The Obscurer

Category: Media

Getting Shirty

I read a couple of versions of this story the other weekend and I was going to dash off a quick post in response; but time was tight and I wasn’t sure of my facts, so I decided to wait until both those issues were remedied before commenting. There’s a moral in there, somewhere, for somebody.

West Midlands police “wastes money” on new shirts

ran the BBC headline, but the Telegraph, Mail and Mirror also covered the story. The fury is over the discovery that West Midlands police have spent a whopping £100,000 on changing the shirts of non-station based staff from white to black. “It’s absurd to spend money on cosmetic changes at a time when police forces are feeling the pinch,” suggests the inevitable TaxPayers’ Alliance spokesman, Mark Wallace. But what’s this? Did I use the definite article erroneously? Over at the Telegraph, Matthew Elliot of the TaxPayers’ Alliance chips in “Now is not the time for police to make a cosmetic change, like switching the colour of their shirts”.

Now, you may wonder why the TaxPayers’ Alliance feels the need to employ two people to say essentially the same thing – if they’re looking for efficiency savings, then they can have that one for free – but instead lets look at that £100,000 figure. It is a large sum of money indeed; certainly, were I to spend that much on shirts then I would be unable to dodge the accusation of profligacy. Then again, last time I checked I wasn’t a police force serving “nearly 2.6 million inhabitants” (source: Wikipedia). If I trust my maths (and I don’t, and neither should you; grab a calculator before you take this as fact) then that £100,000 works out at around 4p per resident of the West Midlands area. Of course, not all residents are taxpayers; I reckon some people will be paying upwards of 10p towards those shirts. But all those 10 pences add up; specifically they add up to the suspiciously round figure of £100,000, which is a big number, with lots of noughts. Is it money well spent? Well, we simply don’t know. Because the journalists employed here are useless. Evidently. Allow me to explain.

I read these articles, and a whopping yet oddly unasked question kept occurring to me; namely, is this £100,000 on top of the money the police would have been spending on white shirts anyway, or instead of it? It seems so blindingly obvious a question that I find it amazing that no one saw fit to ask, or to clarify the matter in their article, but apparently no one did. But it’s pretty pertinent; on the assumption that West Midlands police would be buying shirts for their staff anyway, what does this £100,000 actually relate to? And once you’ve asked that question, why stop there? Why not go on and try to find out other relevant information (the technical term for this is “journalism”); we can probably assume that some of that £100,000 is down to having to replace everyone’s white uniform shirts in one fell swoop, but what is the unit cost of each black shirt compared to a white one? Are they more, or less, expensive? Are they more, or less, hard-wearing? Apologies for getting all “1066 and all that” on your ass (as I believe the hepcats say), but depending on the answers to such questions we could range from one extreme, where the police are spending £100,000 over and above what they would have spent on white shirts in order to procure more expensive and flimsier shirts – this is a bad thing – to the other extreme where they would be spending £100,000 minus what they would otherwise have spent on white shirts in order to kit their officers in less expensive yet more rugged, longer-lasting gear; that is potentially a good thing. But rather than ask the questions that need to be asked to prevent their stories from being cobblers, instead the media collectively seem to have just sellotaped together a Press Association story with some added quotes from the TaxPayers’ Alliance and considered it job done. Now, I don’t expect the ideological twits at the TPA to want to go looking for the actual facts of the matter, but how not one journalist seems to have had his or her curiosity slightly prickled and thought to get the answers to the bleeding obvious questions without which their articles are meaningless, I do not know.

Now, journalists do far worse things than this, I know. This seems at face value to be down to laziness, albeit a laziness that allows a story to be put about that fits in with a popular media agenda; and we know that journalists also deliberately lie, twist facts and quote out of context in order to try to mislead their readers into drawing nasty conclusions. That I don’t generally tackle such stories is because people like Anton, 5CC, MacGuffin, uponothing and Jonathan do it so much better than I do; that and, while I often read a tabloid story and think “that’s bollocks”, I don’t usually have the time or inclination to look further into it, especially when I reckon that one of the above named is usually already on the case and doing the leg work. I also rarely have a background knowledge to give me a head start in taking the media to task; but I do know about shirts (I possess several, in varying colours and fabrics), I can follow the logic of what it must be like to have to procure staff shirts, and I can spot a gaping big hole in a newspaper article. This is part of the reason why I have written about such a trifling matter as police shirts, rather than, say, a more important matter such as this repulsive bit of journalisting.

