22 January, 2003: Thick as...

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You'd have thought that a politician would know the meaning of the term theft, right? Think again:

Anne Campbell, MP,
House of Commons,

Dear Anne,

It has recently been brought to my attention that Dr. Kim Howells, MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport the present Government, made comments in the news media criticising remarks made by Robbie Williams, a singer, about `Internet piracy' -- that is, the making by individuals of copies of songs using `file-sharing' services. Dr. Howells apparently said: (source: Sky News and elsewhere.)

``Williams should not be defending theft, and this is real theft.

``It is the equivalent of going into a record store and shoplifting material on sale.''

As you will be aware, theft is the taking away of the property another, with the intent permanently to deprive. It is clear that, though often a violation of copyright, the Internet `piracy' to which Mr. Williams refers does not have the character of `theft' because there is no `intent permanently to deprive'; in fact, when one member of the public gives a copy of a song to another, nobody has been deprived of anything. You will also be aware that the violation of copyrights is a matter for the civil courts, and it is not clear why Dr. Howells should choose to involve himself in arguments about it.

I am at a loss as to how Dr. Howells came to make such a misinformed statement. I am sure that he did so in error, rather than by way of attempting dishonestly to identify a large group of people who have committed no criminal offence with thieves and other criminals who are rightly despised by members of the public.

I hope that the remarks made by Dr. Howells do not constitute a statement of Government policy. I hope that you can confirm for me that they do not, and that it is not the intention of the present Government to promulgate further lies of this type about law-abiding citizens. I imagine that it is too much to imagine that Dr. Howells might apologise for his outrageous claim.

Yours sincerely,

(signed) Chris Lightfoot

-- what's that phrase again? ``Pissing in the wind''?

Copyright (c) 2003 Chris Lightfoot; available under a Creative Commons License.