Blogs, context and contract

Why bother blogging?

Barely a day goes by without an entry being posted on one of the blogs I read (see side bar right) about a new blog, the impact of blogging, a controversial blog or something to do with legal blogging. So it’s clearly something that is being done more and more. Just look at all the blogs in this directory.

Back in the old days, just having a blog was good enough to get readers, but that is no longer the case. Anyone can set up a blog and post about random stuff each day. In order to get readers and to keep them coming back you need to offer good content that is well written, covers topical issues or analyses well known ideas in a different way and is kept up to date. Often people will set up a blog with a great idea for their first post and then not have any idea as to what to write from then on. That is a danger and despite what people might think, it is quite difficult to think of fresh and engaging content continually.

Luckily, like quite a few subject areas, the law is a great topic to blog about because there is a lot of content available for inspiration. There are court cases going on all the time and the news is a great source for that. Equally, as a law student I am learning new things each day I have a lecture or seminar and I can have fun analysing that new knowledge in the context of what I knew (or didn’t know) already. I have yet to do that because I have yet to encounter something that is worth commenting on, but I do expect to reach that pretty soon (lectures so far this week have been more introductory and seminars start next week).

For qualified lawyers, blogs can be a good PR tool to promote your services and your law firm. For students like myself they can be a good way to just write up what is going on and see if anyone else has experienced something similar, or just to post a controversial comment in the hope of generating discussion. For me, it is more a case of exploring a different style of writing and subject matter than I have been used to in the past. I’m pleased to see that people are linking to this blog but it is not the primary reason I’m writing.

Yesterday, I listened to a lecture about how law is taught here – that the approach of the law school is quite different from many law schools around the country in that it takes a critical approach to the law. Whilst learning “black letter law” is very important, the teaching here supposedly gives you additional skills which can be applied even if the law you have learnt changes, as it inevitibly will. This will be the focus of the “Critical Introduction to Law” module – providing key skills for analysing law and not just learning the written facts. This is, of course, a very good idea and something I’m surprised is not the focus of all law schools.

Provided within this lecture was a good example about a law in the USA which states that any convicted criminal (or felon, if you’re using that crazy (perhaps even an oxymoron?) language that is American English) loses their right to vote in any presidential election. I was surprised that this law exists as I’m of the opinion that every citizen should have the right to vote, but that aside, it transpired that this rule was key to George Bush winning the election. Many black/hispanic Americans in Florida would have voted for Al Gore but by some co-incidence many of them were also convicted criminals. As a result, votes which could have (and probably would have) meant a victory by Al Gore were not cast and so the actual implications of this law were to provide a victory for Bush. On it’s own, the law is not racist, but when considered within this context, it really is.

So I can conclude by saying that what I knew in a general sense but did not have any specific examples for – the law exists as written fact but is rarely considered without some kind of context; that blogs are an increasingly important aspect of law; and that after reading through “Overview of Contract” in my “Obligations I” booklet, in actual fact, contract law is incredibly complicated!

Knowledge

The point of a degree course is to learn more about a specific subject – in great detail. If it’s a subject, like Law, that you may not necessarily have studied already, then it is quite acceptable if you know nothing about the subject. That’s what you’re at university for, right?

Maybe. I think it depends on the subject. Take Medicine for example. This is an extremely complicated and intense course and there really isn’t that much you could do before starting the course. Apart from study Biology and Chemistry. But even then I imagine there’s still not much you could do to get a “general overview” of the subject, so to speak. Indeed, how do you get a general overview of Medicine? Is it even possible? With Law, on the other hand, I would suggest that it is possible to find out a good amount even before you start the subject. At least find out about how the system works in general.

The lecture I had today was an introduction to the legal system, more focusing on what we’re going to be doing as part of the “Legal Process” module – visiting court, learning about the UK legal system and exactly how it works. I’m sure this module is going to go into great detail on this (as with anything at university) but there’s basic knowledge that you could have obtained even before studying the module. Particularly if you knew you were going to be learning about it e.g. before the lecture or even before coming to uni to do law in the first place. I’m talking specifically about how the UK courts system is structured, the difference between the criminal and civil courts and various other small bits if information. It only takes half an hour or so to read a few pages from a book, do some research, visit wikipedia and build up a foundation that the lecture will build upon.

Obviously, I’m not saying here that it is a requirement to have detailed knowledge about these kinds of things – that’s what the course is there for – but even so, the number of people in the lecture who didn’t have a good idea of what happens in the courts was surprising. Or maybe they just weren’t confident enough to say when asked. At least I hope that’s that case.