But in fact the main reason I have written this post is not to criticise journalists; they’re just collateral damage. No, I’ve actually mentioned my key point already, and I’m writing this here because a realisation hit me as I was mulling things over. Do you know what it is? Any ideas? No?

It’s my earlier line about the TaxPayers’ Alliance, and my belief that

I don’t expect the ideological twits at the TPA to want to go looking for the facts of the matter

Because we know that the TaxPayers’ Alliance are just a bunch of rentaquote oafs there to pad out stories such as these. We know that they aren’t a serious think tank dedicated to the efficient running of government; but they claim to be, and they damn well should be. When a paper comes calling, asking them for their opinion on wasteful spending, they shouldn’t just dash off a quick spleen vent; they should investigate it, and then come back with a proper analysis. But they don’t appear to have done that, quelle surprise; this waste of server space is all I can find on their website, while both of those underemployed TPA spokesmen’s dismiss West Midlands police’s action as a merely a “cosmetic change” without apparently even being aware of the police’s justification that officers find the new shirts less restrictive and more comfortable. On the assumption that even the TPA believe that the police should both exist and wear a uniform, why didn’t they at least think to ask those obvious questions I raised above, even while deadline-bound journalists couldn’t be bothered? Why did they seemingly just respond “wah!”to that headline £100,000 figure, rather than investigate the long run costs or savings of this decision, as one would expect of an organisation genuinely interested in value for taxpayers’ money? Why do they only ever seem to call for more and more cuts in public spending, when they should be at least as concerned about blind, stupid cuts; for as public borrowing is just taxation deferred, can’t rash cuts just be public spending deferred? And why am I not in the least bit surprised by the way they have acted, and why do I expect so little of them?

Well, we know the answers, don’t we, and with luck I’m signing off here and you can consider this my last post on the TPA. Thing is, a proper taxpayers’ organisation genuinely holding government to account and actually doing what the TPA claims it does would be a good thing indeed. Shame the TaxPayers’ Alliance we have is broken.


So, a great result for England on Sunday, no? Another fine victory over our greatest historic tribal foe. Makes one proud to be English, doesn’t it.
Sarcasm? Me? Oh no, sorry, you misunderstand. Were you still thinking about the football, and Germany? Oh well, I’ve already moved on; to cricket, and yet another one-day international victory over the hapless Australians*. But I can understand your confusion. An easy mistake to make.

As for the football, what can I add to the obvious, and that England simply aren’t good enough to justify the hopes that some people place in them? On the game itself, I do think it a tragic irony that the one time a Lampard speculative, edge-of-the-area pop actually gets into the goal, the officials manage to miss it. Fortunately, such was the extent of Germany’s victory that any dwelling on that “goal” as an example of us being robbed has been kept to a minimum. On the other hand, it has reignited the old issue of whether technology should be used to prevent such mistakes again. I seem to be in a minority here in harbouring serious doubts over technology’s use. Perhaps, if you could guarantee that such technology was limited only to judging if a ball has crossed the line, then fine; but can you? Later that evening, when Argentina scored a goal that was clearly offside, technology was mentioned again; when Eire failed to qualify for the World Cup finals thanks to an Henry handball, again the benefits of technology were mooted. Where will it end? Before you know it, perhaps every goal will have to be analysed before it is given: to see if there was perhaps an illegal tug on a defender at some time during the long, labourious build up to it being scored; to wait for the committee to decide if, on balance, the award of the free kick that led to the goal was down to the attacker diving; or perhaps we’ll have to scrutinise each free kick, corner and throw in before it is taken just in case it results in a goal, eventually. And so the game as we know it will be buggered, all to prevent the sort of decision on Sunday which is extremely rare, and which was also so blatant that technology itself shouldn’t even be required for it in the first place. No, I’m really not sure it is a road we should be going down.

