Thursday, November 01, 2012

Debi Gliori, The Tobermory Cat & the angry artist

When my elder son was about six years old he picked up a novel with a hardback red, furry cover in a bookshop in Oxford, read the blurb on the back and said he's like me to buy it. Whereas I understood his attraction to the tactile cover (whichever Doubleday marketeer came up with that chalked up a successful capture in our case), once I'd read the back of the book and scanned the first chapter I didn't think he'd be interested in a gothic story, a seemingly Scottish Italian variation on the Addams family.

I was wrong.

He was captivated by the story, the characters, the sophisticated language, the black humour, the setting, the adventure and possibly most of all by the laptop of the geeky Titus Strega-Borgia.  A boy he projected to be close to his own age in possession of his own laptop. (Titus was 12 but it was close enough). That was something he could wield in his ongoing campaign to acquire an equivalent piece of kit for himself.

The book was Pure Dead Wicked by Debi Gliori, a book for older kids by an author better known for her picture books for younger children. Before we had finished reading it he had obtained the other two books in the 'Pure Dead' first series, Pure Dead Magic and Pure Dead Brilliant, having borrowed them from the library on multiple occasions before we actually got round to buying them.

Ms Gliori has now unfortunately found herself at the centre of a social media sparked/facilitated hate campaign, surrounding the publication of her latest book, The Tobermory Cat.

The managing director of Birlinn Books, Hugh Andrew, following a conversation with a bookseller in Tobermory about a local stray ginger cat, decided to ask first author Mairi Hedderwic, then Debi Gliori to write a book inspired by the cat.

Ms Gliori agreed.

Local artist, Angus Stewart, was not best pleased. He claimed to have made the cat famous by setting up a Facebook page about it and didn't like the notion of what he perceived to be a big powerful publisher and famous author cashing in on his idea. The local bookseller, Duncan Swinbanks, discovered Mr Stewart wasn't happy and set up a meeting.

The artist said they could do a book about a cat as long as it wasn't his cat. The publisher offered to advertise the artist's work on the back of the book. There was no meeting of minds.

The artist, Mr Stewart, made his feelings clear on his Facebook page and the angry mob took up his cause. Mob hatred and abuse directed at Ms Gliori, the publisher and his staff followed via phone and internet. Plus behaviour that might amount to at least defamation, possibly incitement, definitely a Communications Act section 127 and Public Order Act section 5 and Malicious Communications Act section 1 offence (though, like Lilian Edwards, I'm no fan of s127 or s5 or s1 for that matter), and maybe even stalking, though the latter might be a stretch. Mr Stewart, according to Ms Gliori, tracked her speaking engagements at libraries and contacted the librarians, just prior to her arrival, insinuating someone they knew was stealing his ideas. He apparently spread similar indirect and unsubstantiated hints of [non-existent] malfeasance by Ms Gliori through Twitter.

Debi Gliori outlines the dispute in her own words here.

The Facebook page on the Tobermory cat set up by Angus Stewart is here.

The publisher Hugh Andrew's reply to criticism on the Explore Mull site is here (scroll down to 'The Reply to the article above from the publishing company').

Mr Stewart tries to explain his stance in a writers' forum here. It doesn't appear as though he understands copyright or the trouble he might face if Ms Gliori decided to pursue criminal or defamation proceedings against him or his wrathful sympathisers. Young men have already been jailed, inappropriately in my opinion, this year for writing drunken hate and stupid grossly offensive messages through Twitter and Facebook.  I hope Ms Gliori or her publisher do not consider hiring lawyers to address this. Down that route lies the enrichment of lawyers and further distress for the author, artist and publisher.

But Mr Stewart needs to understand, wronged though he thinks he might be, that he has no cause for complaint, moral or legal, against Ms Gliori, her publisher or the bookseller. I'd recommend he peruse Thomas Jefferson's letter to Isaac McPherson or Macaulay's speeches on copyright to get a sense of perspective on what intellectual property privileges should be for.  For now I'll just quote an extract from Jefferson that I never tire of:
"It would be curious then, if an idea, the fugitive fermentation of an individual brain, could, of natural right, be claimed in exclusive and stable property. If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation."
Mr Stewart has on his Facebook page offered a link to Ms Gliori's perspective on the dispute. He should also act to mitigate the hatred and reputational damage he has unjustly unleashed by explaining clearly to his supporters, at least through his Facebook page, that offensive, indecent, obscene, menacing, threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour towards or about Ms Gliori and her associates are not acceptable.

I feel especially sorry for Ms Gliori since she has brought so much pleasure to my own kids and thousands of others. She may be well known but she is not independently wealthy -
"Let me just state for the record here : I do not have a trust fund. I have a heck of a lot of recipes for lentils. I have no back-up plan. These unknown persons were literally attempting to destroy my livelihood."
She does not deserve the anger and abuse. 