Over a week

So far I have implied that I am actually a current Law student and since this blog was started during the summer it could be assumed that I was in my 2nd or maybe 3rd year. However, I am actually just this week starting my first week of proper study in my 1st year.

A week yesterday I arrived on campus to begin studying the law at an undisclosed university in the UK. Last week was Fresher’s Week which involved a lot of drinking, parties and meeting new people. But amongst all that fun we also had some introductory lectures. These included receiving the module outline booklets for the 5 modules that I shall be studying this year:

  • A Critical Introduction to Law
  • Constitutional and Administrative Law
  • Criminal Law
  • Legal Process
  • Obligations I

One of the lectures in Fresher’s Week included writing a 45 minute essay titled “What is law?”. This was strange because I was intending to write a post here with that exact title, but ended up deciding not to. I enjoy writing on topics like this and after a little bit of preparation the night before, I had some good ideas that I was able to put into a structured essay for the lecture.

And today I shall be attending my first lecture that is not just an introduction to the subject/course/university as a whole. In fact this week I am not on full timetable but instead will have several lectures to introduce various key skills required to study the subject:

  • Going to Court
  • Introduction to Statutory Interpretation
  • Introduction to Reading Legal Cases

Although Fresher’s Week was good, I have been really looking forward to actually starting the subject – I got quite excited last week when the modules were introduced. I can’t wait to actually start!

I have all my books that I need for the first year on my shelf:

  • Gary Slapper & David Kelly, The English Legal System (8th ed), Cavendish, 2006
  • Herring, J., Criminal Law: Text, Cases and Materials (2nd ed), Oxford University Press, 2006
  • Ashworth, A., Principals of Criminal Law (5th ed), Oxford University Press, 2006
  • Ewan McKendrick, Contract Law: Text, Cases and Materials (2nd ed), Oxford
  • Mindy Chen-Wishart, Contract Law, Oxford University Press, 2005
  • Blackstone’s Statutes on Contract, Tort and Restitution 2006/7

These are very heavy and very thick, but do look quite interesting. So I am also looking forward to being able to use them properly to do legal research, especially since the total cost from Amazon.co.uk was £170!

So far university has been very relaxed, although expensive. Accomodation for the first year is £4036.36 self catered. Added to that £3000.00 for the year for the topup fees and you’re looking at about £7000.00 just to go and have somewhere to stay. My timetable has yet to be finalised with my full quota of lectures and seminars but I will now be able to pick up the rate of posting since I will actually have some content to comment on. I’m hoping to post again this evening after the first lecture.

I also have a strange urge to do some of my own research into my topic of particular interest – intellectual property and technology law – since these are not covered as separate modules in the first year, or even at all in the case of technology law. But what do I look into? What can I research?

 

Laws are meant to be broken

Laws are meant to be broken

You hear it quite often (in various forms), usually when some TV or film character is about to defy some rule or regulation that will save them or cause massive explosions. But it has a serious side that involves less fire too. Are laws actually meant to be broken?

First, we need to consider why laws are written. For the most part, they are there to provide some kind of protection to the general population. A speed restriction is designed to protect pedestrians in a built up area or the passengers if there is a lower limit due to fog, for example. In these cases, the laws are there to tell people what they should not be doing. They’re not supposed to be broken because doing so would endanger someone. But the key thing is that if they weren’t there, most people would probably exceed the “safe” speed limit, not because they want to kill or injure someone but because they don’t know what the safe limit should be. We’re not all scientists.

What about murder then? That it is illegal to murder someone does not really exist to provide a “guideline” like speed limits do – I’d suggest that most people won’t ever murder someone because they know it is wrong. In this case, the law only really has any effect if it is broken.

Digression: Although perhaps you could argue that we only perceive it as wrong because it is illegal and has been for a long time.

When laws are written, for most cases (I have yet to reach the part of the course where I can say “for all cases”) there will be some form of punishment defined should the law be broken. This means that the law is expected to be broken and so there must be some form of action that can be taken against those who do so.

Of course that doesn’t mean it was “meant” to be broken, just that there are actions ready to be put into place if it does happen.

It is in this way that we can say that yet again, there is no clear answer to this legal question and a different answer will apply depending on the situation. Just like the law itself.

 

The British Way

A great example of how we British deal with those pesky American courts was announced yesterday when a US court ruled against the British anti-spam company, Spamhaus, who lost by default after refusing to accept the US jurisdiction and subsequently not defending the case.

