The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'law'
It recently emerged that one of the obligations Australia's parliamentarians have is to provide their constitutents with portraits of the Queen, for free, on request. The portraits (which also include those of her consort, Prince Phillip, though not of any of the more fashionable young royals), along with flags and recordings of the National Anthem, are classified as “nationhood material”, vital for instilling a sense of national consciousness, and are thus included in the budget and obligations of the people's federal representatives for this very purpose. Which, one could imagine, may have made sense historically: in a far-flung outpost of the Empire, awash with rum and the threat of convict rebellion still in living memory, communal loyalty to the distant Crown would have needed all the reinforcement it could get, damn the expense. Either that or this was a piece of Howard/Abbott-era culture-war red meat, to stick it to the inner-city trendy-lefties who'd rather fritter money away on saving wildlife or helping the poor or something. But no: the rule in question dates back to 1990, the height of the Hawke/Keating era, possibly the least likely period in Australian history to produce such a rule.
The rule in question is unique to Australia, at least in the former British Empire. Constituents in the UK may request portraits of Her Royal Highness, but they have to pay for them. In Canada, meanwhile, the government makes the portraits available for download, allowing monarchistically-inclined Canadians to have them printed by the provider of their choice. Elsewhere in the Commonwealth, you're on your own.
The revelation of this peculiar rule, in an article in VICE, leading to a flurry of requests to MPs for the monarchic merch. Of course, not everybody is happy with this: some point out that the time and money the MPs and their staffers spend servicing these requests is taken away from more serious duties they would otherwise be performing. Other MPs have been putting a pamphlet from the Australian Republican Movement with each portrait sent.
This rule does raise many questions; among them:
- Is there a limit to the number of portraits of the Queen a constituent may request?
- Once they are sent, do they become the constituent's property, or do they remain property of the Crown, the Commonwealth of Australia, or some other agency?
- Does Australia have any laws restricting what one can do with portraits of the monarch that one owns? Would it be legal, for example, to paint a L.H.O.O.Q.-style moustache on one, or to use it in a mixed-media art piece, mutilating it in the process, or to use it as cavity insulation or a budgie cage liner, or to hang it insalubriously in the backyard dunny, rather than giving it a honoured spot above one's hearth?
(My best guess for the last one, given the chaotic strange attractor that is Australia's larrikin/authoritarian dynamic—in lieu of any kind of bill of rights there is essentially an unspoken gentleman's agreement, while national icons include Ned Kelly and Chopper Read, and a ballad about a livestock thief almost became the national anthem—would be “it's probably technically illegal, but you won't be prosecuted unless the authorities conclude that the average bloke would consider you to be a “ratbag”.”)
The House of Commons voted today to legalise same-sex marriage in England and Wales; the bill passed by 400 votes for to 175 against. About a third of Conservatives voted for it, with slightly more voting against and the rest abstaining; a handful of Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs voted against it, though most voted in favour. (Aside: according to accounts of the session, there are surprisingly many openly gay Tory MPs in Britain, a sign that the country has moved on since Tory electoral materials openly carried homophobic dog whistles and Thatcher tried to push through Section 28.)
The bill now needs to pass through the House of Lords; in theory, this should not be too much of a problem for a bill with this degree of support. Assuming it makes it through, it will become law and gay couples will be able to marry and have equal status to opposite-sex married couples.
The public acceptance of homosexuality has been one of the greatest social changes of the past half-century. It is scarcely to be believed that there are still men alive who went to prison for practising it. The real breakthrough may come only when gay people cease to demand the exceptionalism of a "victimised" group, when they can shrug off the intolerance of a few, having won the acceptance of the many.A few residual anomalies will remain, however: it will be impossible for a same-sex couple to claim adultery as grounds for divorce, as adultery remains defined as an opposite-sex act (illicit hanky-panky with one of one's own sex falls under “unreasonable behaviour”, and barring a change in the law, will continue to do so even when one's spouse is of one's own sex), and nor is there any legal definition of non-consummation of a same-sex marriage. Also, while same-sex couples can marry, opposite-sex couples who dislike the idea of marriage still may not obtain civil partnerships, though those remain on the table for same-sex couples. What eventually happens to these anomalies remains to be seen.
