Tag Archives: twitter

Suzanne Moore and freedom of speech. So. Much. Nonsense.

lynn_1802176cTry as I might, I can’t stop getting annoyed by the whole debate surrounding Suzanne Moore and her continuing feud with the so-called “trans cabal” (this isn’t really an article by the way, just a series of random points – but at least it is mercifully shorter than my last effort).

Yesterday, Moore wrote a bizarre article in which we sought to argue that her persecution at the hands of transgender and queer activists is a freedom of speech issue.

What’s got her and, for example, Padraig Reidy at the Index on Censorship, jumping up and down is that the International Development Minister Lynne Featherstone tweeted on Sunday that she thought Julie Burchill should have been “sacked” for her Observer article attacking transgender people. Now, for the record, I don’t think Featherstone’s intervention was very sensible. As has been pointed out by others ad infinitum, Burchill is a freelancer and any intervention by a government minister was bound to end up a distraction – and so it has proven. Both Reidy and Moore have leapt on this as an example of state censorship and proof that Leveson report is dangerous nonsense that will lead to government interference of newspapers. The fact that this was a junior minister who is a member of a junior coalition partner just expressing her personal opinion (and the fact that Leveson wasn’t actually arguing for a government body to regulate the media but rather self-regulation underpinned by a statute to be overseen by the judiciary) gets ignored amidst all the shrieking.

The fact is, this is not a freedom of speech issue. The Observer did not take down the Burchill article (and I agree with Jane Fae that it was counterproductive for them to do so) because of Lynne Featherstone or any other government minister’s intervention – you can bet they’d be shouting about it right now if they had done so. It will be interesting to see what they say about it on Sunday but right now it appears that the editor John Mulholland took it down for the exact same reason he put it up in the first place: good old fashioned venality. They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind.

I’m highly suspicious of people who are quick to leap up and down about Featherstone’s intervention being somehow sinister and an attack on civil liberties, while being so blithe about the assymetric power dynamic between Moore and her critics. There are a lot of pissed off trans and queer people out there right now who feel that Moore has been using her considerably privileged media platform to utterly misrepresent them in this debate. Again, Stavvers sums it up better than I could. What I don’t understand is why Moore is sticking to her guns in terms of her right to express her “anger and pain” while at the same time is so utterly blind at the fact that the people who are furious with her are doing exactly the same thing. At the end of her article she writes:

So I regret not making it clearer that we need both love and anger to be free. And you may continue to hate me, put me on lists, cast me out of the left. Free-thinking is always problematic. But if you take away my freedom to love, be intemperate, silly, angry, human, ask yourself who really wins? Who?

Yet it has been clear from the get go, that the problem has been her capacity to love in the first place. She escalated this row, and she continues to do so on an hourly basis on Twitter. As Deborah Orr said in response to her latest (at the time of writing) explicit troll:

The most telling line in Moore’s article is when she compares Featherstone to being a “humourless, authoritarian moron” (my emphasis). She isn’t the first to imply, or even express out loud that the problem at the heart of this debate is people who just “can’t take a joke”. Usually claims of humourlessness are the preserve of people like Jeremy Clarkson in their unending defence of “banter“. I’ve seen an awful lot of people over the past week making pretty similar defences, only suggesting that it is only transgender people and their friends who need to “get over it”. For some reason we are supposed to feel great at the progress we’ve made in fighting cissexism, homophobia and racism – yet we are meant to accept that trans people are an exception it is fine to laugh at and casually dehumanise. The debate seems, at its heart, to be between people who see this as an intolerable contradiction and people who don’t.

Finally, if we are to believe that this is a freedom of speech issue, and that Lynne Featherstone represents an oppressive, authoritarian government determined to crack down on the freedom of expression, why is it that the same government has just this week agreed to scrap Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986? Both Padraig Reidy and Suzanne Moore chose to ignore this inconvenient little factoid. In the case of Reidy, and the Index on Censorship, they have failed to acknowledge this at all on either their blog or weekly email newsletter. Perhaps this is because it’s a little bit of state oppression that never really affected journalists? Throughout this week I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that the real anxieties at the heart of this debate are rooted in professional self-interest rather than any genuinely noble concerns about the state of democracy; I’ve seen very little to shift this notion.

What I learned at #barcampnfp

On Friday I went to my first barcamp and, as per the rules, I’m meant to blog about the experience. So here goes.

First of all, I should write about my expectations. In retrospect I think they were a little too high, like I had just got some kind of golden ticket into the inner sanctum of the social media world. Somehow I had it in my head that I was going to have some revelatory experience due to the format of the event itself. None of this is rational, but to hear some people talk about barcamps and unconferences, you’d think that people had come up with some sensational new form of organising which was quietly transforming the world. The reality was a little more prosaic.

As someone with a background in politics, and in particular youth and student activism – typically disparaged by the social media world for its lack of inclusiveness – the format itself wasn’t that different to what I’m used to. Indeed, the lack of structure was in many ways inversely related to the level of participation. I could have really done with a bit of hand holding to begin with.

I’ve already been told off by colleagues for making so-called grumpy tweets about the lack of an icebreaker. I didn’t mean them to come across that way; they were meant to be constructive. But my fundamental concern about the day is that I left without a clear idea of who else was attending, when I feel I really needed to know that at the start in order to make the most out of the day. And, while many people are blessed with the ability to go up to complete strangers and start engaging with them, I’m not. In the end, I got the most out of the more salesy sessions than the discursive ones for the simple reason that the organisers of the former had more of an interest in being engaging.

