Thursday, 19 December 2013

Latest Doctor Who revealed, fighting fashion law and more

Our Centre ran a number of events in 2013 including a great series of lectures on music industry contracts by Robert Allan, sessions on sports broadcasting and contemporary issues in sports law by Daniel Geey,  and a conversation and acoustic session from Tom Hingley. We are now delighted to be able to announce details of the first tranche for 2104, more details here, all welcome but if not Westminster staff or student make sure you RSVP as detailed. Lots of great events coming up but I want to highlight two in particular now. First, I blogged and tweeted recently about Dr Who, and would like to offer a reminder that Danny Nicol is hosting a screening of Episode 10 of the War Games and discussing some of its finer points in January. 
Patrick Troughton and friends  
I am indebted to his friends at London Metropolitan University, where Danny recently gave a talk, for the poster below, with the man himself revealed as the latest Doctor!  
Secondly, great friend of the Centre Dave Griffiths, purveyor of fashion for the fearless and stand up comedian extraoirdinaire is reprising his sold out 2013 Edinburgh Show C U In Court for us; a blockbuster of a show detailing his escapades fighting on the frontiers of fashion. This is offered, for free, by the Westminster Law School at the University, and held  in the space where Jimi Hendrix first climbed up on a UK stage to jam with Cream. What are you waiting for! Reminder, you need to register if external to University, see above.

More details of other future events including a workshop on the regulation of sport agents to follow.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Doctor Who? Doctor Pavoni. The PhD as journey

Yesterday I sat in, as Director of Studies, on the viva of my PhD student Andrea Pavoni. Andrea gave a masterful defence of his thesis, 'Exceptional Tunings: Controlling Urban Events', and the examiners were impressed with the richness and inventiveness of his thesis - something that came as no surprise to myself and the rest of the supervisory team.

It made me reflect on the whole process of the PhD, the roles of the various parties, the expectations, and also the changes that we are starting to see more recently in its organisation and approach. More close to home, I reflected on the journey Andrea himself had undertaken. When Andrea applied for the PhD programme at the University of Westminster Law School it was as part of the Vice Chancellor's research initiative in 2009, where up to 20 studentships were to be created  to encourage interdisciplinary work across the various parts of the University, and to which members of staff had to 'bid' projects to be put forward for support. From our Centre we put in two bids, one involving 'the regulation of mediumship' in conjunction with Annette Hill (then from our Media and Design Faculty, now Professor of Media in Lund), and one on 'mega-events, tickets and social inclusion'  (in conjunction with Dr Andrew Smith, Reader in the Faculty of Architecture and Built Environment). Whilst both projects were shortlisted as ones we could recruit to, we only recruited to the latter one, and Andrea was the successful candidate for this.

During the early stages of research it became apparent that Andrea's real interest lay beyond the original proposal and it was fascinating to see the project develop and evolve during the PhD. Thinking of this during the viva itself, it made me realise what a journey the PhD is and also that to a large extent that the PhD is a process, or as David Gauntlett said on his entry about how to survive a PhD on his blog, '... an exercise in showing you can do research'. Andrea's journey was a great example of this, and indeed for the whole team as the supervisory team adapts and changes to support the research. During his PhD, apart from an incredible amount of reading, thinking and writing, Andrea was selected to highlight the research of the University as part of the Graduate School launch, was successful in obtaining funding to do field work during World Cup 2010 in Johannesburg and was instrumental in organising a number of workshops and events, including Law and the Senses amongst other things. We were all very proud to see Andrea achieve his success yesterday, and it was great to reflect on the ebbs and flows, changes in direction and emphasis, and ultimately the final symbolic denouement in the examination room, of the research project and recognise, in the end, a piece of work which was original, ambitious and, indisputably and unarguably, his. Well done Dr Andrea Pavoni!

Dr Pavoni, post viva

Monday, 18 November 2013

The Law of Dr Who

Next weekend sees the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who, The Day of the Doctor, described as 'a love letter to the fans' it promises sights of a number of previous Doctors and is much anticipated. This of course comes hot on the heels of the recent treasure trove find of lost episodes and also, from a personal perspective, reminded me of the time when I met the Third Doctor, John Pertwee at a book signing in Birmingham when I was around 6 years old and when Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor), with K9 in tow, visited my school in the late 1970s. Unfortunately, I could find no corroborating evidence of this by searching on the web, although I did find some interesting footage of Tom Baker visiting Schools in Belfast around the same time and its great to see the reaction of the children.
The Third Doctor, pre-Worzel Gummidge
The Fourth Doctor, pre Little Britain and a magnificent Blackadder
Outside of this, the legal dimension of Dr Who has become more visible recently.  For a start, the news that the son of the writer of the very first episode is launching a legal action claiming ownership of the TARDIS adds to a line of cases where authors and designers have argued that they are the owners of various characters and other aspects of films such as Star Wars in the past.
Rather than the typical image of the 'Blue Box', here is Mark Wallinger's 2001 TARDIS