Meanwhile in Australia, not only is there still bipartisan opposition to gay marriage in parliament, but the nominally progressive government is moving to allow religious groups broad exemptions from anti-discrimination laws, for example allowing Catholic hospitals to fire employees who are gay or have children outside of a marriage.
In 1995, the state legislature of New Mexico passed a law requiring psychologists and psychiatrists to be dressed as wizards when giving evidence in court:
When a psychologist or psychiatrist testifies during a defendant’s competency hearing, the psychologist or psychiatrist shall wear a cone-shaped hat that is not less than two feet tall. The surface of the hat shall be imprinted with stars and lightning bolts. Additionally, a psychologist or psychiatrist shall be required to don a white beard that is not less than 18 inches in length, and shall punctuate crucial elements of his testimony by stabbing the air with a wand. Whenever a psychologist or psychiatrist provides expert testimony regarding a defendant’s competency, the bailiff shall contemporaneously dim the courtroom lights and administer two strikes to a Chinese gong…The amendment passed unanimously, but was removed from the final law, to the detriment of the theatrical beard and Chinese gong industries.
Patent absurdity of the day: US patent application 11/161,345, by a Christopher Anthony Roller, who attempted to patent his "Godly powers", to prevent other parties, such as the magician David Copperfield, from using them for less than godly purposes. The patent application (available via the USPTO's PAIR portal; search for application 11161345) also includes miscellaneous correspondence from Roller, where he rails against the Mafia-like collusion by the patent office with powerful vested interests (including professional magicians) that could be the only explanation for his application having been rejected, and produces details of his lawsuit against Copperfield, including copies of his claims to be God and Jesus Christ, to have killed all his enemies, and to be married to Celine Dion and running for President with Bill Gates as running mate.
England's severe libel laws have claimed a casualty: science writer Simon Singh, who is being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association, has resigned from his Guardian column, citing the onerous requirements of preparing his defence:
The crippling and prohibitive financial cost of defending a libel case is often highlighted, but the equally terrible cost in terms of time and stress is rarely mentioned.
I recently discussed this with Dr Peter Wilmshurst, the eminent cardiologist who is being sued for libel for commenting on the efficacy of a new heart device... Perhaps it was just as well that Peter was not aware of the full implications of what lay ahead of him, namely at least two years of anxiety, misery and the threat of bankruptcy. Almost all his spare time has been spent on the libel case. When finalising his defence, he took two weeks of annual leave to work on the documents. Moreover, dealing with ongoing legal issues has prevented him from carrying out his usual medical research, and a number of publications have been put on hold.England's libel laws are renowned across the world, with litigants taking cases to London on the flimsiest pretexts. Now foreign news organisations are starting to block access from Britain to their web sites to defend against this, raising the prospect of Britain facing Chinese-style isolation without even having to build its own national firewall:
You might feel that I am being alarmist, but major US newspapers, such as the Boston Globe and The New York Times, sent a memo last year to the House of Commons select committee on media, libel and privacy. They warned that they are considering stopping the sale of their publications in Britain due to the threat of libel. The benefits of selling newspapers here in terms of profit are outweighed by the potential losses in libel cases.
If publishers stopped selling hard copies in Britain, they would almost certainly also block their online content, because otherwise the threat of libel would remain.If this worries you, you may want to sign the petition for libel reform.
The libel laws have their fans, though; other than the usual litigants, the recording industry seems to have used them as the models for the new copyright expansion laws they're trying to get passed, which will make any sites capable of sending potentially copyrighted files in private a prohibitive liability to make available to UK users.
