Daily archives: July 11, 2006

Foreign Office legal action “unlikely to succeed”

From the Guardian: Former ambassador posts censored passages from memoir on website

The government is threatening to sue former ambassador Craig Murray for breach of copyright if he does not remove from his website intelligence material that was censored out of his newly published memoirs.

Mr Murray has posted full texts of all passages the Foreign Office ordered deleted from the book version of Murder in Samarkand, the former Tashkent ambassador’s account of alleged British complicity in torture by the despotic Uzbekistan regime. His book contains links to the website.


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Foreign Office issues new deadline, Craig Murray replies

“We are prepared to extend the deadline for you to give an undertaking until 4pm on Thursday 13 July 2006 on condition that the documents referred to in my first letter are immediately removed from your website and not reproduced by you anywhere else…”

Click here for the full text

Craig Murray replies:

Mr Buttrill,

Thank you for this second letter. It is rather a peculiar request. You claim to be willing to extend the deadline for me to be able to take legal advice, providing that I concede the principal point in the meantime.

I cannot see the need for this haste. In copyright cases it is not my understanding that it is generally considered necessary to remove a publication from circulation pending a court decision. For example, there was a recent highly publicised copyright case over the Da Vinci code. Was it deemed necessary by the court to withdraw the Da Vinci Code from sale while the case was heard? No, it was not.

Your peremptory demands reveal the motive behind your actions in this case – the suppression of information for political purposes. I don’t believe it is right to use Crown Copyright in this way. Otherwise the government has an arbitrary power to keep secret absolutely anything that it does. Your contention in your letter of 7 July that the government can use Crown Copyright arbitrarily and politically to suppress material released under the Freedom of Information Act, would obviate the whole purpose of that Act in giving the public a “Right to know” what is being done in their name.

I have this morning contacted solicitors to take legal advice. I could not do so over the weekend as this is not a criminal matter, and copyright lawyers do not run 24 hour call out services. Unfortunately I must spend much of today at St Thomas’ Hospital for treatment of serious medical conditions. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s treatment of me, as detailed in the documents you are trying to suppress, was the direct cause of those medical conditions, a fact I would welcome the chance to discuss in court.

You have been free to advise me what I “Must” do. You must bear in mind what the content of the story is, that I am seeking to tell and the government is seeking to suppress.

I accept your renewed deadline as reasonable, but will not be removing the documents in the interim – until I get advice, I shall go by what I know of the law, and all I know in this matter is the Da Vinci Code precedent.

In the meantime, I should be grateful if, entirely without prejudice, you could furnish me with some practical advice. If the documents are, as you allege, Crown Copyright, where and how do I go about making a formal application for permission to reproduce them?

Also, I am copying your letters to my website. Do you allege that to be also a breach of Crown Copyright? If I remove the documents but not your letters, would you still go for an injunction? If I am served an injunction and remove the documents, but put the injunction on my website to explain why, do you allege I am breaching Crown Copyright by publishing the injunction?

Do you allege it to be a breach of Crown Copyright to reproduce on a weblog any document at all produced by government? The definition given in your letter of 7 July would plainly cover speeches given by Ministers and written by civil servants. Is it a breach of Crown Copyright to reproduce such ministerial speeches on a weblog? How long a quote could you make from a ministerial speech before breaching copyright? Does this cover, for example, letters from local authorities and health trusts, or just from central government? Does it cover parking tickets? What about quotes from the King James Bible?

If all or any of these are, in your view, matters of discretion where the government can exercise Crown Copyright if it so chooses, then the following is perhaps the most important question of all. Are there any criteria of reasonable action which the government is obliged to consider when deciding whether to enforce claimed copyright or not, or is the Crown claiming a power which is solely arbitrary?

I apologise for my confusion. You can see why I need to take legal advice. I will revert to you.

Craig Murray

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