Also, and closer to home, my colleague Professor Danny Nicol has recently issued a Call for Papers for a symposium on The Politics and Law of Dr Who which is looking like it will be an excellent event with lots of interest generated already. Danny is in the process of starting a blog on this too, so keep an eye on this too. This taps into a growing fascination for what areas such as film, television and literature can tell us about the law, and what law tells us about them, and Danny's interest in Dr Who is a welcome addition to this growing area.

Monday, 11 November 2013

‘I don’t want to talk about it’: Virgin’s disruptive past

Recently I visited the Virgin Records exhibition ‘40 Years of Disruptions’ currently being held for a short time (blink and you will miss it – certainly by the time this blog is published it will be history) at the impressive Victoria House in Bloomsbury. Celebrating 40 years of Virgin Records, the exhibition covers much from the label’s back catalogue, including of course material based around Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells and a section celebrating the Spice Girls and Girl Power. I have to admit to some disappointment as I walked round that perhaps my favourite Virgin artist, the group XTC, were criminally overlooked  - although some digging around afterwards revealed there actually was some video footage of them in the Manor Recording studio shown that I unfortunately missed, although I have since found this on youtube, part one of which is here, and the rest are easily found.
 Unsurprisingly, a large proportion of the exhibition is given over to the punk and post punk period, and in particular the work of the Sex Pistols. There are T-shirts from Vivienne Westwood’s shop Sex, assorted badges and some great examples of the work of Jamie Reid who provided the artistic backdrop for much of the Sex Pistols’ work. One example of this took centre stage at the exhibition, literally, in apop up recreation of the original Virgin Records shop, resplendent with bean bags and hundreds of copies of the Sex Pistols’ debut album ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’, and nothing else, on show.

virgin records 40th anniversary exhibition

 This is an allusion to a key ‘disruption’ in the Virgin Records story, and of the attempt to censor the album. The subject matter and lyrical content had already been deemed problematic with previous singles such as God Save the Queen subject to much approbation, released as it was to coincide with the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and contentiously denied the number one slot in the singles chart by Rod Stewart’s ‘I don’t want to talk about it’, despite allegedly outselling it. However, when Richard Branson instructed his shops to blitz their windows with a display based on the album sleeve and title, the police became very interested, threatening him with various charges including one under the Vagrancy Acts. Eventually one of the shop’s managers was arrested and charged under the arcane Indecent Advertisements Act 1889. Branson instructed John Mortimer QC to defend, and his arguments centred on calling a series of expert witnesses including an English professor to explain the etymology and meaning of the offending word, ‘bollocks’, and that it had in fact been used as a term of endearment used amongst clergymen, and won the case.
Whilst Never Mind the Bollocks gives a neat example of one form of attempted musical censorship, I was very taken with another different form, tucked away in a far corner of the exhibition, and involving a different type of professor. Here was a letter written by a young fan to Professor Green asking him very politely if he would consider refraining from swearing on future releases so that the boy’s father would allow him to purchase the Professor’s wares. It may not be the law, but there are lots of ways that access to music can be restricted, and access disrupted.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Connected Communities: Village Greens & Skateboard Parks

On the way to an (excellent) Arts and Humanities Research Council event in Edinburgh entitled Connected Communities I started to think a little more about notions of community and how the law engages with the issue. It occurred to me that the law often has an input in terms of how we construe this and that perhaps this is often overlooked.  Whilst thinking about this, the names of Ray Davies and Lord Denning, names not often uttered in the same sentence, at least outside of my house, came to mind. This may sound tangential, particularly in a ‘legal’ blog, so let me explain…

Ray Davies, lead singer and chief songwriter of The Kinks, is of perhaps best known for the song Waterloo Sunset, to my mind the song against which all pop songs should be judged. This tale of Terry and Julie (was it Terrence Stamp and Julie Christie? We will perhaps never know) has become part of pop music folklore, and gives its name to the glass pavilion, designed by Dan Graham, that sits next to the Hayward Gallery on London’s Southbank. Recent developments at the Southbank however bring to mind another of Ray Davies’ celebrated works: The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society. This was a concept album, a homage to English culture and everyday life, focused around the simple pleasures of the Village Green. Coming back to the law for a moment, Lord Denning also extolled the virtues of the Village Green. In the landmark case of Miller v Jackson for example, a case involving the intersection of recreational cricket with the torts of negligence and nuisance, Denning waxed lyrical on the social utility of sports that were played upon it, and celebrated what the Village Green denoted – the place around which the life and soul of the community revolved.