The invalid default judgement awards compensatory damages totaling $11,715,000.00, orders Spamhaus to permanently remove Linhardt’s ROKSO record, orders Spamhaus to lie by posting a notice stating that Linhardt is “not a spammer” and orders Spamhaus to cease blocking spam sent by Linhardt.

The full statement from Spamhaus can be found on their website.

Learner Speeders

Is it wrong to break the law?

There’s a simple answer and a more complex answer to this. The simple answer is that yes, it is always wrong to break the law because the laws are there to protect and ensure fairness, security and freedom. However, you also have to consider the context of the question – the answer would certainly differ depending on the situation.

For example, if you had to break a load of traffic laws to get someone to a hospital, would that be acceptable? Yes, I would suggest that it would be. At least in most cases – if you caused a mass pileup then perhaps it would be different.

For example, if you had to smash a door down to gain entry to a house that wasn’t yours to rescue someone who had collapsed, or was trapped, then I would suggest that would also be acceptable.

But, you might argue, these are only small crimes. What about something bigger, like, I don’t know…murder? In what circumstances would it be acceptable to kill someone? Perhaps in defence of someone else. But then we get into what the press are always going on about – reasonable force, a topic I could write a whole separate post on. What if the person you killed would have killed you? Perhaps he was going to detonate a bomb and you had to shoot him to stop that.

The point here is that in law, questions, events, legislation, punishments and actions can rarely be considered in isolation. Yes, in most circumstances it is wrong to kill someone and yes in most circumstances you should stick to the speed limit, but there will always be some kind of situation where that would change. And that’s why the law is interpreted and applied on a case by case basis.

And how did I arrive at the topic for this blog post? Remember when you were learning to drive? Remember how you had to keep the speed limit and it seemed that you were the only one driving at/under it? Remember the tailbacks caused by your keeping to the speed limit? The speed limit seems to be the law most commonly broken without any thought.

 

Free music

I’m always reading about people being threatened with legal action by the record industry, particularly in America and it always annoys me. Fine, downloading music that you’re not supposed to be is illegal and it’s fair enough that the industry is trying to make a point but they never seem to be interested in offering a decent alternative. The question that is at the heart of the problem is why pay for something when you can get it for free?

There are plenty of reasons why I might pay for something even when I can get it for free. These include wanting to support the company/individual who produced the item, wanting to get guaranteed support when you need it (in the case of software) or because getting it for free is too much hassle. The last of these applies most in the case of stealing items or going to the effort to finding workarounds to protection.

But the deciding factor why I might download music rather than pay for it would be that the music I download is good quality, fast to get and I can play it anywhere. If I paid and downloaded a track from the market leader, iTunes, I would be restricted by the DRM and my MP3 player might not even play the track (although I do actually have an iPod). The record industry cites reasons for not downloading is viruses and poor quality, but that is not the case – everyone should have anti virus software and the music from places like Allofmp3 is at least encoded at 128kbps. I pay to use Allofmp3 but it is very quick, easy and they have a brilliant back catelogue of everything I could ever want.

What’s the solution then? The industry needs to offer a comparable free service that can make it worth me using for extra services with added value than P2P or Bit Torrent. Or they need to provide a paid service that provides those extras that I might want to buy – bonus tracks, videos, interviews i.e. content that I can’t get anywhere else.

The first option seems like a good one but how do they make money from providing tracks for free? What about advertising? How many websites do you pay to use? And by “use” I mean read content from…Very few, if any. So how do they make money? Advertising. But not just any advertising – very specific context sensistive advertising. I have clicked on adverts before that are relevant to the content I’m viewing. This is where Google have made their money with their search and website advert services.

Considering the number of (clever) people in the music industry, it has taken a long time for a service like this to appear. And even when it has, it is not from any of the major labels…although the BBC reports that it is now being backed by Universal. Great! A free service that I can download music from. I would be happy to use that and might even click the ads because they will be relevant.

Unfortunately Spiral Frog will be US & Canada only when it launches in December.

Until then I shall stick to Allofmp3 and buying the albums of a select few favourite bands.

 

The Law vs. The People #1

Here’s a scenario: I’m a normal person and I want to save as much money as possible. Especially since I’m a student – I’m not a solicitor charging £stupid just yet. A new album has come out from one of the bands I like, but not enough to warrant paying £15 or so for the actual disk. I can also use a computer and I know about Bit Torrent. What do I do? Or more importantly, what do I want to do?