Let’s just get a few other housekeeping things out of the way. Again, this isn’t meant to criticise, just for future reference:

1) Organiser Sylwia Presley acknowledged on the day that the structure of a main plenary room and breakouts wasn’t ideal for the format. In my experience, a large room like that can be made to work but you need to break it up into several small groups and discourage the conference format wherever possible. Arrange the chairs into 3-4 circles around the room at the start. If a full plenary is absolutely necessary, then get people to move their chairs to form one. But should a full plenary, at least on conventional conference lines really necessary?

2) Instead of leaping in with some rather specialised topics, start the day with some deliberately general topics (“introducing barcamp” or “what are the challenges we face?”) and get people breaking into groups to begin with. Encourage people to spend those first sessions talking about what sessions might be needed for the day. Give them post-it notes to write the ideas down. By all means have pre-prepared topics, but don’t put them up straight away as that will automatically dictate the agenda to everyone else; instead have them as a fallback. Attempt to gain some consensus on them first before putting them up, so that everyone is on a more level playing field; you may even find it makes more sense to merge two sessions or hold multiple slots or another topic that way.

3) For a building which houses the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, 19-22 Charlotte street did have some remarkably poor signage. Personally, I never got my head around where two of the breakout areas where and missed some interesting sounding sessions as a result. Always come to a venue armed with makeshift signs and blu-tack.

With all that out of the way, what did I actually learn from the day itself?

1) Google Hangouts are interesting, and there might be something in it, but I’m yet to be convinced of its value for non-profits. I can see their potential as an organising tool, for getting groups from around the country to interact. But with a maximum of 10 users at any one time, it has the potential to become a victim of its own success with willing participants unable to jump in. Admittedly, getting to the stage where that becomes common would be a good problem to have for a small network.

I was wholly unsold on the claims that they are powerful because “TV news anchors might pop by” (one of the speaker’s anecdotes about George Takei being a keen exponent lead to me having an extremely vivid dream that night about George Takei turning up to support a campaign I was organising; he was a lovely bloke. But I digress). While I can totally see what is in it for celebrities to use such tools to engage with fans in a manageable way, I can’t see how the same applies to NGOs, aside from some weird bragging rights.

2) I was rather more sold on using AudioBoo; indeed, this was one of my take-aways. I can see definite merit in my organisation making much greater use of this app in the way that I attempted, and failed, to make use of video in the past. The problem with video is that even a short three minute video winds up being a couple of hours in terms of editing and faffing about. Uploading short interviews on a regular basis and have the website sort out feeds, iPod channels and embed codes? Given that I’ve had an AudioBoo account since its early days, I can’t understand why I didn’t think of it before.

3) I think I can see the potential of Storify as a curating tool for campaigns, but the website itself is hopeless at explaining its potential and I didn’t actually attend the session at which this was discussed. So, I’ve had a little play myself to get my head around it. I can see how this could be quite useful in terms of creating an accessible space for people to follow a specific campaign or issue that an organisation is focusing on.

4) The challenges facing large nonprofits and small ones are wildly divergent. This was brought home to me when I found myself sitting in on a session entitled “who owns social media?” In my organisation the answer is, broadly, whoever wants to. The problems people described in that session, in which tech teams would be responsible for designing sign up tools but not necessarily have a clue about making the best use of language, or of struggling within an unmanageable command structure, were quite alien to me. I think it would have been useful to unpick whether such structures are genuinely beneficial to an organisation but without much of a common frame of reference, I struggled to really find a hook as a means to contribute.

5) Too many people see a dividing line between campaigning and fundraising that isn’t really there. This is a small organisation problem as much as it is a big organisation one, and something I struggle with myself (having recently taken on direct responsibility over fundraising at UD). The web in general, and social media in particular, blurs the edges between the two to the point where distinguishing them as anything other than two sides of the same coin is no longer helpful. It was my perception however that there were a lot of people at the event who were only really thinking of social media as a way of making money rather than as a way of fulfilling their organisation’s goals more generally. I suspect that if you only look at it as a way of feeding the cash cow, you won’t ever get it to be a profitable exercise for you.

6) Last week was Social Media Week. Now, I’m a pretty web-savvy person and I’m a total Twitterholic. Yet I had no idea about this. I’d be amazed if anyone other than a self-identified “social media professional” had a clue that this was going on. That ought to send chills down people’s spines because spending a week talking to yourself and not even expanding your audience is an utter waste of time.

The day itself gave me plenty to think about both in terms of social media and event management and I’m glad I went. With the whole barcamp thing now demystified, next time I will hopefully be a little less backward in coming forward!

My thanks to all the organisers who made the day happen.

James Graham is the Campaigns and Communications Manager of Unlock Democracy but writes here in a purely personal capacity.

Quaequam Blog! Liveblog (Listen on LBC 97.3)

7:16:15 PM: I’ll be one of the bloggers on LBC’s election coverage tonight: http://iaindale.blogspot.com/2010/05/join-me-for-lbcs-election-night.html

7:19:25 PM: Hard to tell from @glinner’s tweets if his Tory tellers were breaking the rules or not.

7:21:38 PM: If they insisted on having his poll number, an offence was made. If they politely asked it’s a fine practice we should support (@glinner)

7:28:36 PM: 251 people now attending the Demo for Democracy (Sat, Traf Sq, 2pm). Another 361 maybes: http://bit.ly/9eBApD

7:29:42 PM: Other rallies taking place in Glasgow, Manchester, Bristol, Oxford and, MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL, Middlesbrough: http://bit.ly/9eBApD

7:30:34 PM: (not gonna retweet the seperate links again – just follow the ones found on the Trafalgar Square event page)

7:32:01 PM: RT: @alexfoster: Cor, there’s a queue outside the polling station. Longer queue in chippy thobut.