But a few words on the England team. I usually get pretty hacked off when pundits say stuff like “he would have scored that in the premiership”, or “why do England players look so poor here, when they look so good in the league?” It’s bollocks, mainly. Hansen and his ilk spend each weekend bemoaning terrible misses and poor defending, as players’ form fluctuates during the course of the season; but come the World Cup, all that is strangely forgotten, and they all seem to expect the players to be as good as they appear on the “Best of…” end of season review DVDs. But, as I said, I usually get hacked off by such nonsense…but when was the last time you saw a premiership back four defend as badly as England did against Germany (Burnley excepted)? With the possible exception of Ashley Cole, did they have a clue about their roles or where they were meant to be playing? It is easy to blame the manager – and if he has lost the confidence of the players then that may be fair enough – but what is any manager meant to do when his centre-backs take it upon themselves to wander about the field aimlessly, and with no regard to positioning or formation?

Capello has also got some stick for his attacking options: why didn’t Joe Cole play a bigger part?; everyone know we should play “Gerrard-in-the-hole!” Enough, already. Was playing Heskey really the reason that Rooney had apparently forgotten how to control a football? I doubt it. There is always some simplistic solution to England’s woes; four years ago it was the failure to select Defoe, before that it used to be the manager’s refusal to play a Waddle, or a Le Tissier. I’m sure that if Capello had listened to the media and played Gerrard where they wanted him they would just have found something else to whine about. Because there’s always something, and there always will be. Because, as I said before, we’re just not good enough.

The British media collectively announced another European victory over Blighty and common sense the other day, this time regarding contentious EU labelling legislation. You’ll remember the old Metric Martyrs story, years ago? The injustice that it was made illegal to buy a pound of bananas? I was pretty shocked at the story myself; shocked that the media expected me to buy bananas by the pound anyway. Does anybody? Don’t they buy them by the bunch, or by number? Isn’t the weight irrelevant to most people, be it in pounds or kilograms? Anyway, the whole story was a pile of crap regardless, since it was and is permissible to buy groceries by the pound, as long as the shopkeeper has a metric scale.

But having told us we should be buying items such as bananas by weight, the media has now changed its mind, at least with regards eggs. New EU regulation, apparently, will mean that items will have to be labelled with their weight. By a massive leap of anti-logic, some people have decided that if a box of eggs has to be labelled by weight, it can’t also be labelled to include the number of items in the packet. “It’s an end to buying eggs by the dozen”, apparently, despite the fact that eggs almost universally come in boxes of six. It takes a special kind of stupid to think that packaging will actually be prevented from mentioning the number of contents on the inside, and no mention whatsoever is made of this in the legislation. But we are talking here about our pathetically tribal, anti-EU British press here, so I guess anything goes. And it is my perhaps debatable allegation of tribalism here which means I can just about squeeze this brief observation into my post on the theme of “tribes”.

Tribalism, of course, is a feature of our party politics, so I’m on safer ground in this third part of my post; but elements of that tribalism still surprise me. I’ve felt close to the Liberal Democrats for many a year now, being something of a student activist and a member for a time. I veered away a bit during the useless Menzies Campbell’s era, and then smug Nick Clegg’s. I stopped understanding what they really stood for – I’m not sure they themselves know – but they still got my vote at the election. Following the formation of the coalition government I was surprised by some Labourite sniping at the Lib Dems, accusing them of betrayal and the like. As an outsider who saw the Labour party as my natural allies, such tribal anti-Lib Dem sentiments took me aback somewhat. It was a reminder of one of the things I so dislike about party politics.

