Not Saussure

December 12, 2006

Bob Piper (and copyright)

Filed under: Blogroll, Politics — notsaussure @ 7:30 pm

Sad news that Bob Piper, the antediluvian Labour’ (his phrase) councilor is taking a break from blogging after the furore caused by his reproducing Unity’s satire, from Ministry of Truth, on David Cameron.

I don’t in the slightest blame Prague Tory for taking Bob up on it or The Daily Mail for doing its usual thing; the subsequent fuss seemed to me, however, to a case of storms, molehills and so on, and the point of the satire — which badly misfired, obviously — was clearly to ridicule both the style and the intent of Cameron’s attempts to connect with non-traditional Tory voters. Cameron’s efforts, Unity seemed to be saying, come over as embarrassingly ill-judged as would his attempting to appeal to the black youth vote by blacking up like something out of the Black and White Minstrel Show and then, to cap it, trying further to ingratiate himself by showing he’s heard of gangsta rap and misusing what he takes to be black street slang to catastrophic effect. The joke rather misfired, however, and, as a comment by dsquared on Unity’s blog suggests, a lot of trouble could have been avoided by consulting this useful flowchart.

Nevertheless, politics is a rough old trade, and if a Tory councilor had done something similar, I can’t imagine Labour being slow to pillory him for it, no matter how unfairly. Cllr Piper, it should be remembered, is quite capable of misreading things in a way others might think a tad unfairly, as his reaction to Blairwatch’s advice to people to Vote Anyone But Labour in the council elections demonstrated.

However, I hope we haven’t heard the last from Bob Piper, for, as Tom Paine suggests, whatever one makes of Cllr Piper’s, New Labour can’t be at all disappointed to have him shut up for a while (metaphorically, of course, though they probably wouldn’t cavil at a literal interpretation). I see from The Tin Drummer that Prague Tory is has also been considering giving up blogging; I share The Drummer’s hope that he won’t, and, fortunately, it seems he’s thought better of it and keeping the good work with a post on one of Britain’s invisible minorities.

Ah, having just written this, I see that Mr Eugenides has also written something. I could have saved myself the trouble and just said ‘I agree with that Greek chap’.

However, I fear I have to comment on Unity’s — to my mind — extraordinary statement that

I’m asserting copyright and withdrawing permission for the use and reproduction of the image, at the very least until I can recontextualise it into a form that clear indicates where the debate should be going

It would be disingenuous of me, to say the least, to claim I know about the law of intellectual property as it applies to the Internet, but I’m pretty certain that, having put it into the public domain on his website, Unity has little legal redress if others reproduce it in the course of commenting on the controversy. If they tried to exploit the image for commercial purposes, or to pass it off as their own work, then I could see that he has a point both moral and legal, but otherwise I think it’s a bit of a non-starter.

There are two reasons I’m not reproducing it here; the first is that, since I’m saying this about his copyright claims, it would be effectively sticking up two fingers at him, and that’s not my style. The second is that anyone who wants to wants to have a look at it can click on the links above to The Birmingham Post or The BBC, I think makes requests not to reproduce it in articles a bit quixotic, but he’s asked people not to, so I won’t.

Besides, I’m sure if Unity thought through the implications, he’d have second thoughts about trying to use the law of intellectual property to stop people quoting from him. C’mon; if Unity were somehow to come into possession of a private memo sent by David Cameron to one of his colleagues that said something Mr Cameron would rather not have published, how would he react to being told — as would certainly be the case — that the contents were Cameron’s copyright and had certainly never been intended for publication, and that, consequently, he shouldn’t reproduce them?

Or, in a closer analogy, if Inigo Wilson had objected that his definition of ‘Islamophobic’ on Conservative Home was being quoted against him out of context (which, to my mind, it was) and, consequently, he was ‘asserting copyright’ and withdrawing permission for people to reproduce his words in contexts he felt damagingly misrepresented their meaning and intent, while leaving them up on Conservative Home? Legalities aside, it would come over as a bit odd, would it not?

UPDATE: Obsolete has an insightful analysis of the row, which I’ve only just seen. I don’t wholly agree with it, but heartily concur with his final paragraph:

Blogging was meant to escape all that. If politicians themselves cannot engage in what those of us without party membership or any affiliation enjoy doing and reading [i.e. blogging], thanks to the politically motivated actions of others, then we will deserve the leaders and representatives that we get.



  1. Let’s clarify this.

    First the IP law.

    1. Posting something on a blog does not put it automatically into the public domain. I happen to use a CC licence but even if my blog said nothing about copyright at all, my work is still mine, however I choose to publish it.

    2. Text can be reproduced under provisions for ‘fair dealing’ in the course of news reporting, but images are exempt from such provisions and I could, theoretically sue anyone using the image without permission.