7:33:14 PM: Seeing reports of queues everywhere outside polling stations. Brits usually queue in Post Offices, not to vote. Most un-British.

7:33:52 PM: I mean, seriously, queuing to vote? That’s what foreigners do. Usually outside mudhuts in Africa. Tsk.

7:34:18 PM: We’ll be putting purple ink on our index fingers next.

7:35:32 PM: RT: @paulwaugh: Lord Ashcroft’s ominous question. http://bit.ly/aRnsLK

9:39:12 PM: Just noticed my blog is still set on UTC (Azabaijan to be precise). Have hopefully solved it now.

9:39:53 PM: If it looks like I’ve been tweeting exit polls an hour before close of poll, it’s because of the time code. Don’t arrest me please.

9:41:27 PM: Must. Eat.

9:43:55 PM: Hmmm… blog now seems to think I am an hour into the future. #fail.

10:03:52 PM: RT @AIannucci: #ge2010. Labs, Lib Dems, Others: Charge! There’s 1 more hour to stop Pudge-Face and his Moon-eyed Loons.

10:04:48 PM: RT @Gilesyb: Dow cratering. FTSE due to open v down. On the + side, cheaper all the time to holiday in Europe. Hold off on the Greek villa

10:05:39 PM: RT @guardiantech: General election turnouts since 1945 http://bit.ly/9VGodA

10:10:10 PM: WTF is @icmresearch doing tweeting ‘rumours’ about its own exit poll? Pollsters have misbehaved a lot in this election.

10:11:10 PM: RT @Glinner: RT @mat: I just bought Greece » you woz robbed.

10:13:07 PM: RT @alexwilcock: Jimmy Carr on #alternativeelection just recommended porn, but he’s already the biggest wanker on TV (Farage being injured).

10:18:50 PM: RT @paulwaugh: Hearing lots of queues to vote. My gut says that’s a Lib surge that cd do for Labr. But hey, what do I know?

10:40:31 PM: RT: @caitlinmoran: #C4altelection Rod LIddle is the God Particle of cuntdom. His twottery fills the universe.

11:06:40 PM: RT @chickyog: BBC Exit Poll: CON 307, LAB 255, LD 59, OTH 29 << would mean Hung Parliament, Lib Dems boned.

11:08:25 PM: RT @qwghlm: If the Lib Dems lose total MPs despite the rise in the popular vote, oh my word… #ge2010

11:14:27 PM: WHERE ARE THE PERCENTAGES?! What is this? Amateur hour? Why are they sitting on them?

11:16:21 PM: RT @iaindale: Blogpost: Iain Dale’s Diary Readers’ Exit Poll http://tinyurl.com/3x476o4

11:17:12 PM: RT @qwghlm: Worth keeping in mind 2005’s exit poll predicted the Lib Dems to gain just 2 seats, they gained 11 http://bit.ly/cz0HOe #ge2010

11:18:48 PM: @BBCElection Fuck your uniform national swing bullshit and give me the percentages. Now.

11:19:49 PM: RT @alixmortimer: RT @rob_knight Is this the BBC exit poll? #ge2010 http://twitpic.com/1llhsr

11:27:43 PM: RT @lordbonkers: This exit poll is wrong. I know because all my tenants show me their votes before they go in the box

11:29:49 PM: RT @TiggerTherese: Blimey! What is this crazy sudden turn towards PR from Harman, Mandy, et al?

11:34:39 PM: RT @BBCElection: Scots voters going to polls http://bit.ly/aM64FE » er, still? Are you quite sure?

11:50:15 PM: RT @politicshomeuk: Channel 4 exit poll split: Con 38, Lab 28, Lib Dems 23 http://polurl.com/61756

11:52:28 PM: RT @lewis_baston: Mandelson and Harman both all-out for electoral reform.

11:53:02 PM: Can’t believe the Sheffield RO blaming students for not bringing their polling cards with them. Does he not know the law?

12:27:42 AM: Don’t go to bed mad at #ge2010 results – go to bed knowing you’re taking back parliament. http://bit.ly/Takeitback #ukelections #takeitback

12:50:15 AM: RT @politicshomeuk: Channel 4 exit poll split: Con 38, Lab 28, Lib Dems 23 http://polurl.com/61756

12:53:02 AM: Can’t believe the Sheffield RO blaming students for not bringing their polling cards with them. Does he not know the law?

12:55:06 AM: Surely they could have predicted high turnouts from the opinion polls?

1:01:14 AM: Has Bob Marshall-Andrews predicted he will lose yet? A fine election night tradition. :)

1:01:48 AM: I’m on LBC from 1am-1.30am apparently.

1:12:23 AM: @AngryFromMCR @apptme2theboard I know. I was joking.

1:15:38 AM: My old school chum Chris Philp is on LBC at the moment. Nothing personal Chris, but I hope you lose.

1:16:36 AM: Philp doesn’t sound too optimistic about his chances. If he thought he had a chance, I wouldn’t expect him to be giving interviews.

1:17:32 AM: Hope @joswinson’s team remember to tell her her own result this year (we, um, sort of forgot in 2005).

1:18:54 AM: .@markpack has predicted a LD gain in Hampstead and Kilburn on LBC.