As of now, South Carolina legally requires "subversives" to register with the government ($5 filing fee applicable), or face stiff fines and the possibility of prison time:
By "subversive organization," the law means "every corporation, society, association, camp, group, bund, political party, assembly, body or organization, composed of two or more persons, which directly or indirectly advocates, advises, teaches or practices the duty, necessity or propriety of controlling, conducting, seizing or overthrowing the government of the United States [or] of this State."
While the intention of the law is apparently aimed at Islamic terrorists, it's unclear in the law's wording whether it can be applied to right-wing militias, some of whom have reputedly called for the overthrow of the US government. The law states that "fraternal" and "patriotic" groups are exempt from the law, but only if they don't "contemplate the overthrow of the government."
(via Boing Boing)
A pub in Barnsley is using a trick borrowed from the Japanese whaling fleet to flout England's indoor smoking ban. The Cutting Edge has set up a "smoking research centre" in a room at the pub, and requires punters wishing to smoke in this room to fill in a survey.
In Britain, the government is making plans to let artists and community groups take over shops hollowed out by the recession, to sow the seeds of Berlin-style regeneration (which, for all its lack of respect for the sanctity of property rights, is a lot nicer than the alternative, urban wasteland):
Planning rules will be relaxed to allow changes of use which go against local guidelines. For example, a disused clothes shop could become an art gallery or an empty Woolworths an NHS drop-in centre.
Temporary lease agreements will enable owners who want to retain a vacant property in the long term to make it available for community or creative use during the recession. Councils will be urged to take control of empty properties until the recession ends.
"Empty shops can be eyesores or crime magnets," Blears said. "Our ideas for reviving town centres will give communities the knowhow to temporarily transform vacant premises into something innovative for the community - a social enterprise, a showroom for local artists or an information centre - and stop the high street being boarded up.Of course, as always, the devil is in the details. What exactly "relaxation of planning rules" involves is uncertain. As long as the shopfronts are used for community centres or art spaces and not, say, cut-rate toxic-waste processing facilities or something, that's a good idea.
Not all artists and activists are waiting for Her Majesty's Government to hand them the keys to a disused Woolworths, though; some have taken matters into their own hands:
The slack space movement has echoes in previous slumps when many now successful architects, magazine publishers and artists moved into vacant premises. There is certainly room for creativity again. One in six shops will be vacant by the end of the year, according to the data company Experian. It predicts that 72,000 retail outlets could close during 2009, more than doubling the number of empty units to 135,000 in the UK.Of course, some artists still haven't shaken off the language of Thatcherism-Blairism, and talk not of "community spaces" but of "business development". Art, you see, is a means to an economic end, and, even immediately after the recessionary shock, in Anglocapitalist cultures, there is the assumption that artists and squatters' role is merely that of the microbes in the soil of commerce, to prepare the ground for the next wave of aspirational consumerism, and hopefully make a few quid at the end of it:
"Rather than letting lots of pound shops appear, we are encouraging people to start up businesses," said Firmin. "We know recessions are awful but can be a good time for artists as creative ideas start appearing while otherwise redundant people are sitting at home fiddling and doing creative stuff."And here is a profile of various groups of artist-squatters, including the Da! Collective, notorious for outraging the tabloids by having the temerity to move into a disused mansion, rather than a warehouse or something more appropriate; not to mention a chronology of the history of squatting in Britain (and Europe).
Via Momus, who's, understandably, over the moon about this, hailing it as a triumph for the Berlin model (which, for a while, looked like it was going to be ground under the wheels of yuppification):
Since it's a global recession, I also like to think Berlin has now become a sort of template for cities all over the world. Whereas we might once have looked like a museum of crusty subcultures past their sell-by date, this city now looks like the future of Tokyo, the future of London, and the future of New York. We're your best-case scenario, guys, your optimal recessionary outcome. Everything else is dystopia, Escape-From-New-York stuff.
If the major cities of the world all become "Berlins", though, I can't guarantee I'd stay in the actual Berlin, the black flagship, the Big Squat itself. If Tokyo, for instance, got as cheap and cheerfully creative as Berlin -- if it became the kind of city you could simply occupy without having to scuttle around pointlessly making rent -- I'd be there in a flash. Secretly, what I'm doing here in Berlin is waiting for Tokyo to Berlinify.