Recent developments have placed these issues in sharp relief. As part of the redevelopment of the Southbank, there are plans to remove the site known as The Undercroft, a haven for skateboarders, BMX bikers and graffiti artists for many years, and replace this with retail units. This has resulted in the Long Live Southbank Campaign lodging an application to have the facility registered as a community space under legislation designed to protect village greens. Using the Commons Act 2006 lawyers acting for the campaign are to argue that it is a space where ‘a significant number of inhabitants….have indulged in lawful sports and pastimes on the land …for at least 20 years’ . At first glance this seems odd, there appears to be very little of the archetypal village green in evidence at the Undercroft, but, in fact, beyond the archetype, what the space provides is exactly that, a community place focused around a cultural practice. The campaign takes comfort in the recent decision of the Court of Appeal in Newhaven v East Sussex County Council where a beach was held to be capable of being classed as a village green, notwithstanding that its characteristics were very different from the traditional pastoral vision of the village green. However, there may be other storm clouds on the horizon – the Growth and Infrastucture Act recently received royal assent and it remains to be seen how this will affect attempts to register places in this way – certainly developers see the new Act as a welcome counterbalance to the previous legislation. As regards the Undercroft, as of 4th July it appears that the planning process is being pushed back as a response to the campaign, but in the longer run, whether the law can protect this important cultural and social space remains to be seen. 

This post originally appeared, without links, on the Young Lawyer blog.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Policing, protest and popular culture

[This originally appeared, without  hyperlinks, on the Young Lawyer blog]

April was marked by the death of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and if ever an event divided opinion, this was surely it. Reconciling the death of an old lady and the acts of an administration under her watch in the 1970s and 1980s was a difficult one. From both sides of the political spectrum came eulogies and attacks, debates about the cost and nature of her funeral, the extent of her legacy and her impact - indeed the issue came to dominate so much that some argued that surely ‘Thatcheration point’ had been reached.

In terms of popular culture, one contentious response to Thatcher’s death was the campaign to get ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’ to number one in the charts. Notwithstanding it stalling at number two, itself an echo of The Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen being kept off the top spot during the Silver Jubilee, and the fact that there were many far better protest songs (Robert Wyatt’s magnificent version of Shipbuilding perhaps, or even the mighty Pete Wylie’s own take on what would happen when she died)*, it raised issues around the futility of  banning items of popular culture. Whatever the merits of the campaign and the choice of song itself, the rather limp response by the media to it, in terms of trying to police popular protest, spoke volumes of the difficulty in trying to censor or stop such activity, especially in an age when swift and widespread dissemination is easily facilitated.

Outside of this very particular protest however, the issue got me thinking about the policing of protest more generally. I touched on protest briefly, and somewhat obliquely, in my very first blog, when I mentioned Peter Hain and the Stop the Seventy Tour Campaign, and the role the various sport related protests had in removing the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Before the funeral of Margaret Thatcher, there was much discussion about whether there were going to be actual protests during the funeral itself and whether any such protest could be legally curtailed. There are of course a number of legislative provisions that could potentially impact on the right to protest, including the Public Order Act 1986 amongst others, but it is important to appreciate that as a counterweight to provisions that regulate protest are corollary powers under the European Convention of Human Rights that give the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. Of course, the relationship between the right to protest and the right to regulate it is a difficult one to balance, but balance it is what the courts must do, and is what the police must have in mind when making decisions as to how a specific event should be policed, something that has proved problematic in recent years when the Metropolitan Police in particular have resorted to tactics such as kettling and a somewhat complicated flow chart has been drawn up to help constabularies when deliberating upon their approaches. In the event there were very few protests at the event and the day passed off peacefully and without major incident, but it was interesting to see the issue of the parameters of peaceful protest raised again, as the extent and nature of these powers is likely to carry on being problematic.