1:27:13 AM: 699 signatories now on http://bit.ly/bbjvrH #takeitback

1:50:20 AM: The Alliance?! FTW! Well done in Belfast East!

1:51:17 AM: Well done @stevewebb!

1:54:51 AM: Sorry but not surprised to see Martin Linton lose Battersea. One of the better Labour MPs.

2:29:01 AM: Have been informed by an insider that Glasgow North is ‘kess i’. This is either some clever code or a mistype.

2:50:50 AM: It has to be said, we aren’t seeing any evidence of #cleggmania in the Lab-Con marginals.

2:55:04 AM: 1,243 now calling to #takeitback: http://www.takebackparliament.com/

2:55:52 AM: Bloke on LBC calling from Chippenham. Sounds close.

2:57:57 AM: Sad to hear about the Tories holding Newbury.

3:00:08 AM: Kirsty Allsop is completely shitfaced on the BBC at the moment.

3:01:26 AM: Shappi Khorsandi has been at the ales as well.

3:18:30 AM: Unconfirmed rumour that Lembit has lost Montgomeryshire.

3:20:11 AM: This really is the weirdest election night ever.

3:22:04 AM: Montgomeryshire count coming now

3:22:43 AM: Lembit rumour was true. The LDs have lost Lloyd George’s seat!!!

3:25:13 AM: @lewis_baston Wasn’t Montgomeryshire so safe in 2001 that it was the only LD const you didn’t profile in your guide? What a waste!

3:37:35 AM: There is one very clear loser from this election: the pollsters. Utter, utter fail.

3:38:58 AM: I’m still hopeful of a slight increase in the LD vote share and some net gains. But talking 1s and 2s not 10s now.

3:42:13 AM: David Heath did phenomenally well. Just goes to show what you can do with a platoon of Hawkmen at your disposal.

3:42:27 AM: (yes I know that was obscure)

3:43:44 AM: Well done Chris Huhne. Given the results tonight, I’m very relieved.

3:58:09 AM: RT @jenyockney: i think the portillo equivalent line this time is — were you up for “what the fuck is going on!?”

4:01:30 AM: A 17% swing in Merthyr but not a gain. Don’t know whether to celebrate the swing or commisserate the loss.

4:03:07 AM: The boargamer’s MP Nick Palmer has apparently lost.

4:08:06 AM: RT @bigdaddymerk: Dorries is back. another 5 years of comedy gold.

4:08:53 AM: RT @markpack: Sky News auto-subtitles screaming: “Tories have taken dope. Tories have taken dope.” Err… Dover?

4:10:41 AM: Nice to see the LD national share is slowly creeping up now.

4:25:09 AM: RT @libdemvoice: Jo Swinson HOLDS East Dunbartonshire >> congrats Jo!

4:48:24 AM: @drevanharris Good luck – and hang in there!

4:49:04 AM: Sad to see the LDs lose Rochdale but on a personal note like Simon Danczuk.

4:52:32 AM: Fundamentally, this result is so random. Not only does this look hung, it is hard to see how another GE will unhang it.

4:53:24 AM: We need a voting system in which the nation can make an actual decision. #takeitback http://www.takebackparliament.com/

4:55:49 AM: How can we be doing so badly while getting such humungous swings like in Merthyr and Redcar?!

4:56:55 AM: Remember folks: Canada went NOC in 2004. After three GEs it is still NOC. FPTP eventually breaks with multi-party politics.

5:04:55 AM: Richard Taylor has lost. So much for the independents vote then.

5:09:21 AM: Not surprised about losing Hereford South to be honest.

5:10:03 AM: RT @MrsBYork: this is why we need #electoralreform – libdems have 22% of vote but only 23 out of 330 seats #ge2010 #electionpowerzone2010

5:20:26 AM: RT @nickjbarlow: Colchester – Lib Dem hold, Bob Russell majority 6982 >> so much for the rumours

5:21:03 AM: RT @guidofawkes: Morley + Outwood recount! >> pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease

5:24:11 AM: Anybody with a belief in rationality and science will be chilled by @drevanharris’ defeat. Big gain for the woowoo right.

5:25:07 AM: @drevanharris Really sorry. We needed you!

5:36:52 AM: RT @mudlarklives: #philippastroud loses in Sutton & Cheam – take that, God-bothering bigots. #ge2010

5:42:02 AM: Chippenham hold (gain)? Yes? Please?

5:45:57 AM: Well done @duncanhames – friend and ally for 15 years.

5:52:45 AM: Delighted to hear about Simon Wright winning Norwich South. Is this night about to get more interesting?

5:53:21 AM: (Interesting wrong word. It’s been interesting all morning. Horribly so.)

5:54:21 AM: Really like Simon Wright. He always looks like an earnest Sunday school teacher. In a good way, not a Philippa Stroud way.

5:55:19 AM: Zac Goldsmith’s mate (brother?) standing next to him looks a right twat.

6:21:08 AM: RT @dalekcat: RT @GPforhire: RT @SmallCasserole: Labour – 1.2 times the votes of LibDems, 4.7 times the seats – Democracy my arse.

6:28:52 AM: RT @lordbonkers: Conservatives gain Winchester >> NOOOO!

6:30:17 AM: Will there be ANY BME MPs left this afternoon?

6:40:58 AM: @bridgetfox Really sorry.

6:41:15 AM: @mpntod Really sorry.

