rethink they will always be years out of date. 

This is because there is a huge difference between Restrictive Regulations and Risk-based Regulation. The first sets down a list of rules that have to be met. If, as an example, there is then an accident in your workplace, so long as all these rules have been followed, there is only one person at fault: the regulator. Neither the employer controlling the environment nor the person involved in the accident are to blame. The second is very different. An employer is expected to control the workplace environment so as to remove anything that might cause any foreseeable accidents and people working there are expected to behave in a responsible and safe way. 

Restrictive Regulations cost business huge sums of money – obviously making their products or services more expensive – and often fail to meet the particular problems in any particular workplace. These regulations presently include matters of health and safety as well as employment law. A regulation which states quite simply that there is a duty of care placed on all persons involved in the workplace (whether as owners, employers, employees, customers, suppliers or simply visitors), many of these regulations could be removed since almost everything that is presently covered by restrictive regulation would be covered by that simple requirement. Whilst it might not actually save a business costs, it should ensure that what is spent is spent wisely and well. 

The problem is, of course, that in a court of law a piece of paper in the form of a check list is more objective than statements which tend to be of a subjective nature. This is why that most litigious of nations, the USA, will not contemplate Risk-based Regulations for maritime affairs whilst the UK and Norway, for example, use them to cover oil rigs in the North Sea. 

I hope to explore this matter of simplifying regulations and making all individuals more responsible for their actions further and would welcome any ideas that you might have on the subject. 

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 And finally, as they say, a friend of mine who is a regular contributor to Twitter tells me of a new venture opening in Newton Abbot in Devon (which is just down the road from here). It is not the best of times to be starting up and it takes a good deal of guts. It is Barbering Corner MR in Queen Street so if you are needing a haircut and you find yourself in Newton, you might like to give them a try.

One of our Deputy Speakers has been arrested.

When the news broke that one of the Deputy Speakers had been arrested in connection with alleged rapes, my initial thought was: “For his sake I do hope he is guilty since there must be nothing worse than being innocent and unable to clear your name.” Instinctively I felt that no names should be divulged until the courts have decided that someone is innocent or guilty. Was this instinct right?

I exchanged a few Tweets with one of our new UKIP Councillors, Lee Barney, and he suggested that there should be no disclosure of names until someone is charged – as opposed to when they are arrested. 

However, the always thought-provoking Camilla Cavendish writing in the Sunday Times made me ponder afresh. Here is a part of what she wrote. 

“In trying to work out where I think the balance between freedom and privacy should lie, I spoke last week to Mark Lewis, the lawyer who represented the Dowler family in the phone-hacking scandal. To my surprise he is emphatically in favour of suspects being named in the media.

He pointed out that Levi Bellfield, who killed Milly Dowler, had a history of similar attacks that greater publicity might have helped to prevent. He also pointed out the dangers of giving out incomplete information about suspects, in the age of social media. One of his clients was recently accused on Twitter of being a sexual predator because he was the same age, and lived in the same area, as a man who had been arrested but not named. In this example, secrecy undermined the innocent.

For all these reasons, I creep slowly back to the principle that, while open justice is not flawless, it is generally preferable to the alternative. Secrecy lets all manner of things be covered up. And this is particularly true in relation to public bodies.” (Cammilla Cavendish, Sunday Times, 5 May 2013)

Probably the most persuasive of these is the middle paragraph. How would you feel if you were accused of an offence simply because you lived in the same town as an arrested person and were of the same age?

Now I am in a muddle: which of these options is right? Is there another way?

Is there room for a control by someone outside the police in such cases? We have such a system in place when it comes to searching private premises: could this not be extended quite simply to meet this situation?

The default position would be that the police do not divulge the name of an arrested person. If they have a reason for so doing, they would be required to obtain a warrant from a JP in exactly the same way as they need to apply for a search warrant.

This would not be perfect (people will still makes guesses and an investigative journalist might discover and reveal the name) but it would be a simple step in the right direction. 

I have invited Councillor Lee Barney to send me his views as a guest blogger and I understand his comments will be with me some time this week.