I'll leave the final word to the articulate Birlinn boss, Hugh Andrew -  
"Debi’s work is translated into some twenty languages and she is one of the finest children's illustrators and writers in the country. Birlinn is not some large corporate. It is an Edinburgh publisher founded by me that publishes books on or about Scotland and its communities. I have been visiting Mull to sell books three times a year for the last twenty years and we have published many books on the island, not all commercial. I do this because I love Mull and the West Highlands. These books are sent round the world and do not simply just generate revenue for the shops on the island.
We had therefore thought that a book publicising Mull, produced to the highest quality, written with love and affection and sold round the world would be welcome to the people of Mull, to those who visit the island, and to all who love the Highlands and Islands. And so it has proved to all bar one person. I deeply regret that Mr Stewart has chosen this path rather than working with us as we offered him the chance to do. I deeply regret that he is unable to see the damage he is doing to his own reputation by his obsessive campaign. I deeply regret his lack of understanding of laws of copyright, his inability to explain what it is he is claiming to protect. I deeply regret the portrayal of Mull he projects in his comments.
There is however a limited amount I can do about this. It is up to the people of Mull and visitors to vote. This autumn they will have a beautiful gift book on their island and on Tobermory. It will feature one of the islands better known residents, and he and his island will be taken round the world in a book that advertises the island. In the back of the book will be all the many Tobermory people and businesses to whom I owe so much of a debt over the years and who have given us so much help and support. It is a work completely independent of any other and a tribute to a beautiful place."

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Stansted naked scanner images on public display

An old friend has been traversing Stansted airport and writes to say;
"Apparently if you set off the metal scanners you get to go and stand in the booth. So if you carry a small amount of change through the detector or you are unlucky enough to get picked at random (apparently that's why I ALWAYS set the alarm off) you get to be irradiated for your trouble. 
In the Stansted setup, the operator viewing the images sits alongside the other operators on the "secure" side of the checks and the full body images generated by the scanner are on full view to everyone who has already passed through security! 
So much for all the propaganda about the images only being seen by a single operator in a darkened room remote from the scanner eh?" 
The blatantly casual nature of this set up and the apparent lack of concern of the operators and the travelling public is just one further indicator of the unrestrained battering the ethos of personal privacy is taking in UK society. Sad.

By coincidence, for the first time in ages I had been speaking to another old friend on Friday who had recently been to Amsterdam.  He tells me that all passengers going through Schiphol Airport when he was there had to go through the strip search machine. No exceptions.

He thought it was great for two reasons. Firstly it seemed to him to speed up the queues - faster than the metal detector scan plus pat down. Secondly, since he's had a replacement hip he always makes the metal detector  beep, so he always gets a pat down.

The few studies that have been done of the effect of the scanners on queues indicate that on average they increase queuing times significantly, primarily because of the amount of time it takes to scan each individual. That reality is completely irrelevant, however, if people perceive the machines to be shortening queues. Convenience [perceived or real] beats everything, including a commitment to personal privacy.

In my Amsterdam friend's case he always sets off the metal detector and always gets a pat down, so the naked scanner felt far less intrusive and significantly more convenient.  He had not thought about the efficacy of the machines.  He just assumed that they work, whereas we know they don't detect some dangerous explosives.

He had not thought about what kinds of images were generated, whether they were legal, who saw them, when, whether and where they were stored, shared or further processed.

He had not thought about the health risks but assumed that element of the machines' deployment had been thoroughly reviewed, regulated, tested, certified and routinely audited, which of course is not the case.  He had no idea if the machine he went through was a millimetre wave machine - relatively safe from a radiation perspective as long as the machines don't malfunction as they are prone to do - or an xray backscatter machine - widely deployed at US airports and found by scientists at the University of California and elsewhere to pose significant health risks.

In short, he had no idea of or given any thought to the significant security, ethical, operational, legal and health & safety problems with the routine deployment of naked scanners in airports. And why should he - he had just had the most convenient, comfortable processing through airport security from his perspective for many years.

Cyber-rights folks - naked scanners have got to be the easiest, slammest dunkest, article 8 privacy breach to demonstrate to anyone.  If we can't convince intelligent folks what a terrible idea they are then Scott MacNealy, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Sergi Brin, odious Tony 'rights are an outdated 19th century concept' Blair and co are right - privacy really is well and truly dead.

A problem tidying links

I've done some housekeeping on the links in my sidebar, deleting previously useful ones that have been high-jacked by commercial enterprises and most that are no longer active.

I'm having a bit of a problem with the link to Jenny Levine's terrific Shifted Librarian blog. For reasons I can't fathom clicking on the link just bounces the browser back to B2fxxx. The Shifted Librarian blog is still going strong at

I've used bog standard html to code it by hand into the links list.

I'm missing something obvious but what?