Notes on media, politics & technology, by Adam Wilcox.

Contempt of Court


When someone famous finds themselves in trouble with the law, it can be very tempting to hop on Twitter and crack a joke at their expense. Particularly when that individual happens to be an odious scumbag that you’ve always suspected of being up to no good.

However, by doing so, you risk committing Contempt of Court. ‘Contempt’ is the law that protects the judicial process. It covers not only misbehaviour in the courtroom itself, but also anyone making prejudicial comments that might force trials to be abandoned. Comments on social media fall into this category.

The Attorney General has made it clear that when you publish something on the internet, you are considered a journalist. The Contempt of Court Act 1981 says that there are criminal sanctions up to and including imprisonment for anyone who acts in a way ‘tending to interfere with the course of justice in particular legal proceedings regardless of intent to do so’.

How to Avoid Committing Contempt of Court.

The Contempt of Court Act 1981 kicks in once somebody has been arrested or civil proceedings have started, such as when a warrant has been issued, or they have been orally charged. If this has happened, you should avoid publishing something which creates a substantial risk of serious prejudice or serious impediment to those proceedings.

Serious Prejudice or Impediment?

So Should I Just Keep Quiet?

Well, yes and no. You are in the legal clear discussing cases in broad terms, so for example if there is a high profile case regarding domestic abuse you can discus the issues around domestic abuse, but not specific commentary on the case.

Referring to someone having allegedly committed the alleged offence is in theory safe, but unless you are Ian Hislop, or really, really sure of your ground it’s probably not worth the risk.

My thanks to David Banks, one of the UK’s leading media law trainers and consultants, for double checking this post for me.

Nominet, Privacy, and the .uk Domain


I’ve been building websites for about fifteen years, and in that time I’ve owned quite a few domain names, as you do. You kinda collect them by accident, like golfers probably end up with way more daft shirts than they really need.

When you buy a domain, it gets listed in a WHOIS database, which shows among other things your name and address as well as the server details and IP address block. If the domain is for personal use, (not a business), you can choose to opt-out of having your personal details displayed in the database.

Since June however, Nominet, the company which manages the .uk registry, has started to strictly enforce the requirement that domain name owners list their full legal name, and home addresses if they receive any compensation from the site.

To opt out, you must be a ‘consumer’ i.e. an individual who has registered and is using the domain name for a purpose unconnected with any business, trade (this includes the registration of domain names for monetisation purposes, e.g. pay per click advertising etc) or profession.

So if you have advertising on the site, or you are promoting your small etsy-style business, or you are a graphic designer taking commissions and using the domain as a portfolio; you could be required to list your name and address. This is a privacy disaster.

In the case of Andrew Norton, his details were leaked via WHOIS when Nominet noticed he was linking to his book for sale on Amazon.

I was alarmed to discover earlier this month that some domains I had registered and never used, (the domains were blank and not containing anything that could be construed as ‘compensation’), were listing my current full name and home address. I got onto Nominet and got the domains canceled immediately.

Because this domain is a .org, it is classed as a US domain and I use a US service that protects my name and address, so when you WHOIS this website, you get the contact details of RespectMyPrivacy, LLC.

Because of this move by Nominet, I’ve finally got rid of every .uk domain I own. I refuse to run the risk of my privacy being sacrificed at the whim of Nominet. Just because I own a domain of my own, I do not believe I should sacrifice the privacy of my name, home address and phone number hanging out there on the Internet, free for the taking.

Monument Valley


Winner of an Apple Design Award, Monument Valley is a great little game on iOS.

I played Monument Valley when it first came out in March, but whilst on holiday last week I handed my iPad to my girlfriend and suggested she played Monument Valley. I didn’t get my iPad back until she’d finished it; in one sitting.

The beautiful original soundtrack for the game is now available to buy on iTunes.


DRM and eBooks


From The Guardian:

Scholastic, the publisher of such children’s book juggernauts as The Hunger Games and the Harry Potter series, announced recently that its Storia ebook shop would shortly be “transitioning” to a streaming model. What this means for its readers is that books they have already purchased might become unreadable.

