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Media Technology

Engadget’s looking for writers…

…and yes, it’s a paid gig. The site’s looking for an afternoon/evening editor, night time editor and weekend editor for the main site, a morning and afternoon editor for the Mobile site, an HDTV expert and a podcast producer. Interested? Here’s what you need to do.

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Media

I trust I can rely on your dopes

One of the things that really bugs me is when street teams fill the internet with promotional crap while pretending to be Just Another Punter. It’s something I was going to be talking about on Radio Scotland this morning, but unfortunately time constraints meant we didn’t get to the problem of vested interests editing Wikipedia entries. Never mind, I can blog about it instead.

Stealth Marketing: Penny Arcade has been covering how it works in the games industry, while over at Metafilter they’ve spotted this ad by Epic records:

Do you blog, have lots of friends at your MySpace page, and love music?

Epic Records is looking for skilled, motivated interns to promote artists on social networking sites like MySpace, purevolume, Facebook & others.

This isn’t a new thing: since the initial success of Christina Aguilera – arguably the first artist who owes her career to street teams – everyone from unsigned indie bands to stadium bands has an army of (usually unpaid) marketing shills. As I wrote last year in .net:

A typical street team will lobby radio stations to play the new single, vote in every conceivable internet poll, and spread the word in chat rooms, message boards and weblogs. It’s very successful, but it’s also very controversial. Speaking to The Guardian about record companies’ teenybopper teams, John Bangs of the National Union of Teachers fumed: “It exploits children for the benefit of the record company alone. There are many ways of marketing to children, but these methods are unacceptable.”

Xavier Adam agrees. The md of the Adam Media Consultancy (www.xavieradam.com) says: “Using children is not ethical… These tactics can and do backfire. They are seen as unethical by the public at large, despite what the industry may think.” He continues: “It’s a form of spam, although it is more targeted than general email spam.”

It’s not just record companies, though. One of the things I like about the net – one of its most important features – is its ability to let you see real opinions rather than corporate spin. Street teams put the spin back in, whether they’re fixing online polls, rewriting Wikis or reviewing books they haven’t read on Amazon.

On the subject of which, MetaFilter user NailsTheCat points to a very sensible suggestion for fixing Amazon’s reviews, which are prone to PR puffery and fanboy crap:

There is, in my opinion, only one solution to Amazon.com’s fraud-ridden book review system: Only customers who purchased the book from Amazon.com should be able to post a review on that book.

It all comes down to my favourite subject, the tragedy of the commons: whenever you’ve got something open to the public, a small minority will do their best to ruin things for everyone else.

Shills’ activities are self-defeating. For example, when I first used Amazon I used the reviews to help me find things I might be interested in; now, I assume every single one of them is written by an idiot or someone with a vested interest (unless it’s a review of a game or console that isn’t out for six months, in which case I *know* the review’s by an idiot). When I see an online vote for new bands, I assume the winner is the one who mobilised the most people, or who hit reload most often. And when I see a post praising some hitherto-unheard-of band, I assume it’s the singer’s girlfriend. I’m usually right.

There’s an irony here. Thanks to review sites, blogs, newsgroups and forums, I can get a wider range of opinion than ever before – but because corporate shills, fanboys and nut-jobs are doing a fine job of turning the wisdom of crowds into the mooing of herds, I rarely make buying decisions on the basis of strangers’ opinions. If anything, street teams and shills are turning back the clock for me: if I want to know about a game I’ll see what Edge and Eurogamer think, or ask my brother; if I want to know about gadgets, music, movies or TV I’ll again turn to reviewers and the people I know (both in real life and via this blog). While I do use the net, the sites I turn to are the ones that resemble traditional magazines: engadget, eurogamer and so on.

Put it this way: you’re considering a PlayStation 3. Here’s the verdict from “W from England” on Amazon.co.uk:

This beast of a console is nearly as powerful or as powerful as some computers. This shows the amount of effort that Sony have put into this Super console. From the disgin of the the look of the console to the smallist micro chip no expense has been spared and no short cuts have been taken. This Consle will more than likly blow away all the comption. The playstion 3 when speaking off the graphics and power is in a different league to microsofts X-box 360.

The games that i have seen are so life like that it will feel as thought you are in the game.

I can not what until the day the console comes out because ill be waiting at the door for the postman. Just order yours so you are no disappointed. You may have to book time off work or school that how important this console is!

I think I’ll wait for Edge’s verdict.

Categories
Media

So you want to be a voiceover artist?

You’ve got a great voice. Why not use it to earn at least £50 per hour for voiceover work? That’s the promise made by UKVoices, whose ads turn up in the back pages of magazines such as Now.

The fact that the ad appears in Now should ring alarm bells immediately. Voiceover work is a branch of acting, and the trade magazine for the acting profession – the place where people advertise their jobs – is The Stage. To the best of my knowledge, Now is not regarded as the bible of the acting profession.

Let’s assume that UKVoices is just trying to find new talent, though. What’s the deal?

It’s simple enough. Sign up – it’s £20 – and you can record a brief showreel, which will then be downloaded by agents who are just gagging to take you on. UKVoices doesn’t charge any commission, which makes them very attractive to would-be employers.

Here’s the thing. If UKVoices tries to get people voiceover work, its employees are idiots.