8:49:30 AM: //ELB

9:49:30 AM: //ELB

10:31:15 AM: Ah, the CiF trolls are enjoying their moment. One of the clear winners of this election: http://bit.ly/aSEDVR

11:21:28 AM: Important poll: How are you feeling about the election result? http://twtpoll.com/g3ypmz #twtpoll #ge2010

11:22:16 AM: Please can you vote in my poll: http://twtpoll.com/g3ypmz – desperately trying to gauge the mood at the moment. #ge2010

11:23:49 AM: You might also want to have your say here: http://labs.38degrees.org.uk/content/election-what-next #ge2010

11:28:12 AM: Thanks for your feedback. Working on something and this is really valuable: http://twtpoll.com/r/g3ypmz Please RT!

12:15:42 PM: Teather is teh campaign geenius.

12:16:53 PM: The question is: can anyone beat Sarah Teather? Does anyone else notice a resemblance between her and Hit Girl from Kick-Ass?

12:22:07 PM: Seriously. This should have been Teather’s election posters. http://twitpic.com/1lqa0k

This is a liveblog test (thanks to @chickyog for suggestion).

7:02:43 PM: RT: @libdemvoice: http://ldv.org.uk/19345 >> If this IS the result tomorrow, there’ll be riots in the streets.

7:07:48 PM: On the other hand, that result would mean I get to eat TWO chocolate bars #mydiabeticpledge

7:09:41 PM: RT: @votematch: Official: we’ve had 1,002,000 users and counting. Will we hit 2 million before close of poll? :) http://votematch.org.uk

7:10:57 PM: Oh goody. Looks like the liveblog plugin works then.

Paperchase and Copywrong

A lot of my (mainly non-Twitter using) readers may be unaware of the controversy surrounding designer Hidden Eloise and greeting card giant Paperchase. In short, Hidden Eloise alleges that a design which Paperchase are using on a variety of products has lifted the central image of a girl from one of her own works He says he can hear the forest whisper.

It could of course be a coincidence but make up your own mind:

I have to say that the whole situation looks pretty cut and dried to me. Not so according to the Paperchase chief executive Timothy Melgund who, with the support of the Telegraph, manages to portray the whole incident as a case of a blameless, struggling company being bullied by a selfish designer, a cynical novelist and the lynchmob they have whipped up on Twitter (the whole article is a classic; even the headline marks a new low in Fox News-style values for the Telegraph: Paperchase forced to deny it ‘plagiarised’ British artist’s work after Twitter campaign):

“We bought the designs from a reputable central London Design Studio along with a number of other designs on good faith.

“We take all reasonable precautions when we purchase our designs from companies or individuals, because, to be blunt, we want to make sure they are entitled to sell it.”

He added: “We have not done anything wrong. Our reputation is of course very important to us. We spoke at length to the Design Studio in question and they categorically denied any plagiarism.

“What upsets us as a whole is that a lot of our good customers have been angered by this and there is no reason for it.

“We spend a long time building up our reputation for creating dynamic and interesting stationery and then something like this happens.”

Mr Melgund said the issue raised serious concerns about the “powers, and there in the danger of Twitter”.

“I am sure it can be beneficial but if you get an untruth (on it) it can be very dangerous,” he said.

As brass necks go, Timothy Melgund must be in for a shot in the 2012 Olympics. Indeed, it made me wonder: why would they mount such a robust defence unless they were absolutely sure the design was not only copied but that Hidden Eloise herself might have been the one doing the copying? The wheels on that hypothesis have now fallen off by the admission by the designer of the Paperchase design that she did, in fact, copy it from Hidden Eloise:

When creating the group of designs bellow I used the outline pose of your Hidden Eloise Girl in one of the designs to create a new pose for my princess. I did not intend to copy your character but use its pose to create a new design for my own character, my intention was not to copy your character, I now realise the pose was too close to your Eloise and apologise to you for this, I also apologise to paperchase for the trouble this has caused.

What is disturbing about this whole incident is that Paperchase have left it to both the freelance designer and the design agency who commissioned her to take a bullet on their behalf. Throughout the whole process, Paperchase have insisted that they had reassurances that it wasn’t a copy and that settles the matter. But it doesn’t because it is blatantly obvious that one design is based on the other. They didn’t need lawyers or reassurances to confirm that a wrong had been committed; they just needed eyes and a conscience. Let’s not forget that Hidden Eloise originally raised the issue with Paperchase in November; they had three months to avoid what is now a public relations disaster for them. Their calculation must have been that there was very little that an independent designer of modest means could do to them. Timothy Melgund’s comments on Thursday only reinforce the impression that his primary motivation was to dissemble rather than right a wrong.

That he went running to a rightwing newspaper to give him a sympathetic hearing and trotted out the usual line about Twitter inciting the mob (© 2009 Jan Moir) only makes him even more despicable. This suggests not only contempt for Hidden Eloise but for his customers. Frankly, I would describe it as a Gerald Ratner moment were it not so unfair on Ratner: at least he was only telling the truth.

Whoever lied to who, Paperchase are the big guys in this incident and they are the ones who should have been big about it. To not do so speaks volumes about their ethics and values. I’ve used Paperchase quite a lot over the past few years; they’ve just opened a new shop near where I work and assumed I would go on doing so. After this week, I’ll be making the strenuous effort of walking around the corner in future. Spread the word.

A final thought on copyright: this is yet another example of how existing copyright laws appear to do more for protecting corporate interests than in protecting the rights of artists. The costs of Hidden Eloise bringing forward a court case on this would have been prohibitive, yet record companies feel they can go around threatening their customers with jail – and in some cases pursue court cases against them – merely for downloading a song on a non-commercial basis. Isn’t it time we reassessed this?