*I should have also mentioned in the original posting of this, but time constraints did not allow me, that Darren Hayman also wrote a song about this, including the Ding-Dong refrain, a number of years ago – an unofficial (I think) video here and solo material from Darren and also back catalogue of Hefner can be purchased here. He’s one of our most original artists and his work on the English Civil War, including his new album Bugbears, is well worth seeking out.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

That joke isn't funny anymore

When Paul Chambers, frustrated at the closure of Doncaster’s Robin Hood airport, jokingly tweeted that he wanted to blow the airport ‘sky high’ as a consequence, he had no idea of the chain of events he was to set in motion. This seemingly innocuous aside would ultimately lead to an (eventually quashed) criminal conviction, him becoming something of a cause celebre with celebrity supporters such as Stephen Fry accompanying him to court, and his case provoked much debate around the meaning of the word ‘menace’ within the context of online communications.

Beyond the case itself, it also crystallised a number of questions, and concerns, about the parameters of freedom of speech, the possibilities, and problems of social media, and the role of the law. Further, it led in no small part to the instigation by the Director of Public Prosecutions of a consultation on the Interim Guidelines on Prosecuting Cases Involving Communications via Social Media that closed to submissions this week. Time will tell what happens to these Guidelines, and how they ultimately look. I was part of a submission (via our Centre for the Study of Law, Society and Popular Culture at the University of Westminster, and take a bow Susan Collins, Steve Greenfield and Stephanie Roberts) that argued, amongst other things, that the role of the criminal law in policing social media needs to be carefully looked at, and in our view largely resisted. Crucially we argued that there needs to be a clear understanding of the distinctions that exist between communications via social media and from more traditional means, most obviously in terms of the potential reach of communications made via these new modes of transmission.

We also argued that a really difficult aspect of this is that of definition. The guidelines talk of words being ‘grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false’ but as past examples illustrate, the parameters of such terms are often necessarily elastic and definition of such terms is problematic.

Context is also often an important factor.  Consider the campaign that sprung up some years ago as a reaction to what became the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006. Whilst most people have no problem with bigotry being confronted, there are often consequences that go far beyond what’s originally intended. Comedians such as Rowan Atkinson were up in arms because of the potential effect this could have upon freedom of speech. A man acknowledged (by myself) as the greatest living comedian, Mr Stewart Lee, who was no stranger to religious controversy following reaction to his award winning Jerry Springer the Opera, wrote in the Independent on Sunday in 2004 that

"One would like to think that comedy could incite religious hatred. That would be great. It's the duty of comedians to attack religious belief because you test the elastic limit of a thing by probing it, and belief systems based on faith rather than facts need to be tested. This legislation tells us a lot about the Labour government ... It's a government that dismisses facts and prioritises belief."

These sort of examples illustrate some of the problems that can be created by attempts to curtail freedom of speech. However, finally, and perhaps this is key, there has been much discussion on the need to educate users of social media as to their responsibilities, and as part of this, to inculcate some sort of awareness of the protocols, ethics and legal parameters of such use.  Whilst historically journalists were made aware of these sorts of things, with the rise of citizen journalism in many ways we are all journalists now, yet often are not equipped with an understanding of the responsibilities we have. Perhaps rather than relying on a final resort to the vagaries of the criminal law, a more constructive long term response might be more in the way of education and awareness for users of social media.

NB: Since this was originally published on the young lawyer blog, the final guidelines have now been published – in truth they are not very different to the interim ones, and the Smiths sleeve is a reference to the Paul Chambers case and the original title of the piece!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

New Articles posted in Entertainment and Sports Law Journal


As some of you may know, the Journal of which I am one of the editors, the Entertainment and Sports Law Journal changed its format this year and began to publish articles as they were accepted so that the Volume builds up over the year. We have two new pieces published this week. First, in our Interventions section (that has smaller articles, case notes and reviews, etc) we have a piece by Sven Preiss, entitled The Sailor, the Turtle and the Jungle Man that reviews the legal position as regards character merchandising.

We also have a full article by Mike Hally, Partner in Square Dog Radio LLP, who has written an historical study on film censorship in the North West of England in the 1950s and 1960s, centring upon what was known as 'The Naughty Pictures Committee'. Mike also produced a documentary on this for Radio 4, the full programme for which is available via  AudioGO, and at the moment for the bargain price of £0.99 rather than the usual £2.49!  There is also a 3-minute extract on the front page of his Square Dog website. The article is entitled Local Authorities and film censorship: an historical account of the 'Naughty Pictures Committees' in Sale and Manchester, and is available here.

We are always on the look out for submissions for the journal, it's open access and has a large audience, and details about submissions can be found here or contact me for more details. 

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Turkish Delight?

