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Monday, August 27, 2012
  Its Energy Prices Stupid!
The normal phrase is "its the economy stupid". However, unless a country is an energy exporter in a large way in fact "its energy prices stupid".

I have obtained figures from the Library to calculate the marginal rate at which an increase in the price of energy reduces economic activity. I did speak about this in the house earlier this year. However, I haven't yet found the time to do the analysis.

It remains, however, that as energy prices (and particularly oil prices as that is the marginal source of energy) go up then economic activity is held back. We make the mistake thinking of growth rather than activity.

Obviously some forms of economic activity use less energy than other forms. In a world with a constrained energy supply those forms of economic activity need to be encouraged.

You will see on the right of my blog a couple of charts. It is possible to see the effect on oil prices in the USA of Shale Gas (it has knocked about USD 20 off a barrel of WTI as opposed to Brent). Shale Gas and associated activities do extend the peak of hydrocarbons. It is, however, to be noted that the rate of Gas depletion is about 20%, but Shale Gas falls into the 40-50% rate of annual depletion. What I don't know about Shale Gas is the EROEI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested).

So if oil prices go up, aggregate energy costs go up, economic activity goes down and we face greater cuts (see Callaghan's speech).

Addendum: I have noticed that Barcap agree with me on the supply crunch. 2.4mbd is more than I would expect, but I am not really studying the minutae on this.

 
  Samsung, Apple and International Law
This Story about Samsung shares dropping following a patent case highlights some interesting questions.

I haven't studied the details of the cases around the world, but superficially it appears that the US Courts have found for Apple and non-US courts have found for Samsung.

If this is true then in itself it raises questions about the differential effect of the rule of law in different countries. I do study this for the purposes of family law as should become clear in a few days. However, it is not something we can ignore as if it stands up to detailed scrutiny - which of course it might not - it raises concerns about the enforcement of court orders from one country in another. The activity of Argentina in the energy sector is a good example of a clearly wrong decision of one country and its legal system and how that should be responded to by other countries. I tend to take a more robust approach on this than many.

There are also questions about the BBC report as to whether copyright and patents have been conflated. I don't know, but of course it is possible. There are differences between jurisdictions as to what can be patented.

Behind this is also an important point that patent law is really a law for larger companies particularly in the UK where the system really does not act to protect people with ideas, but no money. The problem in the UK is that court action and the associated costs are basically unaffordable for financially weak litigants. There are solutions to this, but I don't think the government as yet recognises the truth of the issue.

 
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
  The RSPCA and "home for life"
The Advertising Standards Authority have today published their adjudication about the RSPCA's "home for life" adverts.

The ASA take the view that people do not need to be told that a proportion of the animals taken by the RSPCA under "home for life" are euthanased by the RSPCA even if they are rehomeable.

The background to this is that a constituent of mine had some dogs taken by the RSPCA - because they thought she had too many dogs.  She later found that the RSPCA had put them down.   Her concern was that had she known this she could have rehomed the dogs herself and it was not clear on the form that she completed that they were likely to put the dogs down without referring to her.

The "home for life" scheme advert can be seen here.

We have obtained the paperwork from the RSPCA about "home for life" and it also does not make it clear that the RSPCA do euthanise some of the dogs that they take in even if they are rehomeable.

My constituent's view, which I share, is that to refer to an animal as being "safe" if it is dead is a misuse of the word safe.

I accept that it is reasonable at times to euthanise some animals.   However, I do think organisations like the Dogs Trust have a better approach.

Note that their website says:  "We never destroy a healthy dog."

I do think the ASA and the RSPCA have both got this wrong.  People should be told that there is a reasonable chance that animals taken under "home for life" will be euthanised.  The 2011 figures are over 17%.  That enables people to make a reasoned decision.


 
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
  Guest Post from Sarah Thompson
John Hemming has discussed music performers and digital copyright in the past, and today Sarah Thompson advances the conversation by considering the seminal court cases in the debate over copyright issues in the digital age. You can read more from Sarah at the online resource where she frequently writes, which covers industry topics like how music production careers have evolved in the last two decades.

The Problems Protecting Music Production and Copyright in the Digital Age

Recent changes in technology have made it easier than ever to share and copy content, particularly music. The United State Copyright Act governs all of these transactions, but not comprehensively. Most provisions of the act were framed in a time when digital innovations could never have been imagined. Lawyers and lawmakers have struggled to stretch existing provisions to fit new and growing capabilities, with mixed results. Today’s music copyright landscape is mired in pitfalls, and defined by an ever-growing number of lawsuits. Just as one solution has been reached, it seems another question comes up, like a virtual whack-a-mole of temporary solutions. For both producers and consumers, the copyright complexities of digital music are far-reaching, impacting almost every aspect of sharing, use, and broadcasting.

