Friday, 4 September 2009

Chants Would Be a Fine Thing

Now I've been sailing close to the edge of the libel laws for a great many years. Hewlett Packard rather famously tried to do me for libel and trademark infringement in 1996 but failed because they didn't understand the law when it comes to satire (UTA! Issue 16). I've had the Arsenal Action Group threaten to burn my house down (rather stupidly in front of three police officers) and the FA Premier League got so annoyed with me attacking them over their prosecution of football fans publishing fixtures that their lawyers blacklisted my email address.

Freedom of speech is a right that must be preserved to protect against the power of the state, but there is a limit. The oft' cited shouting 'Fire' in a crowded cinema is one example where there is not a carte blanche to say what one likes when one likes.

Amazon.co.uk have been selling a CD from Manchester United supporters containing "Sit Down You Paedophile" being sung at Arsène Wenger and profiting rather nicely from it. Not surprisingly this generated a plethora of complaints.

In an interesting defence, Amazon claimed that they were selling the CD in the interests of protecting "free speech". The very same company that removed all critical reviews and deleted a discussion thread criticising their decision to sell it.

Given the rather bad taste of some items published in Up The Arse! over the years, I agree that there is a fine line to be trod between what constitutes distasteful and objectionable content and what is plain illegal, but in this case only a muppet would have tried to continue with their defence for so long.

It is probably just a coincidence that an email to their customer services department from Arnold J. Aardvark pointing out that a distributor can also be held to be guilty of criminal libel saw the item being removed from sale a day later. I suspect that an audio download accusing Caitriona Clancy, their Executive Customer Relations (sic), of being a 'kiddie fiddler' would have been removed before you could say 'hypocrit'.

Football humour is always going to push the boundaries of what is acceptable. It goes with the territory, but there is a well accepted line that the majority don't cross. There will always be the morons who sing about gas chambers and air crashes, but they usually are marginalised by proper fans and don't get the backing of multi-billion dollar global corporations.

What new wonders can we expect from Amazon in time for Christmas? A CD of Munich songs sung by the Citizens Ensemble? The Hillsborough Hymn Book sung by the South Yorkshire Police Choir? The next Up the Arse! is already writing itself.

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