Shepard Fairey, the street artist who created the iconic Barack Obama "Hope" poster, has been arrested in Boston for graffiti he allegedly put up many years ago, on the way to his first solo exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art. Break the law here, the message seems to be, and, sooner or later, the law will get you, regardless of your stature.
I wonder if he can get a Presidential pardon.
A US congressman has taken a leaf out of Japan's book and proposed a law requiring camera phones to make a sound when a photo is taken, to prevent evil perverts from surreptitiously photographing people for their vile gratification. The Camera Phone Predator Alert Act will also prohibit the sale of phones in which the tone can be disabled. And, of course, it will make taking photos at concerts or weddings or similar more fraught, though... for God's sake, won't someone think of the children‽
Mind you, the bill appears to be the brainchild of one Congressman, with no cosponsors, which suggests that it probably won't come anywhere near becoming law.
A group of squatters has taken over an opulent property in Mayfair. The Da! Collective plans to turn 18 Upper Grosvenor St., a Grade 2-listed property near Hyde Park, the US Embassy and some of London's most expensive restaurants, into an art installation:
Behind the white pillars and imposing wooden door of the grade II-listed residence, the 30-plus rooms are now scattered with sleeping bags, grubby mattresses, rucksacks spilling over with clothes and endless half-finished art installations. While their neighbours' walls are lined with priceless paintings, No 18 now exhibits a room full of tree branches and another with a pink baby bath above which dangle test tubes filled with capers. Spooky foetuses line one fireplace.
hey had been watching the building for "at least six months" before they decided to try moving in, she said. "We had put tape on the keyhole, and kept looking through the letterbox to see if anyone had been there." Then, one October night, five of the group decided to go in. Some of them wore high-visibility jackets to look like builders; Smith had a clipboard and fur coat. They propped their rented ladder up against the front of the building, and one man climbed on to the dilapidated balcony. "I went across to the window and I couldn't believe it when it was unlocked," said the squatter, who declined to give his name. "I was so happy. We didn't really expect it to be open, so it was a really exciting moment."
The group has had a mixed reception from the other residents of Upper Grosvenor Street. "Our next-door neighbours have been really nice; they've even let us use their wireless internet," said Smith. Another neighbour, a man called Alexander, has offered the services of his maid to cook them food, she added.
From 7pm to 11pm, the Da! gang will be projecting images on to each of the 19 windows at the front of the squat. "It's going to look like a doll's house," said Smith, "and there is going to be a harpist and a cellist and performance artists."Under English law, the squatters (who have reconnected the electricity and claim to be maintaining the property and paying bills) are entitled to stay until they are formally evicted by the owners. These owners, a concern known as Deltaland Resources Ltd., based in the British Virgin Islands, do not seem to have made any attempt to contact the squatters; they have 11 years and 11 months to do so before the building legally becomes the property of the Da! Collective.
A code of practice published by the British government reminds owners of dogs and cats to ensure that their pets are not only fed properly but provided with adequate entertainment and mental stimulation. Rumours that the government will distribute laser pointers to all cat owners to assist in this could not be confirmed.
Legal doctrine of the day: the Three-Pony Rule, used in determining when child support claims are excessive:
While acknowledging there are unique problems with determining the reasonable needs of children of high-earning families, the court said trial judges should nevertheless avoid overindulgence -- citing the doctrine of In re Patterson, 920 P.2d 450 (Kan. App. 1996), that "no child, no matter how wealthy the parents, needs to be provided [with] more than three ponies."
But the appeals court said Convery failed to make a detailed examination of Jean Strahan's child support request and instead merely accepted her recitation of the children's needs. Those "needs," wrote Appellate Division Judge Lorraine Parker, included the children giving their nanny a 10-day vacation in Jamaica; diamond jewelry for their grandmother; $30,000 yearly for landscaping expenses; $36,000 a year for "equipment and furnishings"; and $3,000 yearly for audio visual equipment. Jean set their clothing needs at $27,000 a year, since the children needed new outfits every time they saw their father and one of them demanded a new purse every time she left the house.