PS I’m bookmarking this article in several places not to self-aggrandise but to ensure it is given wider coverage.

UPDATE: For completeness, and because I don’t think it will remain up on the Paperchase website for much longer (it only appears on the “contact us” page), here is Paperchase’s latest – and possible final – public statement on this matter:

Hidden Eloise / Kitty Mason / Gather No Moss

In an attempt to do the right thing and end this episode we want to briefly set out what happened here, offer our sincere apologies to all involved, and go back to operating our business as we have been doing for many years – albeit with a few lessons learnt from this incident. So, please bear with me.

By now, those of our customers and the social networking community who have been following this story, will know the basis of it. However, for the record:

• Paperchase bought a number of pieces of artwork from Gather No Moss in October 2008.
• By the end of November 2009 four items that contained the ‘copied’ image were on sale.
• On 27 November, Hidden Eloise contacted us saying that her work had been plagiarised, and we – as we would always do – went immediately back to our source to verify the claim. In retrospect we should have withdrawn the items from sale while the claim was investigated – our mistake.
• The studio, Gather No Moss, wrote back to us on 1 December stating that the image we had bought “was definitely not based on Hidden Eloise’s”. Again, in retrospect we should have withdrawn the items, but this was categoric confirmation that we had not been sold a plagiarised image. We assumed we had been told the truth. Another mistake.
• We advised Hidden Eloise of this confirmation on 2 December and heard no more until last Thursday when the accusation on Hidden Eloise’s blog gained worldwide coverage. While we established the “real” truth, we immediately removed all potentially offending items from sale and retraced our thinking. Press reporting could have been more accurate and our attempts to calm the situation through our web announcements met with limited success. Our communication could / should have been better.
• By Friday the truth emerged, and you can read the two statements from Gather No Moss and their freelance illustrator, Kitty Mason, below. This is not about blame, as some have suggested, but a genuine attempt to discover what went wrong. You must decide for yourselves where the faults lie. In retrospect we, Paperchase, are certainly not without blame.

So, we have been chastened by this experience and offer Hidden Eloise, our customers and those from the social network community our sincere apologies that we were not more rigorous in establishing the truth in the first instance.

Finally, please do not take some of the wilder accusations you might have read about our business too seriously. We are absolutely committed to design and independent illustrators alike. We are lucky in that the available artistic skill is so vibrant that it has allowed us to build our business, along with our loyal customer base, to where we are now.

Timothy Melgund
Chief Executive

Gather No Moss and Kitty Mason wish to make the following statements.

Gather No Moss
“Gather No Moss purchased the design known as ‘Alice in Wonderland’ from Kitty Mason in September 2008.
Paperchase bought Kitty Mason’s design from Gather No Moss in October 2008.
At the end of November 2009, the Artist named Hidden Eloise, contacted retailers Paperchase accusing them of plagiarism.
Paperchase contacted Gather No Moss and asked them whether there was any truth in this allegation.
Gather No Moss then asked the designer, Kitty Mason, whether she had copied Hidden Eloise’s ‘character’ (called – He says he can hear the Forest Whisper) in her own design.
Kitty Mason clearly stated to Gather No Moss that her ‘character’ was definitely not based on Hidden Eloise’s” ‘character’ only the pose was the same. Gather No Moss then conveyed this to Paperchase.

We are issuing this statement, to clarify our position and to hope to clear Paperchase of any direct fault.
We apologise unreservedly to Paperchase, their customers and to the artist, Hidden Eloise for this very regrettable sequence of events”.

Kitty Mason
“I created the design known as “Alice in Wonderland” in September 2008. I copied the outline pose of the Hidden Eloise ‘character’ (called – He says he can hear the Forest Whisper) to create a new pose for my ‘character’. I did not intend to copy the girl but use her pose to create a new design for my own ‘character’, I now realise it was wrong to do this.
In November 2009 Gather No Moss contacted me regarding Hidden Eloise’s allegation, I told them that my ‘character’ was definitely not based on Hidden Eloise’s ‘character’ only the pose was the same.

I would like to offer a full and unreserved apology to Paperchase, their customers, Hidden Eloise and Gather No Moss”.

Credit where it’s due

datacameron

The Evening Standard and Liberal Vision have been patting Guido Fawkes on the back for observing the uncanny similarity between David Cameron’s latest airbrushed photo and Lt Cmdr Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Only one slight problem with this: Guido actually got the idea from me as I tweeted this observation over a week ago.

Back in the day, Guido used to run a regular feature on diarists who regularly ripped off bloggers. These days of course, Guido is feted by the mainstream media. Fascinating how times have changed.

It is also worth observing that the substance of Angela Harbutt’s blog post is that Jo Swinson is a hypocrite for criticising adverts with airbrushed images of women whilst not criticising Cameron for this blatant act of fakery. Wrong again, I’m afraid, as any twitter search will tell you.

UPDATE: Guido has issued a carefully worded non-denial denial and accused me of “bloggers narcisim” – possibly the most self unaware statement ever uttered on the internet. Just for the record, I don’t expect or demand an acknowledgement – I’m just putting the facts out there. People can draw their own conclusions.

Which side is Peter Watt’s side of the story?

Why has Peter Watt chosen now to put forward his side of the story? It is hard to see how any of this helps the Labour Party’s cause. If his book were being published six months earlier he could at least argue that there was still time to get rid of Brown; if his book were published six months later it wouldn’t matter either way (and it would subsequently be less profitable for him to do so). One hopes that the full book will go some way to answering that question but at the moment it is mystifying.

