HM Court & Tribunals Service has made a monumental error that has left journalists and law students alike gasping, wondering how they could make such a schoolboy error.
Medialawblogger’s cat studies court reporting
As every media law or journalism student knows, the victims in cases involving any sort of sexual offences may not be publicly named – even if they are co-defendants, as in the trial of paedophile Ian Watkins, frontman of the Lostprophets. Rumours have been circulating as to the identity of the two co-defendants in this trial – the hapless women who were drawn into Watkins’ horrific world of depravity, lured there by his fame and promises. These women sacrificed the innocence of their own children, to satisfy their own hunger for fame, but even so, they may be victims and, more to the point, their children definitely ARE victims. Naming the women makes known the identity of the children – so-called ‘jigsaw’ identification – and this is strictly prohibited. Breach of this reporting restriction is contempt of court, which makes it all the more astonishing that the party to breach this law is the court!
The daily courtroom lists are published online each day, which is very useful for journalists. But less so when the list mistakenly names the co-defendants/possible victims/victims’ mothers – presumably because the listing officer did not know the details and so assumed that these were ‘ordinary’ defendants who could (and should) be named. A journalist that is not too hot on reporting law may have easily taken a cue from the listing, and published the names of the women.
Strangely, the Attorney General seems to have foreseen that something brown and sticky was going to hit the fan (the air cooling type of fan, that is, though medialawblogger makes no comment about the other sort) and tweeted on the 28th November:
‘We understand that the names of the co-defendants in the Ian Watkins case have been posted online. (½)’
This was followed five minutes later by an explanation….
‘Victims of sex offences have lifetime anonymity. Publication of info which could identify them is a criminal offence & a police matter.’
So just why did the AG feel moved to make those tweets? Because it’s not just journalists that make mistakes. Enter (stage left) Peaches Geldof, who could clearly use some law lessons if she is going to continue to make money writing as a journalist, as she has been doing for several years now. Peaches tweeted the names of the two women, after reading them on an American website (she says). She should know better. Her indiscretion is now being investigated by the police and she could face criminal charges.
Medialawblogger wonders which individual at the court service will be ‘investigated by the police’ and whether any charges will be forthcoming there, too.
In another disturbing twist in this tale, there are two Ian Watkins in show business – this one, and Ian H Watkins, from the pop band ‘Steps’. ‘E’! Online mistakenly published a picture of the latter, when reporting on the story of the paedophile, prompting the distressed Steps star to consult his lawyers. A clear case of defamation, says mediawblogger. Interesting court case, anyone?
For most people the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Author Stephen King says that, for writers, the road to hell is paved with adverbs. Let’s do a quick refresher on what an adverb is, learn why adverbs get such a bad rap, and why you might choose to think very carefully before you use adverbs in your writing. (See what I did there?)
Defamation is an old legal action, but more relevant today than it ever was, with rumours and gossip spreading across the world on a tweet or a post, never to be recalled – like a horse that has bolted. No point closing the stable door, once the horse has gone. Tell that to the celebrity that has just been dished (or defamed, for my readers that don’t know the lingo…..)
Last year saw the passing of the Defamation Act 2013, which was an attempt to bring defamation kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Most of it, however, is not yet in force. Last week saw the publication of draft regulations for the new s5 procedures on taking down defamatory comments on websites. It all looks overly complex – so much so that Olswangs have drawn a helpful chart, to help their prospective clients make sense of it all.
I would be interested to know whether you think the proposed new regs will help dampen our reputation as the libel capital of the world…
On the day that news breaks that the police have sent a letter of apology to Christopher Jefferies, saying sorry for the distress caused to him by his arrest for the murder of Jo Yeates, maybe it is time to question the laws relating to reporting and police suspects.
Jo Yeates, you may remember, was the young landscape architect who was murdered in December 2010. Christopher Jefferies was her landlord, and at that time looked quite a bit different to his current look. His wild hair inspired the tabloid newspapers to judge him without waiting for a trial, with words such as ‘creep’, ‘peeping Tom’, and ‘strange’ appearing on the front page, next to his photos, with stories that made him out to be the obvious murderer. In fact, Yeates was murdered by her neighbour, Vincent Tabak, who, it was later revealed, had made phone calls to the police, falsely implicating Jefferies.
Jefferies sued the eight tabloid papers that had printed defamatory stories about him, and settled out of court, with compensation from each paper, whilst at the same time, two of the papers (the Sun and the Mirror) were found guilty of Contempt of Court over their reporting of the Yeates/Jefferies story. The Mirror was fined £50k and the Sun £18k. The Mirror sought leave to appeal, but was refused.
The press have said that this case has made them think again about their reporting methods, but having worked for one of the offending tabloids, I know that these fines are not enough to set the pulses of the accountants racing, or even anywhere close to the slush funds that exist for this type of eventuality. It would need to be a much bigger figure if we are to believe that the press would see this as a deterrent. Or maybe a prison sentence, like the two jurors who were found guilty of misusing the internet, during the trial that they were sitting on. There are many who would quite like to see some newspaper editors behind bars.
The Law Commission have recently published the findings of their consultation paper on contempt, and the response to it (by senior judges) makes interesting reading.
