Staines Massive

News from UK political blog Bloggerheads, where Tim Ireland has received a legal letter from a lawyer acting on behalf of Paul Staines, the right-“libertarian” political blogger (“Guido Fawkes”) who popped up on BBC Newsnight a few nights ago. Ireland has accused Staines of hotlinking an image onto his website in infringement of Channel 4 and artist copyright, and charged Staines with hypocrisy for complaining about of one his own images being used in the same way. Ireland also repeated allegations which appeared on Matt Buck’s Hack Cartoons of previous “form” in this area. Staines, however, claims that he has written permission to use the image under dispute, and he has demanded that Ireland retract.

This looks like a storm in a teacup, but rather than simply making a moral defence on the grounds of “fair usage” (after all, most of us skirt rather closely to the very strict letter of the law on this matter, particularly since, unlike in the USA, there is no legally-enshrined “fair use” provision), Staines has decided it is a matter worth consulting a lawyer over and he has now instructed Donal Blaney of Griffin Law to send a letter demanding a retraction, apology, and damages. Ireland’s response can be seen here. Alas, however, Staines has rather undermined his position already with a comment at Buck’s website, where he admits that:

…I do rip off images from the BBC website because I regard them as public property.

This must be some weird “right-libertarian” interpretation of “public property”. One assumes he means that because almost everyone in UK contributes to the cost of the BBC website through the TV licence fee, images on the website therefore belong to the public at large. But this is nonsense: images on the BBC website are either copyrighted to the organisation or appear under license from other sources – no court would consider them to be “public domain”. And images belonging to the BBC may be used to generate revenue elsewhere which helps to keep the licence fee down; in other words, “ripping off” BBC images arguably amounts to “ripping off” the public. At any rate, it is exactly the same offence as the one which he now believes he should be compensated for over being accused of.

Of course, this is not the first time Staines has made a legal threat against other bloggers: last year he threatened several blogs over the re-publication of a report which had appeared in the Guardian in the mid-1980s. Then, as now, Staines claimed he had in his possession a document which disproved the claims made in the article (in fact, it fell rather short of that). Given his supposed “libertarianism”, and his (mistaken) crowing that by hosting his blog abroad he could not himself be sued in the UK for his writing, many bloggers again charged Staines with hypocrisy.

But the bigger question is: why have such an extreme reaction over such a petty issue? Perhaps the answer is: because he can. Libel actions are incredibly expensive in the UK, and the outcomes uncertain. Should the matter come to court, Tim will be liable for thousands of pounds of potential damages and costs. He may be completely in the right, but who wants to gamble everything they have on the judge agreeing? Often, those accused will meekly pay up or capitulate simply to avoid the costs, hassle, and potential losses.

But what about the potential costs to Staines? After all, he’s not a Russian or Saudi billionaire. In such cases, it helps if you know a friendly lawyer. We don’t know what arrangement Staines has with Blaney, but it should be noted that Blaney is not just any solicitor – he’s a close ideological ally on the “libertarian” right and a well-known Tory activist. According to Wikipedia he was born in 1974, so he was too young to have taken much of a part in the hey-day of 1980s Federation of Conservative Students scene where Staines cut his teeth, but he’s made up for it since. The Guardian profiled him in 2003:

A new right-wing youth organisation – the Young Britons’ Foundation – has been accused of plotting a “Militant-style” take-over of the party’s youth wing, Conservative Future, by senior Tories.

…The founder of the Young Britons’ Foundation, Donal Blaney, is also a controversial figure in the Tory party – he faced accusations of racism, and a complaint by the Commission for Racial Equality, when he ran a Fulham Homes for Fulham People campaign while a councillor in the borough. But Mr Blaney does have some influential friends; the foundation’s parliamentary counsel contains the former Conservative party chairman, Cecil Parkinson, Tory MP Gerald Howarth and shadow deputy prime minister, and likely future leadership contender, David Davis.

…Mr Blaney told Guardian Unlimited that it is compiling a dossier cataloguing examples of “socialist PC” bias on every course on every campus in the country. And he insisted that “all the stuff that gets fed back to us shows that the bias on campus is getting worse”…The site also promises that the foundation will help any student who wants to bring legal action against “abuse of powers by colleges, universities or students’ unions”.

American readers will recognize this kind of thing, and sure enough, he’s a British graduate of the Leadership Institute, in Virginia:

Mr Blaney based the foundation on the “lessons learnt from a collection of American thinktanks, most notably The Young America’s Foundation, The Leadership Institute, The Heritage Foundation, Accuracy in Academia and the American Conservative Union”. And he even launched the group at the Young America’s Foundation’s student conference in Washington earlier this year.

His musings on these “lessons” can be seen here.

So is Staines bluffing? Or will he, like some other conservatives have recently promised, pursue his claim “relentlessly, to trial or capitulation”?

6 Responses

  1. […] blogger Paul Staines threatened to sue Liberal Conspiracy for linking to a posting about him on Tim Ireland’s Bloggerheads, but this turned out to be […]

  2. […] most notably last year, when Staines used fellow Tory-blogger and lawyer Donal Blaney to convey a libel threat (a typical course of action which has more than once exposed the humbug of the […]

  3. […] and last year he sent Tim Ireland a legal threat on behalf of Paul Staines…after Tim mentioned Staines’ use of copyrighted images on his blog. But the principle is a good one – some […]

  4. […] it has suited him to suppress information (see here), or when he has felt particularly riled (see here). It’s also questionable whether he would himself be as “difficult to sue” as he […]

  5. […] Staines, who is now famous as a conservative political blogger, smear-merchant, abusive thug, and libel bully. Staines was at the time a part of a young conservative activist scene in the UK, and Cox today […]

  6. This man Staines is such a repulsive being. He admitted St Leveson he ignores all writs aimed at himself.
    If he wants to play the game he should use the fair process and not loopholes.

    Coward. He really is an embarrassment.

    Needs locking up. Mental , twisted and bitter creep.

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