"[T]he court made no distinction between what needs were reasonable, given the age of the children, and what simply amounted to a 'fourth pony,'" wrote Parker, who was joined by Judges Rudy Coleman and Thomas Lyons.
If this report is correct, console mod chips are now legal in the UK, after the court of appeal ruled on Wednesday that the devices do not circumvent copyright protection. The judgment was awarded when a seller of the chips appealed against his conviction, and got all 26 counts quashed, with legal costs awarded.
The successful argument seems to be that the copyright violation has occurred before the chip is used, and not one about the legitimate uses of the chips. It's not clear whether the Trading Standards Agency has much chance of successfully appealing this decision.
Don't want your ideas and creative work to be locked up for 90 years after you die? You could always put one of these stickers on your driver's licence (as is, apparently, the done thing for organ donations in the US).
Not sure how legally binding they would be (the most likely answer is "not very"). If you really want your scrapbooks of poetry and Garageband recordings to go to the public domain, you'd probably be better off writing a will. Or you could consider releasing them under a Creative Commons licence while you're still alive.
As the receding polar ice caps expose land and shipping lanes, setting the scene for the next great international land grab, Iceland's University of Akureyri is offering a course in Polar Law, to prepare a generation of lawyers uniquely equipped to deal with the resulting issues:
Emphasis is placed upon relevant areas of public international law, such as environmental law, the law of the sea, questions of sovereignty and boundary disputes on land and sea, natural resources law, the rights of indigenous peoples in the north, self-government and good governance, and land and resources claims in the polar regions.
(via Boing Boing)
In Britain, the police are arresting people for accessing open wireless access points without permission:
The man arrested at the weekend was cautioned for dishonestly obtaining electronic communications services with intent to avoid payment.According to the authorities, accessing wireless networks without permission is, much like downloading MP3s and skipping ads on TV, theft:
"Gaining unauthorised access to someone else's network is an offence and people have to take responsibility for their actions. Some people might argue that taking a joy-ride in someone else's car is not an offence either," he said.Not only that, but leaving your access point open for strangers to use is strongly discouraged; not only is it taking away business from commercial service providers (a cardinal sin in Thatcherism-Blairism), but it is giving paedoterrorists a convenient rock to hide under:
"There have been incidences where paedophiles deliberately leave their wireless networks open so that, if caught, they can say that is wasn't them that used the network for illegal purposes," said NetSurity's Mr Cracknell.
Such a defence would hold little water as the person installing the network, be they a home user or a business, has ultimate responsibility for any criminal activity that takes place on that network, whether it be launching a hack attack or downloading illegal pornography.I wonder whether that would hold up in court; could someone be successfully prosecuted for a crime committed by a stranger using their unsecured network? Perhaps a new crime of "facilitating evasion of surveillance" would be appropriate?
The BBC article provides the following helpful advice to anyone with a wireless access point wishing to avoid ending up on the Sex Offenders' Register:
There are many different types of security options available - but the most basic is to give the network a Wireless Encryption Protocol (WEP) key.
While not totally secure, WEP keys do at least provide a modicum of security to thwart all but the most technically-literate hackers.Well, them and any script kiddie who can download a WEP cracking program and run it for a few minutes.
The US has the world's highest minimum drinking age, at 21*. This is a fairly recent policy; it was pushed through in the 1980s, when the federal government seized control of state drinking-age laws by threatening to withhold highway funds. Now there are growing calls for the drinking age to be lowered to 18:
Supporters of the federal minimum argue that the human brain continues developing until at least the age of 21. Alcohol expert Dr. David Hanson of the State University of New York at Potsdam argues such assertions reek of junk science. They're extrapolated from a study on lab mice, he explains, as well as from a small sample of actual humans already dependent on alcohol or drugs. Neither is enough to make broad proclamations about the entire population.