And now? Well, while I still wouldn’t call the Lib Dems traitors, I am getting more distressed at the way their leadership seems to have so gleefully signed up to the Conservative’s agenda; for while I may like to think of myself a something of a pluralist politically, I still, pathetically, simply cannot abide the Tories. Now, I am sure that the Lib Dems will have exerted some sort of positive influence on the recent budget, but not enough for me to be happy. On such crucial issues such as how quickly the budget deficit should be reduced, how it should be reduced, and when to start, the Lib Dems were always more-or-less in step with Labour. Now they have performed a volte-face and say they are backing the Tory’s ideas, based on a post-election worsening of the UK economic position that hasn’t actually happened. When Obama wrote a letter to the G20 leaders saying we should be careful not to instigate cuts too soon, the coalition’s reply was that each government should act depending on its individual circumstances, apparently oblivious to the irony that they keep justifying the actions they are taking in Britain by referring us to what is happening in Greece. But at least the Conservatives can state that they went into the election saying they would start the cuts now, although my fear has always been that they haven’t so much dismissed the idea that cuts now can harm the recovery – a reasonable and arguable position – as failed to understand the economics of the theory in the first place. But the Lib Dems cannot claim such ignorance.

Now, I can see why Liberal Democrat MPs may be backing the Tory policies; they are in government, in the cabinet, and governed by collective responsibility. They may be supporting things they personally have misgivings about but feel they have to go along with, to toe the party line, in the same way the Labour leadership candidates are now fighting over each other to disown some of their former policies that they went along with at the time.

More surprising to me is the attitude of so many Lib Dem bloggers and commenters on sites such as Liberal Conspiracy, where they seem to have so seamlessly adopted some typical Tory rhetoric in an effort to defend the Lib Dems and their coalition policies, the sort of rhetoric they would surely have shunned just a few months previously. But I guess the question is did they actually shun such rhetoric previously? That is to say, perhaps I simply haven’t been paying attention, and that many Lib Dem bloggers have been saying these sorts of things for ages. In which case, perhaps I’ve been part of the wrong tribe, and voted for the wrong party, all along.

One of the coalition’s recent acts was to move to speed up a change in the age at which one can draw the state pension, an action that has been openly welcomed by some Lib Dem commentators. Perhaps that shows the gap between myself and some other Lib Dems; demographic changes may mean that a later retirement age could be considered necessary for the public finances, but how it can be actively welcomed is a mystery to me. In a few short years my expected retirement age of 65 has moved to a likely 70, and I doubt that will be the end of the matter. It’s demoralising, to say the least, to see the date at which you could retire move away from you faster than the years themselves are passing by.

Changing the state retirement age has been described by some as a wake up call for people to get their personal pensions in order. Well I thought I’d done that in signing up to my occupational pension scheme, but as public sector pensions are the next item in the firing line, I don’t know how that will fare. I assume that, at the very least, my contributions will have to rise again, just a couple of years after the last review meant an increase in my contributions. But I don’t mind that, as long as such changes are based on the financing and affordability of the pension scheme itself, and not just an attempt to make public sector workers pay more to redress the unfair way many private sector employers have chosen to abandon decent pension schemes for their workers.

(As an aside – and as a final, transparent attempt to crowbar this last section of the post into my tenuous overarching theme of “tribes” – it’s funny that when I left the private sector I assumed I was just changing jobs; I had no idea at the time that, as far as some are concerned, not least many denizens of blogs and newspaper comment sections, I was also changing tribes. Despite doing a very similar job, and working at least as hard and with the same abilities as I had before, little did I realise that to some private sector workers I was now a lazy, inefficient, incompetent and overpaid public sector worker, all pampered and bloated. Now, fortunately I am lazy, inefficient, incompetent and overpaid, slightly pampered and certainly bloated; but my many hard-working colleagues must be furious at such an unjust guilt-by-association, especially since I had never been the target of such daft generalisations when in the private sector because such contempt does not appear to be reciprocal. Nowhere I think seems to show this tribalism better than the matter of pensions, where too often the financial affordability of public sector pensions plays second fiddle to the argument that it’s not fair that some people have better pensions than others. Perhaps I had been naive in my private sector days, but my move to the public sector revealed to me that tribalism can appear in the most unlikely of places, and when you least expect it.)