Of course I want to launch my Bit Torrent client, browse for the album and then wait an hour whilst it downloads. There are no viruses because I have protection. The quality is just as good as if I had bought it. The only thing I do not have is the satisfaction of adding the case to my collection shelf. What have I lost? Nothing really.

But I have just broken the law.

Is that fair? No, of course it’s not fair but then hard luck – life isn’t fair. What I should be asking is why is the law like that in this case? I don’t like that particular law. It doesn’t benefit me in any way. Laws that make it illegal to murder or steal are important and might affect me. They definitely affect someone every day.

Yet the law still exists. It exists not to protect me. Not even to protect the majority of the population. Not even to protect MPs. But to protect a small number of artists; or more likely their record label. They want to get as much money as possible from poor students like myself to fund their fancy hats and their fancy chairs. And when it comes to the USA, they even go after dead people!

Maybe laws should only exist if they benefit the majority of the populatation.

Woah. Hold on. That’s not a good idea at all. How many people fall foul of the law that prevents you from having sexual relations with an animal? Very few. Should it still be illegal. Yes. It’s sick. And if anything it protects animals.

Ok, so what about laws that only exist to generate vast amounts of revenue for huge faceless corporations. Nobody likes them do they? Well, may be…but people work for them. They need money to go on holiday just like the rest of us. And since the companies are based in the UK (or at least get taxed to some extent in the UK) they do help you indirectly because the tax revenue goes back into state services.

Hmm. The record companies can be real bastards at times when they should be trying to convince people that it’s worth spending £15 on an new album rather than suing them. But dispite this, the law is there for a reason. It might not help you now. It might not help you ever. But it will help someone at some point. And so it should. That law is there for a reason – to get as much money from you as possible to protect helpless artists from the evils of internet downloading.

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UK Patent Office sets the example

Unlike it’s US and European counterparts, the UK Patent Office is pretty good when it comes to following it’s own rules. Ok, I didn’t mean that about the USPO. They are legally allowed to patent software and computer implemented inventions unlike the EPO which just ignores that fact that software cannot be patented and grants them anyway. But I digress.

Today, Out-Law reports that:

Sony cannot patent inventions in the UK that remove the anonymity of the peer-to-peer user experience and put social networking at the heart of file-sharing. The Patent Office ruled last week that the inventions are not eligible for patents

This is good because it means that the UK yet again sets an example for the rest of the world showing how computer implemented inventions really should not be patented. When it comes to software it is important for competition and innovation that patent protection is not allowed because as we have seen in the USA, software patents are far too general.

The key is that an idea should have an inventive step that requires (or required) effort to achieve. Normal patents, say for a mechanical device, are different because it might be a unique way of doing something – and as such that should be protected by patent (because metal parts cannot be copyrighted). But when it comes to software patents to get the same kind of thing you would have to describe how the code works to such an extent you might as well just copyright it.

So we can logically and reasonably say that copyright is sufficient. Why are so many people saying this yet EU parliament members continue to ignore the people it will affect most? Oh yes, they’re being “sponsored” by companies who want the patents. Silly me. I throught the MEPs were supposed to represent my views. I guess I’m not paying them enough. Or at all.

 

To Google (not a vb.)

Google is a great company. They provide excellent services, mostly for free, and despite being huge with vast amounts of money they still manage to maintain a sense of humour even when it comes to protecting their brand:

When Washington Post reported that “Google” had entered the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, it observed that the word has become a descriptor for its sector. Google wrote that it must avoid “genericide” and provided a list of appropriate and inappropriate uses of its name.

Among its examples was this appropriate use: “I ran a Google search to check out that guy from the party”; and this inappropriate use: “I googled that hottie”

The Out-Law article I took the above quote from provides an interesting editorial on one of my favourite areas of law – internet/computer related intellectual property law. The internet has changed a lot of things and IP law is one aspect of law that has had to change quite drastically.

The risk for Google is that it ceases to become a brand altogether. If it becomes generic, the brand can be struck from the register of trade marks, leaving the owner without rights. This has happened before: escalator, aspirin, pogo, gramophone and linoleum were once registered trade marks that became victims of genericide.

One case that comes to mind is the fight over sex.com. This domain was stolen from it’s owner due to a con man tricking Network Solutions, the .com domain registrations agency. A lengthy legal battle ensued and to cut a very long story short, the law was changed to recognise a domain name as an object of property that can be sold and that can have value. A great deal of value in the case of sex.com.