One of the biggest concerns facing music owners and publishers is the ease with which music can be shared online. It has long been understood that transferring files through peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing sites represents both an unfair copying and an illegal distribution. Copyright laws exist to encourage creativity by granting artists and creators exclusive uses to the works they produce. File-sharing fits the definition of illegal copying fairly well. Just the same, though, when the laws were first written, the ease with which files could be reproduced was nowhere near what it is today. This has led to a great deal of controversy with respect both to how violations should be identified, and how they should be punished. A number of recent court decisions have fleshed out various intersections of copyright law and digital music management, but much remains somewhat ambiguous.

UMG 
Recordings Inc. v. MP3.com Inc., a 2000 case from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, held that MP3.com was in violation of the law by allowing users to listen to
already-owned music over the Internet. “Virtual space-shifting,” the court said, did not fall within the fair use exception, and ran against the spirit of the Copyright Act. This was only the beginning of a great many online music cases. Most in recent years have centered on P2P music sharing. Suits have targeted individual sharers, the manufacturers of share-enabling technology (like CD-R drives), and the owners of share sites.

One of the most seminal P2P cases was 2005’s MGM v. Grokster, in which the Supreme Court determined that the Grokster sharing site was contributorily liable for the infringement of its users, since it “took steps to foster their infringement.” This case did much to define the parameters of file sharing infringement, but neither it nor the string of individual lawsuits that followed (see, e.g., Sony BMG v. Tenenbaum; Capitol v. Thomas) did much in the way of significantly curbing illicit sharing behavior.

Protecting music from being stolen, or “pirated,” online is only one of many woes digital music rights owners face today. How to license and collect royalties for work is a completely separate matter, with a host of complex issues all its own.

Part of the trouble comes from the sheer number of people involved. Traditional copyright law dictates that separate parties are responsible for the copyright to the composition and the actual sound recording. In most cases, the original composers and writers do not hold the copyrights—they have often been assigned to recording companies, record labels, or other third-party participants. Derivative and exclusionary licensing can further complicate things, allowing some uses by some parties without rights of assignation. In the Internet space, licenses are all-important. Using songs in commercials, on video promotions, or in web content, not to mention streaming music over Internet or satellite radio stations, can be very complex. Licenses also apply to digital downloads. When users pay to purchase songs over platforms like iTunes, a portion of the purchase price is paid to the licensee, and a portion to the party with the right to collect royalties.

Shropshire v. Sony Music Entertainment, a licensing case from the Southern District of New York, was settled in 2012 after Sony came to an agreement with musicians that digital downloads should be treated as licensing arrangements rather than sales—which had a big effect on how much the individual artists were able to recoup. Though not binding law, this settlement may indicate a trend in record company thinking moving forward.

Royalties, too, are catching up with the times. Intercollegiate Broadcasting System v. CRB, another 2012 case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, held that the Copyright Royalty Board—a team of three judges that sets royalty rates nationwide—was unconstitutional. The CRB sets royalty rates for all music broadcasted or otherwise disseminated digitally, with funds being paid into an organization known as SoundExchange for disbursal. The court held that the court’s power to set rates represented too big an authority to be constitutionally permissible.

Despite the work of the courts since the digital era began, it is unlikely that case law alone will be able to solve the problems copyright poses to new media, particularly where music is concerned. One of the biggest challenges many musicians and online innovators face is consistency. Even within the United States, different courts and circuits tend to rule slightly differently on common issues. The Supreme Court has only rarely intervened in digital music copyright cases, which has led to something of a patchwork of acceptability. Of course, the problem grows only stronger abroad. Foreign copyright laws and their equivalents differ in both content and enforcement. There are no laws that govern all Internet traffic. Though courts have tried, at times, to retaliate against foreign infringers, the results are far from consistent.

Improvement is likely to come from within, both by adopting a more unified approach to enforcement and by making access to desired musical works more straightforward. “Songwriters, recording artists, and record labels should be fairly paid for their work, and deserve the protections of a well-designed copyright royalty framework. But it’s also important not to lose sight of the public’s interest in having access, under reasonable terms, to copyrighted material,” John Villasenor, a professor at the University of California-Los Angeles, said in a recent article in Forbes. The best solution going forward will address all of these needs, while keeping the limits and possibilities of the digital space, both now and well into the future, in mind.


=====================================================================
Sarah asked me to publish this.  It relates primarily to the USA, but is an interesting review of copyright there hence I am happy to have it as a guest post.
 
Monday, August 20, 2012
  Callaghan's speech from 1976
I noticed in The Telegraph a report of James Callaghan's speech in 1976 when he basically said that Labour's current plan of an increase in the deficit to increase demand would not work.

I have found the original speech here.