But how else should I personally react to this supposed financial wake up call? Voluntarily increase my pension contributions still further? For a while I had been considering taking out some AVCs to supplement my pension, and I guess that is what some would still advise, but now I’m beginning to think: for what? To add to a pension that, with each revised retirement age, I am increasingly unlikely to ever see a payout from? I used to see things through the eyes of my parent’s generation, fed on Saga adverts of suntanned old folk enjoying their long, slow, golden retirement. Now it seem far more reasonable to assume that retirement will never happen and we will have to adjust to that reality and live for the day. Rather than work harder to pay more into a pension I will never see, perhaps I should just take it easy and take life as it comes: with an expectation that I will have to work till I drop, I’m not going to slog my guts out now for no reward later.

If the change in the state pension age was intended to make us all plan more for the future, then I think it will have failed to have had the desired effect on me. When combined with the events of last year – my father, after all, passed away aged just 68 – my response is more a “fuck it…this is my life now, and I think I’ll live for the moment, thanks very much.”


Street Life

It could be said that criticising the media is like shooting fish in a barrel. True, and therefore it is the ideal sport to engage in when you want to dash off a quick blog post. So here it is.

Google Street View is a “service to burglars”

announces the Daily Telegraph. It concerns the fact that 95% of Britain’s roads are now covered by the Google Street View service, knowledge that immediately made me check whether our house is now featured; and I’m delighted to say that it is. But how can Street View be a burglar’s aid, I wondered? Burglary surely is an activity requiring the burglar to be in close proximity to your house at the time, typically after “casing” it from a number of different angles while standing immediately adjacent to your property. How can a 2D picture taken of your house an indeterminate time ago be of any assistance? Time to read further into the report.

Google Street View, which has now been expanded to cover more than 95 per cent of Britain’s roads, is being seen as a “service for burglars”, according to new research.

Hmm. I see what you did there. The words “service to burglars” in the headline were placed between speechmarks, so you think you can get away with it, but I’m not sure you can. I don’t think that the fact that research suggests that Street View “is being seen” as a service to burglars can justify a headline saying the Street View “is a” service to burglars, do you? And what of the evidence gleaned from this “research”?

The report, which was carried out by a discount website,, found that two-thirds of the people polled thought that Google Street View images were ‘intrusive’.

The company interviewed 1,317 people – 57 per cent of which described the street mapping service an ‘intrusion’ while 24 per cent said that they believed it was simply ‘a service for burglars’.

Right. So this isn’t so much “research” as “market research”; or rather, it’s a survey. Now, let’s put aside the fact that unless they asked two separate questions on whether the interviewees found Street View both “intrusive” and an “intrusion” (and I doubt it) then the Telegraph thinks it’s reasonable to equate “57 per cent” with “two-thirds”. Instead let’s focus on the statistic – if that doesn’t debase the term – that informs the headline: the fact that 24% believe Street View is “simply ‘a service for burglars’.” In other words, the only thing that even attempts to justify the statement in the headline is the fact that just under a quarter of the people surveyed agree with a statement as put to them by the survey team. Presumably, then, any question that a researcher deems to ask, and which anyone feels they can agree with, can be portrayed in a Telegraph headline as a fact that researchers have unearthed. Amazing.

But perhaps I’m being unkind? Perhaps there is something, somewhere in this sad article that can support the assertion that Google Street View is a service for burglars? What do the police have to say on the matter?

Thames Valley Police told The Telegraph there was no evidence to suggest that the service caused an increase in burglaries.

Well what would they know? I’d rather go with the opinions of a quarter of the people who were asked to agree or disagree with a statement when they were stopped in a shopping precinct as they were racing to the butty shop in their lunch hour and no they couldn’t really stop but will it be quick oh alright then. Any day.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you our best-selling quality daily.