Old people complain

An interesting story appeared today whereby people who had phoned or texted Big Brother to vote out certain contestants complained because those contestants were brought back into the show.

The majority of the complainants believe that they have been misled as they were under the impression that they had voted to evict the contestants permanently

said ICSTIS in the statement.

I’m not sure where these complainants stand legally because when you make a phone call are you actually entering into a binding contract of service with the provider? What if, as in this case, the provider is acting on behalf of someone else? Is it then the providers responsibility to ensure that their client acts correctly?

We all know that only people who have nothing better to do send complaints to TV companies. And people who have nothing better to do are usually old people who are at home watching TV all day. Just like those who complain about Jeremey Clarkson’s comments on Top Gear or Have I Got News For You. Really. Get a sense of humour. Luckily for them they have E4 and can watch people making fools of themselves 24 hours a day on Big Brother. They don’t even need to get up out of the comfy chair. They can sleep when the contestants do – makes it more interactive.

But really, 2500 complaints?! I didn’t know that many people actually watched Big Brother.

 

Statute Law Database

I’m proud to be British. It is my opinion that we are the best country in the world and have some of the best organisations running the country (don’t confuse this with my liking of the current Labour government) with some of the best services available to ordinary citizens. For example as an internet user in the UK you have a vast amount of information available at your fingertips. Should you wish to, via the government or other organisation websites you can:

  • Book your driving theory and practical tests online and change them as you wish
  • Check car MOT certificate validity
  • Initiate a small claims proceeding, track and manage it
  • Watch and listen (live) to any event in Parliament
  • Keep track of what your MP is saying, what their voting record is and write to them for free
  • Look up details for any public company and get financial records about them
  • Pay any parking fines
  • Renew your library books

And the list goes on. Fair enough, the sites might not be standardised and there are some problems, but that is to be expected with such large systems. Improvement will come with time.

The one thing that is more difficult to do is find out about specific laws and legislation. There are lots of guides and leaflets that can be printed off, ordered and read online for different things such as company law, health and safety and traffic law, but the actual text of the legislatation itself is more difficult to find.

As a law student the law library is a very useful place to find this information, but it is more often than not in book form and when citing sources it would be a lot easier to provide a URL than a book name and page number. It is also easier to copy/paste small sections from a website to back up certain points in an essay.

Hansard, DCA and HMSO provide a useful resource on their respective websites but the documents tend to be scattered around and in a non-standard format. What would be useful is a single database that could be searched and kept up to date with the very latest documents.

Enter the Statute Law Database.

This has been in development and testing for some time and it is only now that it is finally getting ready for public use. I have obtained an account for the Phase 3 testing which will give me access to the database near the end of September to provide my feedback into what I expect will be a valuable resource for students, practicing lawyers and the general public.

Like any government service this has to provide a return to the Treasury and seeing as it is most likely to have cost a considerable amount to create, I will be interested to see how they recoup their costs. I can imagine a detailed search system like is provided with the Census available only to paying users but a “skimming” service to perform basic search available to everyone. I can also see a subscription model for businesses and universities who would want continual access.

What actually happens remains to be seen but you can be sure that if I am allowed to, I shall provide information about the service here once I get access. I bet that I’ll be one of few students who do have access and I intend to use that my advantage.

 

Wilbur Parry

Mr Bumble once said:

the law is an ass

What he really meant was

the law is an amazing subject that is infititely interesting and fun to study

and he’d be right. I think….

Moving on, I’m Wilbur, I’m 6’1″ tall, have brown eyes, slightly long, messy, black hair and I’m studying Law (LL.B.) at an undisclosed university in the UK.

There are plenty of blogs online that discuss the law and what’s going on within it. I thought it’d be fun to jump onto that bandwagon and do the same. Unfortunately after I got on it turned out that there weren’t any seats and seeing as I don’t really like standing, I decided to get off and buy a huge stagecoach with horses.

Several months later and at a cost of hundreds of thousands of yen, I present to you Law andstuff. The idea behind this blog is to provide an interesting view of the law, the study of the law, life as a law student and other irrelevant stuff. It will provide me with an excuse to write about the subject I’m studying in an uncensored and unrestricted manner and so my aim is try to add some humour to what can sometimes be a dry topic and provide opinion wherever I can stir up some controversy.

Should you wish to contact me, my e-mail is wilbur at lawandstuff.net

And so there you have it. This is Law andstuff. And I’m Wilbur.