Based on the Mail on Sunday extracts, I would tentatively conclude two things. The first thing is that Gordon Brown is even more of a waste of space than I assumed he was. Even if only half the things in these extracts are true, they portray a man totally ill suited to lead the country, let alone a general election campaign.

But if Brown comes off badly, in many respects Watt himself comes off worse. The extracts all have the tone of someone who appears to deny any personal responsibility whatsoever. This may just be selective editing on the Mail’s part – seeking to emphasise all the bits that put Brown in the worst possible light – but it is hard to see how they managed to do this when publishing the substantive section on the Abrahams affair.

David told me he used an accountant to ‘legally gift’ the money to his associates.

He had apparently been advised that as long as they were UK residents, on an electoral roll, and – however briefly – legal and rightful owners of the money, there was no problem. Every donation was reported to the Electoral Commission.

Over a five-year period, Kidd, Ruddick, Dunn and McCarthy collectively gave us a total of £600,000 – money that was gratefully received.

Kidd had also donated money to Harriet Harman’s deputy leadership campaign. Nobody at HQ ever really thought these donations were anything other than lawful.

If no-one really thought that was the case then Labour is in an even worse state than we thought. As Mark Pack pointed out at the time, the guidence emailed to him and Watt by the Electoral Commission was quite emphatic. And as someone whose job at the time mainly consisted of pointing out all the potential loopholes of the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000, it was clear to me that any rational person perusing the law would quickly conclude that such an act was against both the spirit and the letter of the law. The problem with the law was how easy it would be to bypass in practice, not what it said (in this instance at least).

To read the fact that Watt still maintains that he had been neither negligent nor dishonest therefore is quite gobsmacking. To make matters worse, it appears to flatly contradict this article – written by Watt’s ghost writer Isabel Oakeshott – where it is “understood” that Watt did not know that the donations from Raymond Ruddick and Janet Kidd came from Abrahams:

Now the case against Watt is on the brink of collapse following evidence that he did not know that David Abrahams, the Newcastle businessman and donor, was using agents and took reasonable steps to ensure the gifts did not break the law.

Watt is said by friends to have been devastated by the so called Donorgate affair, believing senior party officials had made him a scapegoat. Sources involved in the inquiry say Watt told police that he believed the go-betweens – Raymond Ruddick, Janet Kidd and two others – were donating the cash in their own right.

It is against the law to make a donation to a party on behalf of someone else without making the true source of the cash clear. No prosecutions have been brought, however, and lawyers believe the wording of the law make a successful case unlikely.

This 2008 account flatly contradicts the Mail extracts. In the latter, Watt admits that he knew about Abrahams using Kidd, Ruddick and others to act as go betweens. In the former, he apparently told the police the exact opposite.

Given Oakeshott and Watt’s subsequent relationship, it seems highly likely that Watt himself was the source for the 2008 article. Perhaps the full book will in some way reconcile these two wavering accounts from the same people. Either way, the account given in the latest extract is barely credible.

Overall, Watt comes across in these extracts as an innocent, something which I don’t mean as a compliment. It suggests that he was out of his depth. It is an interesting counterfactual to wonder whether a more grizzled national secretary would have been able to keep Gordon Brown on track when he wavered over the 2007 phony election.

It is worth noting that, in keeping with other Labour national secretaries, Watt was elected by the National Executive Committee not employed. He was also not Tony Blair’s choice, with the “grassroots alliance” out voting him by 16 to 10. Whatever misgivings I might have about how the Lib Dems’ equivalent – the Chief Executive – is appointed and held to account – I wouldn’t wish Labour’s system on my worst enemies. You need a system whereby committees can come to a consensus, not one in which the individual is seen to be owned by a particular faction on day one. No wonder Brown didn’t bother dealing with him directly and left it to Douglas Alexander to work as his intermediary. The very best thing that can be said about this working relationship is that it cost Labour an unneccesary £1.2million.

Peter Watt has decided to tweet his experience of this book launch, using the very Grant Shapps-esque “peterwatt123“. Thus far, his utterances regarding the launch and extracts have been very Kung Fu, with him tweeting this morning that “Loyalty is a two way street” (there’s a philosophy essay in that). More bizarrely, with both his profile picture and past tweets, he appears to be using his kids as a shield on the apparent assumption that people will go easy on a family man (see this as another case in point). Why not keep this stuff seperate from the book? It’s all very odd (and before you argue that these tweets are none of my business, I was only alerted to them because his publisher started promoting them).

Why Nick Cohen should worry less about twitchforks and more about the media Frankenstein

Nick Cohen is up in arms about how Twitter is embracing the power of the mob and that this is bad news for freedom of speech. Ironically (at least ironic to anyone who has read Mr Cohen’s denunciations Revolutionary Communists), his old sparring partner Brendan O’Neill feels the same way.

I have to say there is a grain of truth in what they are saying. Twitter has proven itself as a useful tool for fighting the forces of darkness, but it has not yet been successfully used to actually deliver progressive ends more positively. It is a profoundly reactionary medium and while it has been dominated by the left thus far we should be prepared for the fact that this may not always be the case.