Update: The Telegraph has now updated its headline to a more anodyne “Google Street View: survey raises privacy concerns”, which is more accurate, especially seeing as the survey literally did raise those concerns by asking the questions in the first place. The rest of the article remains intact, to the best of my knowledge.

End Of The Road

After casting his eyes over the current media landscape, Nik Johnson felt moved to tweet:

Hey! You know what ITV do REALLY, REALLY well? Fucking nothing.

Well now, I think that’s a bit harsh. The new series of Jimmy McGovern’s The Street began last night, and although it is broadcast on BBC1, I noticed yesterday that it is in fact made by ITV Productions. The bigwigs at ITV presumably feel that their own schedule is so choc-full of quality that they can let this one go to the Beeb.

Anyway, talking of choc-full, I think that after three series of The Street they must surely be running out of homes on that eponymous road to house all of those famous actors, each with an agonising hour-long dilemma of their own (or more than one, if you’re Timothy Spall). Perhaps that’s the reason for the building work that featured in last night’s episode; is an extension being built to the street, in order to squeeze six more stars into six new-builds, so they can tackle six more tortuous moral issues in series four a year from now?

Jimmy McGovern himself discussed The Street with Mark Lawson on Radio 4’s Front Row yesterday. I’ve not listened to the programme yet, but today’s Guardian reports on the interview. I wonder what Jimmy had to say?

The current series of the BBC1 drama The Street will be the last, because of cuts in ITV Studios’ Manchester base, according to its creator, Jimmy McGovern.

McGovern, the award-winning creator of The Street and other dramas including Cracker, said on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row last night that he would not take the drama to another producer when ITV’s Manchester drama department is scrapped as part of the latest round of cuts at the broadcaster.

This means that the third series of The Street, which started on BBC1 last night, would be the last.

He said: “It’s finished now because ITV have closed down that drama unit. I am sure that’s why Michael Grade left because it was a content-led revival, he said, and they have closed down the producers of the best content.”

Oh. Right. Hmm. Looks like those builders can down tools. And it’s as you were then, Nik.

Copy Right

Hey; it’s been a while since I used a really lame pun as a title around here ( “The ‘More’ Gauge” being merely lame). Hey; it’s been a while since I’ve used anything as a title around here that didn’t include either “twitter” or “on a plate” somewhere within it. But let’s put those titles on the back burner for a little while, because an interesting debate has been taking place over at The Economist on the matter of copyright. I say “interesting”; I haven’t really been following it myself, but its existence did make me think about how the issue has affected me recently.

If you look at the footer of this page you will see a little © symbol, but that doesn’t really mean anything; it was included by default in the veryplaintxt theme I’ve used ever since I moved to WordPress from Blogger, and I haven’t been bothered to do anything about it. It’s pointless, for a start, isn’t it? As far as I’m aware, the fact that I’ve written something automatically means it is covered by UK copyright law. Even were it not, I’m hardly vexed about people nicking anything from this place. I’d probably instigate some sort of Creative Commons License thingy here, if I felt I knew what that palaver is all about. I guess I’ve no strong feeling one way or another regarding copyright law, other than a vague belief that people should have control over their creative output.

But some elements of copyright law do seem a bit weird. How can football fixtures be covered for example? They’re hardly propagating ideas or works of imagination, just lists of dates, statements of fact. You would think that rather than invoking copyright law and so enabling these facts to be jealously guarded and restricted, the football authorities would want such information copied for free and distributed far and wide, the further the better, so as many people as possible are made aware of who is playing who, where and when, in the hope that the optimum number of people will then stump up hard cash to go and see the games. For football fixtures to be covered by copyright law seem inappropriate, indeed downright bizarre.

My own brush with copyright, as a kind-of victim, is less odd, far more justifiable. I suppose it is something that is becoming more commonplace everyday. The wonders of digital technology have enabled me and others to turn video clips into short films; to edit them, amend them and then publish them on the web. Even a simple computer program such as Windows Movie Maker means you are able to add any soundtrack to your visuals, and I’ve often done just that, picking a suitable piece of music to complement the pictures on screen. I’ve then uploaded the whole lot to YouTube for my friends and family to view. You may well have done the same yourself.