Oddly enough, high school students in much of the rest of the developed world -- where lower drinking ages and laxer enforcement reign -- do considerably better than U.S. students on standardized tests.Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, there are proposals to raise the drinking age to 21 to tackle the binge-drinking epidemic.
* This is not counting some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, where the drinking age is infinity.
A web-based sports news site is bypassing Rupert Murdoch's Sky TV's exclusive rights to broadcast the Cricket World Cup by displaying a computer-animated reconstruction of the match, from public domain information gathered by employees. The process resembles a modern version of the studio reconstructions of cricket matches on radio broadcasts before television (where announcers would "call" the match from descriptions, tapping microphones with pencils to create the sound effects), only this time, it's legal rather than technological limitations that are the motivation. And they look likely to get away with it:
Cricinfo, which is owned by Wisden, the company behind the Wisden Cricketing Almanac, uses data gathered by employees to simulate the action. The involvement of humans in the process is crucial, says Kim Walker, Head of Intellectual Property with Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM.
Wisden said that it had carefully consulted lawyers before going ahead with the simulations in this week's World Cup. "Cricinfo 3D is based on public domain information gathered by our scorers who record a number of factors such as where the ball pitched, the type of shot played and where the ball goes in the field," said a Wisden statement. "That data is then fed as an xml to anyone who has Cricinfo 3D running on their desktops and the software generates an animation based on this data."
(via Boing Boing)
This year in India, anti-Valentine's Day demonstrators (mostly from the Hindu religious right) have adopted the tactic of forcibly marrying couples found celebrating Valentine's Day:
A 'rath' (decorated vehicle) prepared by the protesters, mainly activists of the Dharam Sena, for "forcibly marrying couples found celebrating Valentine's Day" was seized in Jabalpur, Additional Superintendent of Police Manohar Verma told PTI.It is not clear whether any such forced marriages have actually taken place, or whether, in fact, they would be legally binding.
(via Boing Boing)
Norway could soon see a renaissance of striptease, after the Norwegian High Court ruled that striptease is an art form, and thus exempt from Norway's 25% VAT.
It was not clear whether the three judges had conducted field research before reaching their verdict. Certainly they made a clear distinction between "banal and vulgar" striptease--in which there is physical contact between dancers and the audience -- and artistic dance.
The question of the artistic value of striptease has been raging since the late 19th century. The first professional stripper was a Parisian, Yvette, who in 1894 stood on a music hall stage and pretended to undress for bed. The artistic content came in the act of undressing rather than in the nudity. which was often brief and incomplete. American burlesque theatres borrowed striptease acts from the French. The most daring showed Salome's Dance of the Seven Veils--complete with a papier-mâché version of John the Baptist's head -- as if to underline that striptease had respectable roots.
Under a new European Commission proposal, any web sites featuring moving images may soon be subject to the same regulations as broadcast television:
Ministers fear that the directive would hit not only successful sites such as YouTube but also amateur "video bloggers" who post material on their own sites. Personal websites would have to be licensed as a "television-like service".Didn't they introduce a law like this in Australia a few moral panics ago? What has been the experience there? Have web sites taken down video content because of it? Or is it tacitly recognised that the law is unworkable and that its purpose is to provide a new offence for which otherwise legitimate troublemakers can be prosecuted where expedient?
There's a fairly interesting paper on the status of the word "fuck" in US law, and the irrational power that word taboos have in our seemingly enlightened society.
A trilogy of events motivated me to start this project. The first occurred during my second year of law teaching. In my Professional Responsibility course, the lesson for the day was attorney racist and sexist behavior. The case I assigned from a leading casebook was liberally sprinkled with fuck, cunt, shit, bitch and the like. Sensitive to the power of language, I recited the facts myself rather than ask a student as was my norm. After the course was over, I was reviewing my student evaluations and discovered this: "I was a little disturbed by the way he seemed to delight in saying 'cunt' and 'fucking bitch' during class. I think if you're going to say things like that in class, you should expect it to show up on the evaluation."