When you ‘buy’ an eBook with digital rights management (DRM), you are not really buying the book; merely renting it.

According to Scholastic’s website: “The switch to streaming means that eBooks you’ve previously purchased may soon no longer be accessible.”

Imagine if you got up one morning, and wandered into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, only to discover that a representative from Russell Hobbs had snuck in overnight and made off with your kettle, because buying the kettle “no longer suited their business model”. This is the insane situation we have with eBooks, and it really shouldn’t be like this.

I’ve never bought anything from the Scholastic website, but I have bought eBooks from the Amazon Kindle Store.

eBooks purchased from Amazon come with DRM, and if Amazon decided to close your account, you would lose access to all your books, (something they have done before). You need an insurance policy against losing access to your account, or the specific DRM simply being no longer supported.

I use Calibre and install plugins to strip Amazon’s DRM from my purchased eBook files. Zachary West has a clear guide to removing Amazon’s DRM.

Obviously, this should only be used for gaining full access to your own ebooks for archiving, conversion, or convenience. Don’t go uploading them to PirateBay, that doesn’t help the case against DRM and it only hurts the original authors of the books.

No Database


Recently, a friend and I were discussing a website. His website to be exact, which had been lost in an unfortunate server fail.

Despite my friend being a very successful1 systems administrator, he had failed to make a backup of the site. He really, really should know better, but his defence was that it was a Wordpress site.

I’ve used Wordpress2, and despite considering it a mature platform with excellent resources for plugins and themes, I would rather chew my own leg off than use Wordpress again.

Without launching into a full on assault on the many and varied faults of Wordpress, while it may be possible to run your blog/business/e-commerce website on Wordpress, it is still a slow, insecure, lumbering beast which tries to do everything, yet does nothing particularly well. Due to its ubiquity, Wordpress is a very appealing target for hackers, earlier today the very excellent Nearly Free Speech hosting company tweeted:

Seeing about 200k attacks/hour on members’ WordPress blogs today. We’ve taken steps, but if you use WP, please make sure it’s up to date. #

For many people setting up and securing a website properly really isn’t straight forward, and even an experienced web developer can get caught out by a subtle Wordpress exploit that hasn’t been published widely.

Also, backing up a Wordpress site is a genuine faff. First, you need to backup the files; the core Wordpress code, plus your themes, plugins, configurations, and static pages. Second, you need to backup the database. A cottage industry has built up around the unnecessarily awkward backup process for Wordpress sites.

I refuse to make sites that require a database, particularly client websites3, and have turned away paid gigs for projects that would have required a database. I can’t be bothered anymore with the hassle that goes with managing database backed websites.

This website uses Jekyll, a static site generator, which takes a collection of files and generates all the required pages for a website as a static entity, which can be uploaded to a server. No database with Jekyll, just a bunch of text files in a folder. It’s surprisingly flexible; I’ve built my photo blog with Jekyll.

Blogging is still a pretty nerdy pastime. I can count on one hand the amount of close friends who maintain a blog4, and I remember the horrific shame I felt when someone at work found out I had a website (although having an eponymous domain runs an explicit risk).

Blogging is a great liberator. It allows you to publish their thoughts to anyone, anywhere. However, using a software as a service system like Squarespace, Tumblr, or requires you to give up your privacy and control to a third-party. What is needed is something like Jekyll as an application. You could write in ordinary text files, run the application, and your site is generated ready to be uploaded via FTP. There was some discussion around this idea on the Jekyll issues page, however it didn’t seem to gain much traction or interest.

In the end, despite my objections, my friend decided he would rebuild his site with Wordpress.

  1. His hallway is probably bigger than my entire apartment.

  2. and Habari, Tumblr, Chyrp, Scriptogram. I’ve used many blogging platforms, as well as a home-brewed .asp system I never dignified to name, although Igor would have been appropriate given it was an amalgamation of bits and pieces that should never have worked.

  3. For client websites that require an admin backend, I highly recommend using Kirby, a flat-file based CMS. I’ve also recently been pointing people in the direction of Squarespace.

  4. By ‘maintain’ I mean update it more than once every six months.