    I took the step I did to try and cool things off after they started to get out of hand, not least in terms of the some of the frankly libellous comments flying around from people who arrived via the MSM coverage. But it applies ONLY to the image itself, and is only a temporary measure. As soon as things settled down fully – which may be a couple of days at most – I’ll revert it back to the normal CC licence and then bloggers can use it as they wish.

    There is also the point that the CC licene I use forbids commercial use of my material without permission – and in the case of newspapers (and outside fair dealing) that applies to their website, even if they are free to use and the website promotes the sale of the newspaper.

    Where I go with the MSM with this has yet to be seen – I could easily lawyer-up and demand not only the removal of the image, but royalities for its use – and if I do take it that far, it would be on the basis that visitors to my blog would get to vote on which charity gets the money – although the reality is that its probably too much hassle to go that route.

    I may be a bit old school, but I still hold to the first law of netiquette – what starts online, stays online.

    Sadly some – and one twat in particular – took it on themselves to deliberately push the issue into the real world in the hope of becoming the next Guido, causing not only Bob a load of hassle, but also his family.

    It may seem extraordinary, but its due to extraordinary circumstances, which I hope won’t be repeated and, as I’ve said, only a temporary thing.

    Comment by Unity — December 13, 2006 @ 2:14 am

  2. Thanks for the reply. As I said, I don’t pretend to know much about intellectual property, particularly as it applies to the internet — obviously most of the statute and case law predates the internet, so I think there are whole swathes of the law that just won’t be known until someone asks a court to decide. Then, of course, there’s the whole problem of enforcing national law in an international medium.

    I agree I used the term ‘public domain’ too loosely, though. I fully understand why you didn’t want people reproducing the image and inflaming things still further, and as far as I can see folks have respected your wishes (haven’t they?). Even among your ideological opponents I think that’s more through common courtesy than fear of legal action, though — which is the way it should be.

    Strict legalities and this particular case aside, what do you think about my reservations about trying to use copyright protection to prevent quotation (for want of a better word) of an image in the context of a controversy that’s taking off in unlooked-for and unpleasant ways?

    If someone writes a satirical piece that badly backfires — possibly because ill-intentioned people have deliberately misconstrued it — then there’s little the author can do about it. Do you think there should be something he could do to prevent his words being used in ways he didn’t intend? That would seem potentially to shut down a lot of discussion and argument. But if someone can’t prevent quotation of his words in ways and contexts he doesn’t like, why should images be a different case?

    I’m not being combative here; I’m just trying to understand the implications.

    Comment by notsaussure — December 13, 2006 @ 2:49 am

  3. [walks in, shaking head] nasty business all that. I was involved on a very small level, and while I don’t regret supporting PT, as I think he was right, I did feel kind of guilty when Piper announced his retirement from blogging. The internet is not like public politics: it should say, to paraphrase Sylvia Plath, “very well then, I am large, I contain multitudes”.

    Comment by The Tin Drummer — December 13, 2006 @ 8:38 am

  4. Just a couple of points: I’ve had this discussion subsequently with people at Blairwatch, and we both accept we made mistakes. My concern, expressed first over at Blairwatch, but also with Time Ireland at Bloggerheads, was that by advising people to vote ‘Anyone’ but Labour, without any qualification sends message of vote TO BEAT Labour. Well, in my Borough, in half a dozen seats, the best way to do that was to vote BNP.

    I wasn’t asking for a change of strategy, and I even stressed that I was fully aware that although I don’t support Tony Blair, a vote for me would be taken by the spin doctors to be a vote of confidence in him. All I wanted to do was make people aware.

    What caused the big fuss was when one of Blairwatch’s members posted (without irony) that a BNP government would be better than a Labour one because whilst they might kill some black people in Britain, they wouldn’t kill so many in Iraq. So… that’s the context of the kerfuffle.

    Tin Drummer… I had no problem engaging in a slagging match with PragueTory, but I know from two seperate sources that he not only floated around Tory bloggers by e-mail trying to get them to take up the issue with him (they both refused and told me what he was doing) he also went off to the media to whip up a storm (one journalist admitted it, another Midlands ‘media person’ said he wouldn’t confirm it, but wasn’t prepared to deny it either).

    Whatever fall-outs I’ve had on these blogs, I’ve kept the vitriol between us. If we go running off to get the mainstream media involved in our debates… we won’t have any debates, and I don’t just mean politicians.

    That’s why I’ve packed up for now. If I cannot engage in open discussion for fear the Mail, Express and Sky News are waiting to pounce… there’s no debate.

    Tin Drummer, you may not have meant it… but you were used.

    Comment by Bob Piper — December 13, 2006 @ 3:39 pm

  5. Fair enough, Bob. I’d taken it for granted that Blairwatch’s advice contained the implied qualification ‘unless you live in a place where that’ll mean voting for the BNP’ –which I realise applies to Sandwell but not, thank God, to most places. Consequently I rather thought you were mischievously twisting their advice to make them sound as if they were saying something they (as opposed to some people who commented on their site) didn’t mean.