Three legally trained minds--a law student, a law enforcement officer, and a federal judge--each heard the word fuck and suddenly lost the ability to calmly, objectively, and rationally react. If fuck has power over these people, what are the limits of its influence?It has some interesting factoids, such as:
Of particular interest to the lawyer-lexicographer is the suggestion of an Egyptian root petcha (to copulate). During the last Egyptian dynasties, legal documents were sealed with the phrase, "As for him who shall disregard it, may he be fucked by a donkey." The hieroglyphic for the phrase--two large erect penises---makes the message clear.The author of the piece (which is titled, simply, "Fuck") makes it clear that he regards word taboos as irrational and unworthy of a place in rational discourse, and as such never avoids using the word where there is an option. Oddly enough, he also seems to refuse to put quotes around it, even when discussing the word "fuck" itself rather than what it refers to, as if doing so would be an unacceptable surrender to the Prim And Proper Language Police.
(via Boing Boing)
The British government is finally considering legalising low-power FM transmitters, of the sort used to transmit sound from MP3 players to FM radios. In the UK, anything that transmits on licensed frequencies (such as those used for FM radio), at any power level whatsoever, requires a licence from the Secretary of State; (In contrast, in the US, it is legal to use transmitters below a certain power level without a licence.) With the popularity of iPods and their ilk, the law hasn't been enforced as rigorously as it might be; the devices started appearing quite openly in shops on Tottenham Court Road a year or two ago, with the retailers, when questioned, hemming and hawing about the legality of using them.
Any change in the law to legalise the devices will require them to "meet strict technical standard to minimize interference to other radio users". Presumably these will include making them robustly unmodifiable to prevent them from being adapted into high-power FM transmitters, which are in demand by the large numbers of pirate radio stations across the UK.
Hertfordshire police raid reality-TV show, seizing a fur coat belonging to lead singer of 1980s glam-pop group Dead Or Alive and catty transvestite, Pete Burns, after he claimed that it was made of gorilla fur; the police have warned Burns that he may face five years in prison if it is, in fact, made of gorilla fur, which is prohibited under endangered-species legislation. Hardcore animal-rights advocates PETA praise the Hertfordshire Constabulary's actions, as this is exactly the sort of thing police should be making a priority; that and prosecuting meat-eaters for murder and pet owners for false imprisonment and such. Meanwhile, blogging magistrate Bystander is not amused:
We are told, often correctly, that some of our fellow citizens are afraid to leave their homes, that drug crime is rampant, and anarchy rules our sink estates. So the 'Wildlife Officer' (what's wrong with having a few 'lowlife officers'?) sits down with museum experts to investigate the provenance of a coat. Yes, that's right, a coat. Meanwhile, in court today, I have been forced to adjourn a number of cases because the 'overstretched' police haven't provided information to the CPS in time to allow a trial to proceed.
You learn something new every day. Apparently, in England, it is illegal to sell anything that looks, smells or feels like a piece of fruit but isn't:
Novelty candles that look like strawberries or apples are a legal no-no, and shops that sell them can be heavily fined (up to £20,000) because of the danger of children eating them.I wonder if that's enforced, and whether you have the Fruit Squad raiding import shops in shabby high streets and seizing bunches of plastic grapes and such.
I guess this means you won't be seeing fruit-shaped fairy lights or banana-shaped mobile-phone cozies in England any time soon. It's a good thing that there's no law against selling things that look like sushi but aren't
The anarchic, anyone-can-edit model of Wikipedia may soon be tested in court; the Council of Australian Jewry is considering suing Wikipedia for allowing a vandalised article to be published on its site. The vandalised article, on recently deceased Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, contained unsavoury sexual accusations.