One of my favourite choices of soundtrack has been the music of Led Zeppelin. I used part of one of their tunes to accompany a short section of my video of our trip to York a few years ago, for example, and I have used other tracks on several other videos. Unfortunately, this fact has come to the attention of the record company who own the rights to this music, with the result that the soundtrack to those videos has now been removed from YouTube; not just the offending music itself but the whole audio track, effectively rendering the videos defunct.

Now I can’t really complain here: I didn’t write those songs (although I reckon neither did whoever stripped the music from my videos) and I have no right to use them on my amateur films and publish them on the internet. Were I asked to pay to use these songs I just wouldn’t bother. Simple. I don’t have a leg to stand on. My only thought is, what’s the point? While WMG (for it is they) may have the right to deny me the use of their music, why bother enforcing it in such an instance? All their action really means is that a harmless video of my family and me trolling around York, for example, is now pretty much unwatchable. That video in particular has been seen by over 1500 people so far on YouTube, several of whom have left kind comments; eight people have liked it enough to favourite it, and now they can’t watch it again. Great. Now, while I’m sure that those eight people are coping just fine, what else, I wonder, has actually been achieved by disabling the sound on my film? What practical advantage has been gained by such an exercising of copyright law, because I can’t think of anything? Sure, I have no rights over the songs used and WMG have the right to do as they please, but just because they are able to ruin a pleasant enough little video doesn’t mean that to do so is anything other than a bit silly. It’s not as if I’m claiming that I wrote those songs myself and am trying to pass them off as my own work, and I seriously doubt anyone watched my York video merely to listen to the few snatches of “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” – which I used as the soundtrack to some images of York Minster and The Shambles – to avoid buying the song on CD or by download and with the intention of depriving Jimmy Page et al of some precious royalties. WMG’s action, while legitimate, certainly seems a case of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Surely there’s a better way to assert you rights?

Well yes, there is. Because on this video which I took at the Northampton Balloon Festival a few years back I used “All I Want Is You” by U2 as my soundtrack. Again, as with my use of Led Zeppelin’s tracks, this came to the attention of the music publishers, and again they took action. However, in this case, when I was first alerted to this fact, the music publishers stated that they were happy for the video to remain intact, but on the proviso that I allowed adverts to be placed alongside the video. No problem, I thought. I mean, how could I reasonably object? And then, checking the video again recently I noticed they had gone a step further. Now, when the video is played on YouTube, a little advert pops up informing the viewer of the name of the song which is being played, alongside a clickable button which allows you to download it from iTunes. How much more sensible and imaginative than WMG’s response? Rather than just pull the music and the rest of the audio to no effect other than to potentially piss off some viewers, instead turn copyright law to your advantage and allow it to be used to promote and advertise your product. Which you kind of think is the whole point.

What it all boils down to I suppose is that I don’t really object to copyright law, just to its thoughtless application. I don’t even have any objection to Led Zeppelin – or their emissaries – stripping their music from my videos if that is what they want to do. After all, the music belongs to them, and they can do as they like. It just seems like a very short-sighted use of the law, but not one that has affected me significantly. After all, those videos, illegal soundtrack and all, are still on my hard drive, and can be easily distributed in other ways if I so wish. I could upload another copy to YouTube if I were so minded, and could keep doing so as and when its existence is discovered by the music publishers. And it still exists intact, for now, on another video sharing site that I have taken to using in preference to You Tube. Ultimately I don’t feel as if I’m a victim of copyright law here; rather Led Zeppelin are, for applying copyright clumsily and so missing out on the potential benefits that U2 have gained through their more enlightened use of their rights. In the case of Led Zeppelin and WMG it seems to me that copyright law, instead of protecting intellectual capital, has merely facilitated their shooting themselves in the foot.

%d bloggers like this: