The Scots Law Student

The SLS : Life and trials of learning law in Scotland

Month: January, 2010

Blawg Review #248

Welcoming speech

Welcome everyone to Blawg Review #248, this week hosted at Today is the 251st anniversary of celebrated Scottish poet Robert Burns’ birth, which took place on this day in 1759. Burns was a prolific poet who wrote his best work in Scots, which is not the same as English, and he also recorded traditional Scottish music and spread it to a much wider audience than ever before. He’s why you probably sang Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve no matter where you live.

Robert Burns

The traditional way of marking the birthday is with haggis (an indigenous hill dwelling creature with legs shorter on one side than the other and hunted with a net), neaps (mashed turnips), tatties (potatoes, same), whisky (uisge beatha, “water of life” – a popular local health tonic), poetry (by Burns) and song (by the same). Bagpipes and other musical accompaniment is sometimes considered optional but very welcome.

Unfortunately, due to some technical limitations of internet technology, your host can only offer you a review of some of the best legal blog posts made this week.

Readers should feel free to follow tradition while you read this blawg review, however, luckily the transatlantic haggis trade has reopened just in time, as reported in today’s Guardian, so American Burns fans can now buy haggis openly instead of with their Cuban cigars.

The “great chieftan o’ the puddin-race” was one of earliest casualties of the BSE crisis of the 1980s-90s, banned on health grounds by the US authorities in 1989 because they feared its main ingredient ‑ minced sheep offal ‑ could prove lethal.

A Burns Supper is simply a typical formal meal with food in courses, drink, speeches, a very sharp knife and bagpipes. Like many cultural events it is most commonly seen outside of its country of origin, and particularly in the US.

Speaking of the US, something called the Supreme Court made up its mind on something called Citizens United v FEC this week, you may have heard about this. Sounds serious.

The law everywhere has trouble dealing with what a legal person, like companies, unions, charities, trusts and so on is, since it’s clearly not a person in the normal sense, and what rights and responsibilities of natural persons they should get. For example, people are allowed to give to political parties, should companies?

The Citizens United judgement provides the lion’s share of US legal blogging for this week because it reverses the previous position on US electoral donations. Both Liz Kurtz at the Legal Blog Watch and Jonathan Adler at the Volokh Conspiracy provides a set of links providing a number of perspectives on the 5-4 decision.

Some “critics and dissenters immediately predicted it would alter elections in 2010 and beyond by unleashing a new flood of corporate and union money into a system already awash with special-interest funds” wrote Tony Mauro in The National Law Journal.
(Legal Blog Watch)

We, in Britain, also have a Supreme Court to oversee our legal system. Well, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and so on do. Scotland is, yet again, an edge case as Professor Neil Walker reported on Friday, basically because we might secede. Absolvitor, a good resource of Scottish facing legal issues, summarises the various avenues of appeal Scottish litigants possess:

As you know, the current position is that in civil cases, a right of appeal lies from the Inner House of the Court of Session to the Supreme Court. In criminal matters, the High Court of Justiciary (sitting in an appellate capacity) is the final court of appeal. Unless there is a “devolution matter” raised (usually a human rights point), in which case the Supreme Court will take a look. Happy so far? Good.

Needless to say Independence (with a big I) would change everything again. Do not be surprised if a lot of people get confused.

Selkirk Grace

One of Burns’ pithiest poems is the Selkirk Grace, dealing with misfortune and inequality (and thankfulness for not being in that situation) in society in four lines.

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

Sadly this remains the case today and with the recent earthquake in Haiti still constantly in the news the role of charity has been brought to the forefront.

Inksters is a Glasgow based firm of solicitors who have made great and innovative use of social networking and internet communications in general. I discovered the ARTL (Automated Registration of Title to Land) system for electronic property conveyancing through the @BrianInkster twitter feed.

Brian Inkster has made it clear that he possesses an active social conscience and he is not long returned from a Habitat for Humanity Global Village Challenge in Argentina. The firm’s Give Blog has been nominated for a Scotblogs Award and I’d encourage others to check that out.

Entrance of the haggis

For a main course I thought I would start with three blawg reviews aside from the venerable Blawg Review.

It is really very hard, I’ve discovered, to do a good review of the goings on in the legal sphere and CharonQC’s Herculean task of reviewing the events every day demands recognition. It’s been an eventful week in Britain, with terror alert increases, an Iraq war inquiry, a legal costs review, assisted suicide (including a proposal for legislative reform in Scotland), home defence criminality and more. CharonQC, with the help of roja, deals with it.

The facts of this case are well known. The case caused an outcry, prompting politicians to respond “robustly”. Many lawyers took the view that the self defence, reasonable and proportionate force, laws in this country are sufficient. Many, including me, felt that the trial judge was right to sentence Mr Hussain and his brother to prison. Chasing someone down the road and battering them so badly with a cricket bat that the bat broke and the victim suffered serious injury is not self defence. It may well be a completely understandable reaction, but no matter how one looks at it, it is retribution. It is vengeance. It is taking the law into your own hands.

(I happen to agree, I think self defence is a powerful defence which needs respected)

Also noteworthy is the 16th A Round Tuit which came out this week, dealing with a range of issues, from the overabundance of law students (eek) to the ongoing Google v China dispute through the medium of Conan O’Brien.

I may not be an avid late night TV watcher and I can hardly care less which network or host prevails in the ratings battle, but I’ve been closely following the fiasco NBC created when it tried to juggle one too many hosts and came up a time slot or two short. Why the sudden interest? In short, because this week late night was all about contracts and intellectual property and was on at a reasonable hour.

The Conglomerate Blog makes the leap between the Google v China dispute and Citizens United. Both show the role of the company in relation to public power. This makes a short essay that is worth checking out.

I would argue that Google’s threat to leave China because of government intrusion into its operations can be seen as a victory for those who advocate for corporate social responsibility. And the Citizens United decision obviously represents a victory for those who want to see corporations as not being creatures of the state, but rather as persons that can check government action. But these two victories pose thorny intellectual problems for the victors.

The Legal Underground does Weekly Law School Roundup #208 from Buenos Aires. He links to a set of exam tips “They all say it so it must be true” that have always served me well and I would highlight them to other students going through the same trials.

  1. Come into the exam with a good attitude, be calm and confident
  2. Read the call of the question first!
  3. Read slowly and carefully
  4. Spend time outlining your answers
  5. Answer the damn question! Make sure you understand what he is asking! Dont answer questions he isnt asking. FOLLOW DIRECTIONS!

Address To a Haggis

The most famous part of the Burns supper is where the Haggis is piped into the room, the Address to a Haggis is recited and it is sliced open. I think this provides as much of a chance to slew into lawyer branding as I’m ever going to have.

Keven O’Keefe at provides 4 questions to let you define your personal brand.

  1. What differentiates you from everyone else who might have a similar background or set of experiences?
  2. What skills, abilities, knowledge and attitudes do you have (or are developing) that will make people want to work with, follow or ‘friend’ you — online or off?
  3. What value can you create for others as a friend, blogger, colleague, teammate, boss or subordinate?
  4. What will make you satisfied and fulfilled that you are indeed making a contribution?

I think I could handle this style of branding myself – this sounds a lot like simply evaluating your professional life and it’s a lot less strenuous and time consuming than the rest of social media can be.

Loyal toast

Unfortunately, although the time has come to toast the Monarch, I can’t find a legal blogger who talked about her in the last week. So it falls upon me – raise your glasses, good on you Queenie, keep up the good work.

Immortal memory

Burns was a serious ladies’ man, a poet, a writer and it’s probably safe to assume that he’d be the sort to let a TV camera turn his head. A worry which surrounds the legal profession is that judges and lawyers are also the sort to let cameras turn their heads. The issue of cameras in court has been discussed widely in blawgosphere but Ramblings of a Scottish Studentappeals to me for the Scottish, student perspective.

There are some concerns around TV cameras being routinely allowed into courts. Justice is supposed to be open, but there are times where sensitive issues are being dealt with and TV cameras in the court room may make these harder to conduct. Also, there is a fear that the legal profession (including judges) may be tempted to “act up” to the cameras.


Scott Greenfield gave the US facing Judge Kozinski perspective a little while ago. I think Scott Greenfield talks a lot of sense on his blawg and I’m a fan.

I agree with him on cameras in court I’d like to be able to watch it on TV to learn from but that’s not what court’s there for.

Toast to the Lassies

I feel terrible relegating an interesting post on mediation, how it can go wrong and Texas to this position of the supper. I really like ADR and I try to read and learn about it whenever I get the chance.

My limited experience of mediation shows that it needs a reasonable attempt on both sides for it to possibly work. Holly Hayes Bovio comments on ‘Bad Faith Mediation: Bad News for Mediators’ (Susan Schultz, Texas Mediator, Winter edition) and the implications this has on mediator confidentiality.

Ms. Schultz refers also to the subchapter of the Texas ADR Procedures Act devoted to “impartial third parties”. She asks, “How does the mediator build trust among the parties and maintain impartiality when the mediator is also tasked with reporting bad faith based on each party’s conduct? Making the mediator the watchdog for bad faith is not consistent with impartiality.”

Toast to the Laddies

One of the more inevitable outcomes of picking a side against homosexual liberties is that eventually someone will make you the butt of a joke. Legal Pad comments on an IP battle when a pro- proposition 8 group found out that their logo had been parodied by a pro marriage equality group.

The SF Gate’s Scavenger blog reports that the righteous forces of Yes on 8 are not amused that their stick-figure logo for straight families united against unstraight families has been parodied (or, hey, infringed) by the folks from across the aisle (political aisle, not the one a wedding party walks).

A pro-marriage-equality group parodied the logo for its Prop 8 Trial Tracker site (hope they’re following Dan Levine’s daily stream of insightful courtroom tweets). Prop8_yeson8_logo And, shockingly, the ProtectMarriage people turn out to be kinda upset about it. I know, who saw that coming? So we have a suit for infringement, blah blah. We present the logos of both sides for your consideration.

Other toasts and speeches

Law schools

Law schools have always had a real problem fitting into a role, from their first days they had to fit into a legal system where people learned about philosophy or classics at university and then going into practice to learn by doing from a working lawyer. In the early days nascent law schools needed to avoid stepping on too many legally trained toes. Over the last century or so this has developed into a situation where law has split into distinctly academic and “trench” law. This leaves law graduates (and undergrads just doing work experience, I’ve had this experience myself) realising that merely knowing Lord Atkin’s neighbourhood test doesn’t set you up to be a practising lawyer.

Wired GC quotes a new law graduate to show this reaction:

“I just graduated from law school; I know me, I wouldn’t hire me as my lawyer at this point.”

I recall when BabyBarista took his first case, a sanguine repeat offender who calmly accepted that he was not a greatly experienced lawyer. I imagine few others would.

Legal writing

Legal writing is a major issue for everyone ranging from the 1Ls, through the 3Ls (like me) and of course to practitioners. I imagine Justice Steven’s pen must still be smoking after his 90 page dissent in Citizens. It’s a specialised skill that I have a sadly fluctuating grasp of.

The (new) legal writer provides a set of references which helps people trying to write plainly, typesetting, and proof reading. I read this sort of thing all the time, I don’t think you can get enough advice for how you perform.

To that end UCL Practitioner suggests another 30 posts.

Events in Scotland

I mention Lord Atkin’s famous test from Donoghue v Stevenson because it gives me a good tie to a pair of websites dedicated to the snail in the ginger beer case. Paisley is a Scottish city and so the case was initially a delict action, only becoming a tort when it reached the House of Lords. is a site dedicated purely to the “most famous case in the common law world” as an historical interest. It includes a talk from Lord Denning, known to administrative law students as “da man.”

The other,, is a teaching blog for mini trials. I find the concept of HMA v Goldilocks, heard at St Margaret’s Junior School in November, to be exactly the sort of thing that the law needs in a county where too often your first introduction to the criminal justice system (or any law at all) is at the wrong end of a Children’s Panel. I would have loved to have that in my primary school.

Post dinner singing

Often, once the speeches are out of the way in a Burns Supper, it devolves into a singathon which goes through all of his songs that at least one person present knows the words and/or tune of.

One reason that people can so readily repeat Burns’ work, even in the most glitzy of corporate events is that Burns’ copyright has lapsed and his works are now in the public domain. This is not always the case and the spectre of IP infringement and IP enforcement hovers over practically every user of the internet in one way or another.

ICANN, back at the turn of the century, created a quasi-arbitration process for dealing with cybersquatting. This UDRP was to deal with people who registered domain names which were confusingly similar to another’s trademark. This problem arises everywhere where there is a scarcity of names which correspond to multiple parties’ interests, even if there is no process in place to deal with it like with domain names. Twitter suffers from this scarcity in terms of account names. The principle concern is trade mark dilution although flat out bad faith deception is also possible. The Chicago IP Litigation Blog provides a guide to identifying and stopping peope who are masquerading as you:

  1. Claim Your Names
  2. Play Sherlock Holmes
  3. Get Your Name Back
  4. Take Action
  5. Use Your New Twitter Identity

Likelihood of confusion follows up with advice on the branding of, not whisky, but wine. He provides useful realist advice – for example “Your advice should not place undue weight on the so-called merits of the inevitable legal challenge to your client’s business. These are irrelevant unless your client is funded for extensive litigation” – that doesn’t just talk about what can be done but what probably should be done.

Also remind your client that copyright has its own penumbras and emanations, and can often be seen quacking very much like a twademark–consider the recent “60 Years Later” ruling granting a monopoly to J.D. Salinger on the concept of Holden Caulfield. If there’s any way copyright can be assserted against your client, which is likely considering that the work you refer to does have a copyright, it will be.

Vote of thanks

And this draws to a close an intense couple days of blog watching. It’s been very educational and I think it’s been a good week for scouring the blawgosphere. Thanks to Ed. of the Blawg Review for picking the Scots Law Student for this week. Thanks for reading, have a hearty Burns’ Night. Sláinte.


Cameras in court: Openness is a means, not an end

Cameras in court is one of the prenennial issues that keeps coming back into the news. The primary argument seems to be that they are a necessary element to provide a democratic nation with open courts. Another, slightly dodgy, argument is that courts need to be modern.

The problem with that is defending a decision to be open solely on the basis of openness slightly misses the point. Openness is a noble principle for public bodies but it is not a particularly useful end in itself, if it was clothes and curtains would be illegal. The idea of making things open is that it will make things better through the increased amount of oversight rather than a direct connection of openness to quality. That’s putting the cart before the horse. Openness is a means, not an end.

Saying that you should modernise things because they can be modernised is an even worse situation for any system to be in and you end up with examples like the NHS hit and miss database systems (some are good, some are massive failures). The advantages of doing modernisation right are numerous but you do it for the advantages, not the modernisation.

The advantages that come from openness are huge, it’s necessary for people who are expected to obey the edicts of courts to generally trust that the people in the court are not going to put on a black cap and send them down for funsies and so justice needs to be seen to be done. Also openness is one of the biggest cures for corruption (up to a point, if you get to the point where “everyone knows” about corrupt officials openness is the least of your worries) and this is a good thing, you should be against corruption in any legal system.

That means that I don’t think promoters of the move really get to say that court TV will make the court system work better than it does now. We need openness in the court for several reasons but whether that is in the form of public rights of access or in published judicial decisions or in a live TV camera in every court is another matter entirely. Whether the rigmarole of setting up broadcast feeds from inside courtrooms (commentators from the US have found this creates a substantial delay) is worth the chance that,

  1. something will be done wrongly,
  2. someone will see,
  3. recognise the mistake and
  4. do something about it


  1. someone will not attempt to do something wrong that they would have done on the existing audio recording but will not because of the camera recording them,

is something that would require quite careful research to answer.

Things don’t get better just because you can watch them on TV nor is being able to watch it on TV what makes it good, just look at Big Brother.


Search Query

In an homage to Michael at Law Actually this is a funny search query post. The majority of my search queries are fairly serious ones, generally focusing on typewriters, laptops and if law is difficult and if so how much and I don’t often get many funny ones. But here is one that caught my eye:

“is white spirit as good as gbl?”

At getting rid of paint, yes. I wouldn’t risk drinking it. If you’re the Mona Lisa it might not be good but it has its place, which is taking paint from surfaces.


You wouldn’t steal a car (and MW2 – who needs topicality?)

An analogy that works simplifies issues for people by letting them transfer their pre-formed opinion of one thing to another. An analogy that doesn’t can backfire to the point of leaving people suspicious that they are being deceived. The car theft analogy is a popular one in discussions of behaviour of which you disapprove. I’m sure everyone reading this is familiar with the You Wouldn’t Steal a Car videos on DVDs and movies in cinemas – the message is that you wouldn’t download a movie either (I think it’s pretty clear that you wouldn’t – you’ve paid to see the You Wouldn’t Steal a Car videos after all). The IT Crowd satires this ( pretty well.

I suspect that car theft is used because it is so morally unambiguous, a lot of people wouldn’t say that stealing a loaf of bread to feed your starving family is wrong at all so “you wouldn’t steal a loaf of bread” has never caught on whereas car theft is harder to defend and so it gets compared to anything and everything that’s not liked.

The problem with the analogy is that it’s too simple and broadly used. Things can be bad without being like car theft. If something is not like car theft then comparing it to car theft will not help your argument. The main issue is car theft involves someone losing something (a car) and file sharing doesn’t involve someone losing any asset – the analogy is so ill fitting a rejoinder of “I wouldn’t steal a car, but I’d download one if I could” has sprung up in some quarters.

A very clear misuse of the car theft analogy came in the Modern Warfare 2 “Javelin Glitch” – you could juggle your weapons in such a way that that the game would forget about your grenade until you were killed and then it would get so confused you’d explode. It’d often have the effect of killing people near your character (like your killer). Some people hated it and other people loved it (Penny Arcade decided it was the only way to beat the over-powered dual shotgun game-play style).

What I am describing, of course, is a sneaky way of playing a video game in which you pretend to be a soldier and shoot people. Microsoft reacted by banning the Xbox Live accounts of those using it and rushing a patch out uncharacteristically quickly. There was a fair amount of discussion at the time if using any particular mistake caused by a developer was worse than another and if it merited locking you out of an online gaming system you had paid to access. There’s apparently some provisions in the terms and conditions to allow cheaters to be banned so it seems on the face of it to be all right since they didn’t just decide to do it out of the blue.

The head of Xbox Live policy on this issue reacted to the controversy by posting this message on Twitter:

“Wow some of you think cheating a glitch is I install my car stereo wrong and it disables my door locks it’s not ok to STEAL MY CAR”

I must confess I am naturally put off this guy because of that “um” but regardless here the senior Microsoft employee whose policy banned everyone compares cheating at a video game to car theft. They’re different types of problem – ask any 5 year old. I know I don’t like car theft but it does nothing to help his case on banning cheaters.

The problem of the analogy for its user- I’ve discussed it from the perspective of listeners before – as the thing that persuades someone is that it needs to be a good one or it backfires and if it’s all you have your argument falls. Cheating in games can be annoying and it can spoil it for other people but it’s not like stealing a car. If someone asks you “did you just compare health reform to the Holocaust?” they’re not buying your argument.


Needless video

I own an iPod Nano. This is not to show off about my latest toy, it’s actually one of the very first iPod Nanos from 2005. I keep using it because it still works and it was quite a lot of money at the time. It does sound, photos and it plays Brick. On the other hand it doesn’t have a touchscreen and it doesn’t run Apps. These are things that I’d probably use if my iPod had them but I’m not bothered enough to buy a new one. The one thing that I’m currently disappointed about is that it doesn’t do video.

the original iPod Nano

The original iPod Nano has a tiny 1.5″ screen and really is only supposed to let you see the name of the song that is currently playing. I don’t really want to watch video on the thing. What I do want to do is copy video podcasts to it. I think this is acceptable because in many cases the video podcast is just a podcast which has a video with it. The video element is seeing the speaker talk to a camera or something else which is nice to have but not enough to add extra content.

A podcast is effectively a recorded radio show which you can download. It can have interviews, fiction, non fiction and so on as long as it is recorded and published as a digital file for download. CharonQC does a very regular, good legal podcast – “law casts” naturally – which illustrates the concept very well. A video podcast – tenuously a “vodcast” – is simply a video file rather than an audio file.

Quite a good example is the really good, highly recommended David Mitchell’s Soapbox which can be effectively summarised as the guy from Peep Show complaining about things. They are speeches which are jazzed up by superimposing Mitchell onto a thematically suitable background, for example in “Waste” he is pictured sitting in a bin. Beyond that the real meat of the content is the speech. It’s just that it could work as a audio file too and if it was an audio file I could put it on my iPod and listen to it while I’m out and about.

This simply comes down the issue of choosing your medium when you prepare a presentation. A podcast about learning to paint is something that benefits from having a video whereas an audiobook does not (an audiobook which adds enough visual content to benefit from having video is called a movie). I think most people’s work will fall in the middle of those extremes and the judgement call has to be made. The take home lesson for today is that it’s important to realise that there actually is a judgement call to make.

The broadband revolution, improved processing capacity and the reduced cost of data storage means that the technical difference between making a podcast and making a “vodcast” is now reasonably narrow – downloading a 20MB video file is now only a couple of minutes, will disappear into a terabyte hard drive and will not strain a quad core processor. If you’re in this position, technologically you really may as well point a camera at stool in front of a blank wall and talk into it. I’d encourage you to avoid picking video because you may as well instead of because it’s better for what you’re doing. A good option if you want to have the best of both worlds is simply to do both, strip the video using your favourite video editing software and just post the sound in a separate download.


Independent is a bit rubbish to photographers

19-1-10: This has now been resolved – an apology was given and an invoice for £100 is working its way through the Independent’s offices. I think that’s a good resolution – image licensing is something that the newspaper does every day after all. Congratulations to PeteZab for sticking with it to the conclusion. A lot of commentators on the flickr thread had written his chances off.

Citizen journalism is a big deal these days, and uncharitably it has been linked to the recently reduced profitability of publishing companies behind the newspaper industry. Citizen journalists don’t really know what they should be paid and professional journalists know all too well. I really don’t know what I’d ask for if a photograph I own ended up in a newspaper – £10? £1000? It all depends on the details of the case. Apparently £150 is about what an English person should “expect”, but that’s a Man-Down-The-Pub’s-guess of a figure. I have no idea about Scottish people whatsoever.

One recent example of this was the Independent running a series of pictures of the recent (it’s only just away in my area) snow. They basically just hooked, to be hip and technical, a steam from using the Flickr API. This is, a) an easier way for websites to embed Web 2.0 content into their own sites and, b) (according to the Independent) apparently a hidden loophole in the pretty general rules on what constitutes publishing photographs. Does publishing count as copying the image from Flickr’s servers and putting it onto an Independent server or can it include embedding it into a commercial website and surrounding it with adverts? The Pirate Bay case law provides an international opinion.

It might not seem like a big deal – a newspaper puts a slideshow of pretty pictures on its website. Except that they just embedded the slideshow, they didn’t go out and get permission to use the photographs. When one photographer noticed one of his images, to which he had reserved all rights, being used in the stream he sent off a message to the newspaper asserting his rights. This is quite right and is how these things work, you need to assert your rights or the other party will never know you’re unhappy with their behaviour.

Dear Independent,

I notice you’re using one of my images without any acknowledgement (or permission) on your website, the link is as follows, in-the-uk-se…
The image is on my Flickr site at the following address and is marked as ©All rights reserved.
I’m assuming this is an oversight; I am quite happy for you to use my image but this is, naturally, subject to the appropriate payment rate. I look forward to your response in due course.

This (I think quite reasonably) treats the issue as a transaction for image licensing, something a newspaper should be intimately familar with. Those pictures don’t get into the paper by magic. It’s not even refusing the paper retrospective permission to use the image with all the hassle that entails. Retrospective licensing is a very easy and clean way to resolve copyright infringement that never seems to be used by those suing individuals, for example RIAA v. Tenenbaum.

The reply from The Independent pretty much exemplifies why lots of people don’t like copyright these days. Here the big content company assumes that the smaller player waived his copyright by putting it online. The reverse would never be entertained – newspapers retain copyright over their online editions because that’s how copyright works and so it’s quite a clear double standard. I quite like copyright in principle but the imbalance in the scale of the players involved is one of the starkest in law.

Reply from The Independent, Sent: Thursday, January 07, 2010 5:46 PM
We took a stream from Flickr which is, as you know, a photo-sharing website. The legal assumption, therefore, is that you were not asserting your copyright in that arena. We did not take the photo from Flickr, nor present it as anything other than as it is shown there.
I do no consider, therefore, that any copyright has been breached or any payment due.

As you can see that was ten days ago and the photographer has not been paid or, indeed, any right to the photo has not been accepted. The assumption that copyright has been actively waived, instead of the probably safer (though more expensive) assumption that copyright has been passively retained, means that it pays for content that the creator notices they used (and only those with determination to fight through the bureaucracy) rather than content that they use.

My copyright experience – watermarking

More regular readers of the blog may have noticed that I have started putting the characters “4dd6465fc78a86d0987870f88dffcb9c” at the bottom of my posts, when I remember, this is because I was the victim of an RSS scraper blog which copied the entirety of my “Legal highs – Not suitable for human consumption” post including the title, which I was pretty proud of and even seemed to be reasonably original back then. It’s there so that my posts can be found by searching for this 128-bit number instead of the words which I’ve used (which are less identifying). It’s not related to my rights, it just means I can track infringements down and show they come from me. This is why people should consider watermarking images which they put online, it’s not so that you have copyright, it just helps in enforcing your copyright.

Hat tip to: Boing Boing

(Trivia: The code at the bottom of my posts is the MD5 checksum I generated from a copy of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, which I thought would be a nice geeky touch.)


Electrosensitivity claim hits a bump

Electrosensitivity is one of the newer injury complaints that’s been making the rounds worldwide. Generally it boils down to microwave or radio radiation triggering allergy type reactions and like all personal injury actions the aim is to remedy the damage. Unusually for personal injury cases if someone manages to win one of these it will change modern life.

There is such a case working its way through the courts in South Africa on this issue and the defence has possibly revealed the biggest card ever. The pursuers allege that they have been harmed by a radio tower owned by iBurst. iBurst say that this could not have happened, not just because of issues I’ll mention in a second, but because they’d turned the tower off a month and a half before the residents even got together to discuss their problems. I’m not a lawyer but I think that’s a pretty good defence. I really hope it won’t adversely affect their much more sensible planning based dispute with the mast’s operator.

I have no doubt that most of those complaining about electrosensitivity have suffered the effects they claim but I’ve always been sceptical that their electronic equipment is doing it to them. Electromagnetic radiation was ancient in Benjamin Franklin’s time.

The problem with electrosensitivity claims is that there’s just no solid evidence that the things that people complain about are actually capable of doing what they’re being accused of, even before considering if they are doing it. It’s either in the situation that cigarettes were in the 60s or homoeopathy is now and we might look back in the future and think we were silly for ever thinking it could have been the other way. Right now no one’s been able to show conclusive links.

We all know that radiation is bad for us, we know to avoid sitting in the sun too long, and to stay away from nuclear waste and the business end of X-Ray machines. It would follow that avoiding the microwave radiation in a mobile phone would be a critical survival tip too, right?

Not really, it all depends on whether or not mobile phones are harmful for us or not. It could well be like avoiding a house cat just because tigers and lions are dangerous. The effect radiation has on people comes down to power, like a lot of things in life, and to wavelength, like rather fewer things in life. If there’s not enough power in a signal at the right wavelength then the wave won’t do anything to you and I think that’s really where we are with WiFi and mobile phone, the most common complaints, electrosensitivity cases.