The case of Jan Moir’s deplorable column about Stephen Gately’s death is an interesting one. Personally speaking, the closest I have come to having a feeling either way about Boyzone and its alumni is resenting their cold blooded murder of Baby Can I Hold You? by Tracy Chapman, which unaccountably has still not been brought before The Hague. I was profoundly and deeply unmoved by Stephen Gately’s death in the same way that I am by all the other thousands of people who die every day. Nonetheless, Ms Moir’s article was one of the most mealy-mouthed and cowardly homophobic attacks I’ve read in a UK national newspaper and it deserved a response. I’m not entirely sure the right response however was to complain to the Press Complaint’s Commission. Any PCC which rules that the Daily Mail was not entitled to publish a piece of spiteful bile like that is not one I would want to have operating in this country, on a statutory footing or not. It is only a short hop, skip and jump from there to having David Miliband prosecute a newspaper for making allegations about Binyam Mohammed’s torture in the face of the official record. Let’s not go there.

What was very much positive was the fact that many more than 22,000 people took a stand against Ms Moir and the Mail and forced a tacit admission – if not a convincing apology – that they had behaved unacceptably. This was a triumph for common human decency. They haven’t been censored but they certainly have been censured. I can’t see how this small tactical victory in the fight against the coarsening public of discourse can be in any way reprehensible and the idea that millions of tweeters should have their freedom of expression clamped down on just so a few newspaper editors and their muckrakers can have theirs is pure self-regarding nonsense coming from the fourth estate.

Mr Cohen should be less worried about censorship and more worried about the vacility of the media in the face of a few thousand emails. Mr Cohen cited the Jonathan Ross-Russell Brand-Andrew Sachs incident. Here was an example where public opinion was genuinely divided, yet the BBC went for the path of least resistence and chose to side with those who shouted the loudest. The PCC would be equally wrong to somehow punish the Mail for publishing Ms Moir’s article (not that I’m very clear what exactly it could do). By the same token, I didn’t bother complaining to the PCC about the Telegraph’s unfounded attack on Jo Swinson (and presumably she didn’t either) because I knew they would ignore it and I could never rustle up a “mob” to force them to listen. We shouldn’t have to raise an online mob to persuade the media’s watchdog’s to do the right thing but if that’s what it takes then it is inevitable that people will feel they have to organise in that way. The solution is simple: get a better watchdog.

The biggest threat to the freedom of the media is their own failure to take a stance in defence of it and to engage in this mad rush to the bottom. If Mr Cohen thinks the problem is rooted in the fact that a few million people suddenly have a slightly louder voice than they had a few years ago, he is part of the problem.

You are all individuals! (Obamamania)

I didn’t watch Obama’s inauguration this evening. Instead, I sat on the bus reading the coverage on Twitter. For some reason, reading all these excited 140-character messages about Obama bigging up the atheists and getting down with the gays (or possibly not) – interspersed with irrelevancies – reminded me quite a lot of this:

Crisis on Multiple Tweets

It seems a milestone has been passed. Just three months ago, Rory Cellan-Jones and – it seemed – half the professional journalists out there who were aware of teh internets (both of them) were upbraiding me for my “pompous” invasion of poor Rory’s privacy by quoting one of his tweets on my blog. Yet last week, Rory himself thought nothing about “invading the privacy” of Stephen Fry and his 20,000 close personal friends on Twitter by doing the exact same thing.

Suddenly, everything seems to be happening at once with Twitter, with Stephen Fry’s genitalia coming in for some exposure in the Metro. Meanwhile, Greg “Parkman from Heroes” Grunberg, arguably ill-advisedly, semi-offered Wil “Wesley Crusher from Star Trek (and let’s not forget the whole leeches thing)” Wheaton a part in Heroes, which Tim Kring later went on to semi-endorse. Not surprisingly, Wil Wheaton is now trying to dampen speculation about this serious departure from the usual let-my-people-talk-to-your-people convention.

All this brouhaha appears to have caught the attention on one Tony Benn (a keen Heroes fan, I’m sure), who this evening started tweeting himself. It seems, somehow, that the tool has finally reached another level in terms of public awareness. I expect it to explode in popularity now. Mark my words; if you don’t already have a twitter account, there’s a pretty high chance you’ll have one in six months. Remember back when you used to assure people you would never set up a Facebook account?

Ironically, many (including myself) would have predicted Twitter’s death, at least in the UK, back in August when they suddenly stopped offering their free SMS service (in the US, as I understand it, phone owners pay to receive, rather than send, SMS, which means the service was always more sustainable there). The opposite appears to have happened. Looking at my own experience with the benefit of hindsight though, it is perfectly understandable. I walked away from Twitter on two seperate occasions because I found the barrage of SMS was getting too much, yet using it via an app such as TwitterFox and TwitterBerry gives you the best of both worlds – all the brevity of SMS but without the obtrusiveness. Using it as a social bookmarking tool was also not obvious in the early days, but this has become ubiquitous (to some people’s dismay). Finally, I started to see its true potential as a communications tool.

So where does it go from here? Well, it sort of all depends on whether the lynchmob mentality which predominates comments on YouTube starts to take hold. If the celebs find themselves having to wade through thousands of comments about their parentage each morning, they are likely to walk away. Thus far, this doesn’t seem to be happening, although there have been some grumblings amongst the golden people. At some point it has to pay its way and there is already talk of Twitter adding ads to the service. Will that kill it? A lot of people seem to think so but I doubt it. Once the excitement dies down though I suspect it will mature into a system for chatting with friends and accessing newswires, helped along by third party services like FeedBlitz.

For the time being though, it is a pretty remarkable phenomenon to be witnessing in real time. Come and join us!

UPDATE: It turns out that the Tony Benn who started tweeting earlier this week was a fraud. Benn has apparently now started a twitter account himself, but it was all lies. Mea culpa – I shouldn’t have been so naive. But what is the point of impersonating someone when you aren’t even being satirical?