Medialawblogger is not convinced that the law will be able to stop the tabloids publishing material that is defamatory or incriminating, and prejudicing trials. All the while the public is dragged in by juicy headlines, the redtops will continue to take risks, knowing that the story and the increased readership is worth the possible fine. Meanwhile, the public, like bees round a honeypot, continues to lap up the sensationalized stories that they are duped into buying.
Why can’t the public just mind their own ‘bees’ness?
Google are at it again. This time they are being challenged by the British – and don’t we just love our privacy here in Blighty!
It is estimated that around 10 million iPhone and iPad users are affected by secret tracking of their internet usage. Olswang, a British firm of lawyers that specialize in media law, are getting ready to bring a class action (about 100 Apple users) against Google for breach of privacy. Alarmingly, Google have been able to bypass the privacy settings on the Apple devices, and track Apple users’ internet movements.
Google, whose reputation is already suffering a battering after the tax scandal, have used their American roots once again as an argument against doing the right thing. Their argument is that since they are California based, the UK law does not apply to them! Apparently they are ignoring the fact that the Google website is .co.uk domained, they have headquarters in London, and their users’ computers are here in Blighty, too. They are also the target of regulation from other European countries. We wait to see how that pans out.
The law can be a powerful weapon, but only when enforcement of the law is something to be feared by the wrong doer. What happens when the wrong doer is so rich that any fines that can be levied are simply water off a duck’s back? The highest fine that the ICO can demand is £500,000. Not chicken feed for mere mortals like the medialawblogger, but for Google it is all in day’s work – or should I say an hour’s work.
Google rifled through the medialawblogger’s files, but came up empty…
Are you happy to let Google track your internet usage?
I was thinking about how much money is spent by the big tv and satellite companies, just so that we can watch the football from the comfort of our armchairs. According to the BBC news website, BT have just spent £246m while BSkyB spend around £760m. All well and good if it guarantees them viewers. In my house there doesn’t seem to be a break between cricket, motor sport and football, and I suspect the same is true of many households. Sport is big money and people will spend shed loads of money for the convenience of watching their favourite sport at home or on their tablet. Knowing this, it’s not really a gamble by the likes of BT and BSkyB to spend such sums. Or is it?
If you could watch your favourite sports for free, streamed live to your computer or tablet, why would you pay?
FirstRow have been enabling exactly that, much to the annoyance of the FA, who have the copyright in the recordings of all Premier League football matches. Lots of other rights-holders, such as PGA European Tour, are also distressed. They have tried to stop their activities (in the US, some of their domains have been seized) but the company simply springs up in another domain.
FirstRow are infringing the copyright in the ‘Clean Live Feed’ of the matches, which is transmitted to licence holders, for transmitting. It’s quite a complex process, which is best described by Arnold J.
“The streams that are indexed on FirstRow are provided by third party streamers using one of a number of User Generated Content (“UGC”) websites. There are around six or seven such UGC sites which are commonly used for this purpose, one of the most popular of which is called 04stream.com. There are a number of stages to the process.
First, the third party streamer digitally captures a broadcast of a live sports event on his or her computer. The captured broadcast may be one that the streamer is watching on his television or computer legally (e.g. via a legitimate subscription) or it may be an illegal stream. Secondly, the streamer sends the captured images in real time to the server of a UGC site. Thirdly, the streamer uses the UGC site to create an “embed code” which enables the stream player to be embedded into a website like FirstRow. Fourthly, the streamer submits the embed code to FirstRow. If it is accepted, it will be listed as a link on FirstRow. It appears that FirstRow has moderators who vet and index these submissions. It is common for multiple links to be listed for each event. These may comprise multiple versions of the same broadcast and/or different broadcasts. Fifthly, the user clicks on the link, thereby enabling the user to watch the stream. ”
FirstRow is bigger than FT.com and LastMinute.com. This means that it is able to generate vast streams of income – notably from companies such as Bet365.com. ( The FA’s expert estimated a revenue of between five and nine million annually!) FirstRow is even being used in Pubs across the UK, and averages around 10 million users worldwide.
FirstRow operates under false names and addresses, from a multitude of domains, making it impossible to find them. Cease and Desist letters have been ignored. The FA had no option but to turn to the law, and ask for an injunction. And that, in a nutshell, is what the case of FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION PREMIER LEAGUE LTD v BRITISH SKY BROADCASTING LTD & 5 ORS  EWHC 2058 (Ch) was about. What makes this case stand out from other recent media law copyright cases, is that it is not about peer2peer infringment. Using s97A of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, the claimants asked for an injunction against the service providers – such as BSkyB, TalkTalk, Virgin and BT. This was not defended …..no surprises there! They didn’t even turn up for the hearing! Those service providers must now take down any of the FirstRow sites that they are aware of.
Having won their match, the tournament now begins. FirstRow are reported to have said that as their users are mostly ‘kids who cannot afford to pay to watch the games’, they have no intention of stopping streaming. Many users will, in any case, be knowledgeable enough to circumvent the blocking measures, and of course, the site is hosted outside the UK, making it outside the reach of UK law.
I didn’t have a picture of a mole. It was this or a rabbit. Watch out for the rabbit at a later date…….
I watch with interest to see whether that’s the latest game to make it on to the FirstRow fixtures list!
Although I don’t pay for sports channels (though my Mr would probably be happy if I did!) I used to do so, for all my sons to enjoy. I would think it must be quite galling for those that pay the price, seeing others piggybacking off their monthly subscription fees.