We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession, and increase employ­ment by cutting taxes and boosting Government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, and that in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting a bigger dose of infla­tion into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step. Higher inflation followed by higher unemployment. We have just escaped from the highest rate of inflation this country has known; we have not yet escaped from the consequences: high unemployment.

That is the history of the last 20 years. Each time we did this the twin evils of unemployment and inflation have hit hardest those least able to stand them. Not those with the strongest bargaining power, no, it has not hit those. It has hit the poor, the old and the sick. We have strug­gled, as a Party, to try to maintain their stan­dards, and indeed to improve them, against the strength of the free collective bargaining power that we have seen exerted as some people have tried to maintain their standards against this economic policy.

...

You know we have not been creating wealth as fast as we have been distributing it. Over the last three years you know that our domestic product has risen by 2 per cent and the increase in our public expenditure, including central and local government, has increased by 18 per cent. We have made shift to meet this, yes, by higher taxation at some points, borrowing from abroad and, worst of all, by printing money. Now we have to get back into balance again. Of course it cannot be done in twelve months. Our creditors understand this. Those with whom we discuss these matters in other countries understand this, because the disruption would be too great for the social system to bear. But it would be folly to continue to borrow at the present rate of £10 billion a year, even if we could find the lenders - and we are not always very polite to them. Whatever we do in the short term, the only long-term cure for unemployment is to create a healthy manufacturing industry that will hold its own overseas, and in doing so it will then certainly be able to retain its grip on the domestic market. It is by a healthy and expanding manu­facturing industry that we shall be able, in due course, to resume the growth and improvement of our social services and also create the jobs that are necessary if we are to reach what we all desperately require: our full employment targets.

Like everyone in the Labour Movement, I believe in a high level of public expenditure. But I part company with those who believe we can rely indefinitely on foreign borrowing to provide for greater social expenditure, a better welfare service, better hospitals, better education, the renewal of our inner cities and so on. In the end these things, comrades, are only provided by our own efforts.

 
Friday, August 17, 2012
  Rohingya and Assange
The saga about Julian Assange may be entertaining for the media and it is clear that the UK should not take the step of raiding a foreign embassy (even in the roundabout way of declaring it not to be an embassy first). However, the treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar (Burma) should have a much higher media profile. I raised the latter issue with the Foreign Secretary some weeks ago, but I suppose in terms of the relative media profiles twas ever thus.
 
Monday, August 13, 2012
  Shale Gas and Peak Oil
Shale Gas will not have a direct effect on Peak Oil because Peak Oil relates to Oil. It will, however, have an effect on peak hydrocarbons (and there is also some condensate).

The difficulty is assessing what effect it has. Key issues are for example that depletion rates for shale gas (possibly 48% in Haynesville) are higher than historic conventional natural gas. (20%)

This presentation looks at some of the issues:

 
Thursday, August 09, 2012
  Wrong Children taken into care - Aalihya Jordon-Fellows.
Today the Birmingham Safeguarding Board released a serious case review into the death of Aahliya Jordon-Fellows.

Quoting from the website: "The review found that the death could and should have been prevented by a more robust application of safeguarding procedures by all agencies involved."

My view for some time has been that the wrong children were taken into care. The case of Khyra Ishaq was an obvious one in which no-one was seeing the child. On the other hand stroppy home educating parents - whose children are seen by others and hence are known to be OK - tend to find themselves the target of child protection proceedings.

The case of Aahliya Jordon-Fellows is in one sense a straighforward one where someone known to be a risk to children (her Uncle) was given her care and found guilty of her manslaughter.

What I am trying to do with the Family Justice Bill amongst other things is get greater academic consideration of child protection proceedings so that the really silly cases that often get through the courts are stopped which leaves resources to deal with the serious cases.

I also am doing further research on the question as to whether or not our aggressive system of child protection is making any progress in reducing the number of deaths from child abuse and neglect. I don't think so, but I am still awaiting some information from Ofsted.

Incidentally Aahliyha died after the Baby P prosecution which caused a jump in care proceedings.

 
Thursday, August 02, 2012
  A story of international baby stealing
This story is where social workers from Norfolk ignored the law and went to France to get a baby.

The phrase "habitual residence" determines which country is responsible for child protection. I am not aware of any country that makes as many absurd decisions as England. Most other countries make decisions that are about what is best for the child rather than what is best for the local authority targets.

If the parents are "habitually resident" in another country when the baby is born then the authorities here do not have any legal power to take the child. That did not stop them in the linked case, but at least the High Court got the law right even if the lower court did not.

Congratulations are due to Brendan Fleming Solicitors for fighting the case properly.

 

Click Here for access to higher resolution versions of the photos The license for use allows use of the photos by media as long as they are attributed.

better brent chart

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