The need to defend Freedom
THE copyright laws and the theft of intellectual property, is a bit of a mine-field and is something that will trouble any publisher, but for a small anarchist publisher like Freedom Press or Northern Voices it could be fatal. In 2009, Freedom Press, the London publishing house in Angel Alley, Whitechapel, published a book 'Beating the Fascists' containing a number of photographs, and thus fell under the litigious eagle-eye of the freelance photographer, David Hoffman. Mr. Hoffman is a member of the NUJ and is apparently a distinguished photographer, who wields his camera in the radical cause on anti-Fascist demonstrations in our capital city, and until now has been so loved by the left that he has been protected on protests.
Explaining the consequences of failing to check out the copyright status of photographic material before publication, Freedom writes: 'When we published this book (Beating the Fascists) in 2009 it was illustrated with photographs supplied by the authors. Unbeknown to us, these included pictures by David Hoffman and were still under copyright. We ended up paying him £4,000 for the use of these pictures rather than face legal action. While this was a stupid mistake by us, it's very disappointing that someone who claims to support anti-fascist politics and made money from their photographs, while enjoying the protection from the far right on demonstrations, should chose to extract money from a radical publisher for a genuine mistake.'
Because of Mr. Hoffman's copyright complaint and the settlement, Freedom now says: 'The result is that we have had to reconsider our future ...', and 'we will still be able to carry on at 84b, (Whitechapel High Street) with the shop and distributing books and, other activities in the building (next to Whitechapel Art Gallery). However we are going to look seriously at continuing producing a hard-copy paper.'
Freedom has long been the only regular paper in the anarchist movement in London, and it has a long history going back to the 19th Century: as things stand the last hard copy version of Freedom will appear on its 125th anniversary this coming October.
Why did Mr. David Hoffman, reputably a radical journalist, threatened to sue Freedom? Clearly Freedom was in breach of the law, but Freedom is a hard-up left-wing publication, not Rupert Murdoch or even Searchlight, the anti-Fascist journal to which Mr. Hoffman reportedly owes his allegiance.
When David Hoffman showed up at Freedom Press office in Angel Alley, Whitechapel, having already alerted the editorial collective to the copyright breach, he is alleged to have told the layout artist, who is originally from Yorkshire, that: 'Of course, I'll have to sue you, and you could lose your flat in Greenwich'. When this was recently put to Mr. Hoffman, he replied by e-mail saying that this quote is 'wrong'. Since then, despite several requests that he put the record straight as to what he said, if anything, he has failed to explain further what was said in this encounter. He has said that he is very busy and doesn't have time to write '1,000 words' giving his side of the story. Two weeks ago he did offer to answer any questions from Northern Voices over the phone, and even in a later e-mail suggested that we record the phone call to avoid any misunderstandings. I took the view that this was absurd and said that I didn't believe that it would require 1,000 words to clarify a quote of a dozen or so words or even for him to enlarge on the issues surrounding this case. Mr. Hoffman forwarded a further e-mail: 'The quote without the context would mislead' and he added: 'If you want a rounded story I'll certainly help and tell all.' For this reason I publish in full above the e-mail he sent to me dated 19th, July 2012 giving his 'rounded story' under the title 'Tales of Hoffman'.
It seems that David Hoffman has a history of putting in complaints and going to the Courts to seek legal redress. He successfully sued the police for some dental treatment after an injury on a demonstration, he won £10,000 in a case he took out against a government drug charity, and he received £390 off another journalist, Brian Whelan, when he refused to reveal some sources in his review of the book 'Beating the Fascists'. Why did David Hoffman and Searchlight, it seems, want details about the authors of the book? It may be a sad sign of the times in which we now live that some folk feel it necessary to operate in this litigious manner.
What are the likely consequences for small radical publications like Freedom or Northern Voices, of the people sifting through copy and photos in our journals as a possible income source? It will lead to a less free and less fearless left-wing media as editors exercise greater caution. Judging by the comments on one website it may serve to feed the left with a paranoid reaction and distrust of journalists in general. But it is not just the copyright laws that worry editors and publishers: Northern Voices in its ten years of existence has been threatened more than once by folk complaining that they had been libelled; one of our complainants describes himself as an 'anarchist'. Then there are the threats from the authorities themselves; in 1944, during World War II, some awkward political minorities - pacifists, anarchists and left-wing socialists - were imprisoned or otherwise messed about by the police. Some political parties such as the Communists and the Tories, argued that in wartime, freedom to criticise and protest should be relinquished so as to safeguard the greater freedoms for which Britain was struggling. Others, like George Orwell and the people at Freedom Press held, according to George Woodcock, then an editor of War Commentary (Freedom): 'that freedom of speech and writing were the most important of the freedoms over which the war was being fought and that, once abandoned, they might never be regained.'
We ought not to be too surprised about the actions of Mr. Hoffman, who has links to the publication Searchlight, because there has always been on the British left a legalistic and authoritarian tradition. In the 1940s this was prevalent, and George Woodcock drew attention to this in his book 'The Crystal Spirit: A study of George Orwell': 'An agitation for discriminatory legislation against former Fascists had been going on in Tribune, and the Labour Party had embarked on a purge of Communists in the Civil Service, using methods of investigation which did not allow suspects to confront their accusers'.
The Freedom Press offices were raided by Special Branch in 1944. As a result, the Freedom Defence Committee was set up in the Summer of 1945, and this lasted until 1949. Its participants were drawn mostly from the arts and literary worlds; a few politicians took part like H.J. Laski, then chair of the Labour Party. Among the most active members according to George Woodcock, were E.M. Foster (novelist), Bertrand Russell (philosopher), Cyril Connolly (critic), Benjamin Britten; Michael Tippet, Henry Moore, Osbert Sitwell and Augustus John (artist), Herbert Read (art critic and poet) was in the chair and George Orwell was the vice-chair.
Now with sharks circulating it may be worth considering forming another kind of Freedom Defence Committee, to deal with attacks on our liberties from whatever quarter they may come.