I have been invited, along with my fine colleagues Bosse Carlsson from Malmo, and Dave McArdle from Stirling, to put together a workshop for the European Association of Sports Management Conference in Istanbul, Turkey which is taking place between 11 and 15 September 2013. Our workshop is entitled Law's Impact on Contemporary and Future Sport and details about it, and how to submit and abstract are available here. We would be delighted to receive lots of exciting papers and are very hopeful of an excellent and rewarding few days in a beautiful city. Any queries or questions please get in touch but please note that the deadline for abstract submission is 4 April 2013 so get your skates on!

Monday, 25 February 2013

Daniel Geey's Guest lecture 5 March

On Tuesday 5th March the excellent Daniel Geey is giving a lecture at the Westminster Law School as previously noted. Daniel is an extremely good speaker, an authority on all matters football and the law, and a genuinely nice man to boot! More on Daniel here.  Anyone external to the University of Westminster who want to attend, please email Sam King to confirm.

The address for the lecture is Room 2.05A, School of Law, University of Westminster, 4 Little Titchfield Street London W1W 7UW (nearest tube Oxford Circus) and the lecture will start at 5.00.
For anyone who cannot make it, we are delighted to be able to announce that the lecture is to be streamed live too, via this link.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

The Young Lawyer and blog promiscuity

I have been a bit quiet on the Dispatches front recently. Lots of reasons for this, not least my increasing fascination with twitter and a number of other work issues. Also, I have been commissioned to contribute a monthly blog for the Solicitors Journal/Young Lawyer, and I have written a number of pieces for them so far on issues such as the social significance of sport and the regulation of ticket sales, and most recently, film classification. As noted in the blog, one of the outputs of this was a chapter Alex Sinclair and I contributed to a book to celebrate the BBFC centenary, which is, of course, available at all good stockists and well worth a read! If you don't believe me,if the link still works around 10 minutes in, see the review on BBC Two's The Book Review Show

The entry below is reproduced from Young Lawyers Blog January 2013 with links added for your delectation. Please follow developments on the young lawyers blog
Despite enjoying a more positive perception than in some of the previous years running up to its centenary celebrations in November 2012, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) faces a number of challenges for the future. Not least among them, how they respond to the changing nature of both consumption of film and production, with new modes of delivery and creation introducing a host of new challenges. As such, 2013 – and indeed the next century – promises to be just as eventful as the last.
Towards the end of 2011 the BBFC was asked to classify the film The Human Centipede 2. This was initially rejected, but following a resubmission of an edited version that had 32 separate cuts, removing two minutes and 37 seconds from the original submission, the film was finally classified as an 18. This was well publicised across the popular press, but was only the latest in a long line of celebrated cases, many of which were highlighted in Uncut, the British Film Institute’s exhibition and film series, held to mark the BBFC centenary. During Uncut some classic examples were shown, for example the rare complete version of John Waters’ Pink Flamingos was shown, as was the original uncut version of Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
All of the films illustrate the combination of elements that dictate how the BBFC go about their business, and frame their approach to classifying film. The BBFC has always been cognisant of the legal framework within which it operates. Indeed, the BBFC is a curious bi-product of the Cinematograph Act 1909 that dictated that premises needed to be licensed to show films, but since then a number of key statutes have further impacted upon how films are classified including the Obscene Publications Act 1959, Public Order Act 1986 and the Video Recordings Act 1984. It is instructive that until recently they were known as censors, only becoming the British Board of Film Classification in 1984.
The portrayal of children in film has become increasingly contentious, and the Protection of Children Act 1978 has had a significant impact on the way that films are classified. The law, however, as often is the case, is only half the story. While there is a broader legal framework within which they operate, the BBFC adopt their own guidelines that further inform the approach their classifiers take to film. Their approach today is an interesting one as while all the examiners will be aware of the legal framework, and will not allow anything to be granted a certificate if it potentially falls foul of this, the BBFC’s own guidelines will dictate the film’s location on the core spectrum of U, PG, 12, 12A, 15 and 18 and these guidelines are regularly reviewed and updated. The film critic Mark Kermode has talked of a sea change in their approach in recent years, with the BBFC cast as protector of film rather than the enemy that many saw them as years ago.
A number of events took place to celebrate the BBFC’s centenary in November last year. A book, entitled Behind the Scenes at the BBFC: Film Classification from the Silver Screen to the Digital Age, to which my colleague, Alex Sinclair, and I contributed, develops some of the themes I have touched on here.

Monday, 28 January 2013

New Seminar Series: Entertainment Law

Here is the poster for our latest series of seminars at our Centre for the Study of Law Society and Popular Culture at the University of Westminster. If anyone is interested in attending any of these, and you are NOT a member of staff or a student at the University of Westminster, you are welcome to attend but will need to RSVP me to arrange access to the building.