If it does go to court and their case stands up (and the idea of an anonymous wiki with no personal responsibility does not feature in most defamation laws), it could be the end of the wiki, or at least of the pseudonymously editable one. Wikipedia could continue on either being moderated or requiring all contributors to have verified identities kept on file and assume legal liability for their edits. Which would be somewhat of a chilling effect, though it could be argued that that's how the real world works, and the present Wikipedia is no more legally sustainable than the original Napster was. And so, another piece of the utopian anarchy of the internet (you know, that ungoverned interzone that interprets censorship as damage and routes around it) may soon fall to the encroaching tide of harsh reality.
Update: I have been informed that any such lawsuit would be a non-starter. For one, one cannot legally libel, slander or defame a deceased person, and secondly, the Scientologists have already tried this sort of thing and failed.
Won't someone think of the children? Under new laws unveiled in Britain to protect children from the paedophile menace, having sex in one's private garden will be a crime, punishable by up to six months. Sex in one's home is still legal, however, even with the blinds open. If you're in Britain, now may be your last chance to legally have a bonk in your backyard (though wouldn't it be too cold for that sort of thing?)
If you're in the US and you've ever used a peer-to-peer network and swapped copyrighted files, chances are pretty good you're guilty of a federal felony. It doesn't matter if you've forsworn Napster, uninstalled Kazaa and now are eagerly padding the record industry's bottom line by snapping up $15.99 CDs by the cartload. Be warned--you're what prosecutors like to think of as an unindicted federal felon.
The law even grants copyright holders the right to hand a "victim impact statement" to the judge at your trial, meaning you can expect an appearance from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) or the Business Software Alliance (BSA), depending on what kind of files were on your hard drive. You'll no longer have that hard drive, of course, because it'll have been seized by the FBI, and you'll be in jail.
The NET Act works in two ways: In general, violations are punishable by one year in prison, if the total value of the files exceeds $1,000; or, if the value tops $2,500, not more than five years in prison. Also, if someone logs on to a file-trading network and shares even one MP3 file without permission in "expectation" that others will do the same, full criminal penalties kick in automatically.
No peer-to-peer users have been prosecuted yet, but there is a lot of pressure from the RIAA on the Department of Justice now to begin such prosecutions. Which means some poor bastard is about to get crucified. (via FmH)
A crushing blow in the Eldred vs. Ashcroft case. US Supreme Court upholds copyright extension, paving the way for copyright as a perpetual property title, and the evolution of "intellectual property" into a new feudalism. After this, it is likely that nothing will ever enter the public domain in the US. At this rate, it will take global nuclear war, alien invasion, comet strike or the near-extinction of the human race to do anything about it.
Felt-tip pens and Post-It(tm) notes as copy-prevention circumvention devices. (void where prohibited by law) (via Slashdot)
The World's Oldest Multinational Corporation: Speaking of unswerving religious sanctions, Pope John Paul II has instructed Catholic lawyers to refuse divorce cases. How binding is his decree? Are Catholics still absolutely required to subordinate their consciences to the Church in all matters or face excommunication?
(This reminds me of how the Catholic church has been taking over hospitals, often dominating entire regional markets, and eliminating services which the Vatican doesn't approve of, for patients of all cultural persuasions.)
Switzerland prepares to formally legalise marijuana, a substance which is rapidly gaining an aura of safe, middle-class respectability. (BBC News)
Cambridge academic debunks "crypto menace" myth. (NewScientist)
Think what England was like when the government didn't really exist: anyone with any wealth or property had to design their house to withstand infantry-strength assault. That's not efficient. National governments and policemen will survive the electronic revolution because of the efficiencies they create.
If I were to hold a three-hour encrypted conversation with someone in the Medellín drug cartel, it would be a dead giveaway. In routine monitoring, GCHQ (Britain's signals intelligence service) would pick up the fact that there was encrypted traffic and would instantly mark down my phone as being suspect. Quite possibly the police would then send in the burglars to put microphones in all over my house. In circumstances like this, encryption does not increase your security. It immediately and rapidly decreases it. You are mad to use encryption if you are a villain.