    But I don’t want to revive old arguments and I apologise if I’ve misjudged you, which apparently I have.

    I hope you and your family have a good Christmas and that you soon feel able to return to blogging.

    Comment by notsaussure — December 13, 2006 @ 5:50 pm

  6. Thanks. I hope yours is good too.


    Comment by Bob Piper — December 13, 2006 @ 10:09 pm

  7. I spoke to no journalists. They were provoking Piper. I would like that journalist’s name. They should retract. My mobile records would prove that I have made or received no international calls in the last few days. After I offered a truce to Piper on Sunday afternoon and was rebuffed, I did pull other people in. I’ve asked Bob to have a think about why. I don’t know why Bob and Unity have started digging again.

    Comment by Praguetory — December 13, 2006 @ 11:26 pm

  8. The short answer is that there is no short answer to your question – which is why copyright ranks third behind medical negligence and libel in terms of the costs of litigation.

    That (and peer pressure on the net) is generally the main limiting factor unless the work has significant commercial value.

    Misquotes and statements out of context are particularly difficult, because that may also bring libel into play, as well as copyright.

    Best thing I can suggest is that you take a look through the Berne Convention, which is fairly readable by comparison with Copyrights, Parents and Trademarks 1988. You should get an idea of the internationally agreed core rights under copyright, from which some of the answers will become clear.

    Actually, and to be fair, to illustrate the complexities here the publisher of Gerald Ford’s biography successfully sued a newspaper (in the US) for breach of copyright for publishing one sentence from the book, from a review copy, before its date of publication, because the court decided that that publication had adversely affected the book’s material value and sales potential.

    Okay, so the sentence gave the reason why Ford gave Nixon a pardon, which is big ‘news’, but its still only one sentence.

    Comment by Unity — December 14, 2006 @ 1:35 am

  9. PragueTory is a bare faced liar. He has told me he did not contact anyone until after I told him to stick his truce up his arse – only offered when he got frightened his identity was going to come out). I have documentary proof that he was contacting Tory bloggers, not on Sunday PM as he has claimed, but as early as Friday. I quote one of the Tories who contacted me (marked ‘not for publication so I cannot say who) “…He contacted me about it all on Friday and wanted me to stoke it up by putting it all on my blog, but I didn’t, partly because I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about and partly because I didn’t particularly want to piss you off.”

    Now the cheeky get wants me to reveal the journalists name… whilst he wants to remain anonymous. Breathtaking.

    Comment by Bob Piper — December 14, 2006 @ 10:30 am

  10. I think we can see that Bob can be provoked. If you’re a journo needing a story, of course you’re going to tell Bob that you spoke to me. Sounds like it worked. Fact is, no journalist has tried or is trying to and no journalist cares to speak to me.

    Comment by Praguetory — December 14, 2006 @ 11:12 am

  11. Final point, because even I’m sick of arguing this without filling up other people’s blogs with it. A local journalist has played me a recording of someone claiming to be PragueTory and twittering on about Bob Piper’s “racist” blog. Of course I don’t know if it is authentic, but when PragueTory tells me one big lie and the journalist never has, I’m inclined to believe the journalist.

    I am prepared to say, that if both the journalist and/or myself have been duped, then I have taken PragueTory’s name in vain. But from the recording and the timing it was almost certainly one of the Tory cronies he had wound up anyway.

    Comment by Bob Piper — December 14, 2006 @ 1:41 pm

  12. >>> and Unity have started digging again

    Who’s digging? I’ve just been blogging as usual for the last couple of days, secure in the knowledge that the story is now only good for wrapping chips.

    If the chatter’s right you’ve had some blowback off this for being seen to have crossed the line and instigated the taking of this issue off the net and into the real world.

    If you did it – tough, you’ll get no sympathy here.

    If you didn’t and some muppet’s worked you over, then you’d be better off spending your time trying to find out who did (and it can only be from your own side of the political divide) and getting a mea culpa out of them to get you of the hook.

    Either way, arguing with Bob ain’t going to get you off the hook,so you’d be better off expending you time and energies elsewhere.

    Comment by Unity — December 14, 2006 @ 2:51 pm

  13. Unless I know the reporter’s identity (and can speak to him so he can compare my voice with the impersonator), I think that there’s no way I can disprove this.

    As I have never actually called Bob or his blog racist, the content of the call is certainly inconsistent with it being me.

    Comment by Praguetory — December 15, 2006 @ 12:44 pm

  14. And I must add that someone impersonating me in this way isn’t doing me any favours. I think it is difficult to speculate on why someone would get in touch with a reporter under a false identity and do this. I can’t imagine why.

    Comment by Praguetory — December 15, 2006 @ 12:49 pm

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