Let me explain. If UKVoices doesn’t charge commission, it makes no money from getting people work. Its only source of income is sign-up fees, so it’s in the firm’s best interests to sign up as many people as possible, irrespective of whether they’re any good or not (and if you listen to the sound clips on the site, it’s clear that quality isn’t a key criteria). If the firm does anything other than bank the sign-up fee, it’s spending time and therefore money on something that won’t generate any return. That’d be madness.

A quick aside: staff agencies aren’t allowed to charge registration fees for that same reason (the relevant legislation only covers Employment Agencies). Instead, temp agencies take a fee, usually an hourly one. The more work you get, the more money they get. If you don’t get any work, they don’t get any money.

The truth is that voiceover work is like writing novels, getting a record deal or becoming a full-time journalist. It’s much harder than most people think. As the excellent Excellent Voice Company’s site points out:

There is a huge difference between people who have a nice voice, read aloud well or whose friends tell them that they ought to do voice-overs – and a professional voice over. Professionals understand that the smallest alteration in inflection can make the difference between success and failure, they understand why the client or director needs a particular style of read or performance. They appreciate the need to save time and know how to fit a forty second script into thirty seconds without it sounding like a machine gun.

Good voices develop a sense of timing in their heads. They can see a written script and tell you exactly how long it will take at an average read. They can sight-read to time without looking at the studio clock. They know how a scriptwriter’s mind works, how to get inside a script, and what to bring out, without having to have it spelled out for them.

This doesn’t mean to say that new voices don’t turn up on the circuit – but it does explain why so few really make it – they’ve got to be very, very good.

The advice continues:

To survive, any industry needs to recruit new talent – and there’s nothing more pleasing from an agent’s perspective than hearing that extra special something on a showreel, and knowing that you’ve discovered a new voice – who then goes on to become a success. But there’s no point in being anything other than brutally honest about a really tough industry.

You might get a gig via UKVoices. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Categories
Health Media

Journalists are bad for your health, again

As I’ve mentioned before, some of the health articles in magazines are wrong at best and dangerous at worst. The current issue of womens’ title R contains a particularly blatant example: under the banner headline “Is Salad Making You Fat?” it spends three pages singing the praises of the Novo Programme.

The Novo Programme is new and very scientific. You send off a sample of your blood for analysis – along with £350 – and the report comes back detailing the foods you should avoid. It is, of course, bullshit. Apparently we’re all intolerant of various foods, and particles of those foods whizz around the bloodstream playing merry hell with your immune system. This makes you fat.

Bulllllllllllllllllllllllllllllshiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!

The Novo Programme isn’t new at all; it’s a revised and rebranded version of the Nutron Diet, which pops up every few years under a new name. Which? Magazine investigated it back in 1994, and concluded that it’s a con: they sent in two samples and got two completely different sets of results, which was strange as both samples were from the same person and were drawn at the same time. More worryingly, the samples were from someone who actually had a serious allergy; the oh-so-scientific tests didn’t spot it in either sample.

What’s particularly galling about the article is that all the stuff about Novo/Nutron above took less than a minute to find in Google, and yet over three pages there wasn’t a single sentence rebutting the Novo Programme’s claims. There’s plenty of case studies, though, and they all go something like this:

I’ve tried all kinds of diets before and they didn’t work, but the Novo Programme did! The tests came back and I discovered that I can’t eat X, Y or Z! So I cut them out of my diet and blam! I lost weight!

Typically X will be something innocuous such as lettuce, but Y & Z will be processed/junk foods and chocolate. Oh, and the Novo Programme also forbids alcohol for the first two months. Do people lose weight? Of course they do, but it’s because they’re not eating junk food or drinking booze.

As I wrote back in December:

we want a quick fix, a miracle drug, a magic bullet. That such things rarely, if ever, exist doesn’t stop newspapers from levelling entire forests to bring us articles expounding the virtues of assorted quackeries.

This really bugs me. If I write something that isn’t up to scratch, the worst that can happen is you’ll find that a program can’t export in a particular file format or needs a bit more RAM than I’ve suggested. If health writers write bad articles, their advice can damage your health. And R isn’t the only offender: in the sunday papers last weekend, there was yet another article banging on about St John’s Wort that listed all its benefits but didn’t mention that it’s bad, bad news for pregnant women or anyone taking blood-thinning drugs such as Warfarin.

Let me put it another way: you’re getting more reliable health information from a balding, binge drinking, heavy smoking, lazy-arsed Scots techno-blogger than you’re getting from supposed health experts. Does that scare you? It scares the hell out of me.

Categories
Books Media

So you want to be a novelist?

Fancy becoming an author? Then don’t give up the day job. BoingBoing links to this survey of novelists’ advances, and it’s clear that writing books is hardly a licence to print money:

The range was from $0-$40,000 for an advance on a first novel.

The average was $6363.

The median advance is $5000. The median figure is a better indicator of what most people consider ‘average.’

Categories
Media

So you want to be a screenwriter?

Professional screenwriter John August’s weblog covers pretty much everything a would-be screenwriter needs to know.

[Via MetaFilter]

Categories
Health Media

Journalists are bad for your health

The Guardian’s Bad Science Awards give a well-deserved kicking to some of the charlatans, snake oil salesmen and clueless hacks who fill page after page of our newspapers with health news that’s wrong in many cases and completely invented in others. But it also raises a serious point: journalists are bad for your health.

There are exceptions, of course – the Guardian’s Ben Goldacre, for example, does a wonderful job of skewering health hackery in the aforementioned Bad Science column; some of the health correspondents for the more serious newspapers are incredibly knowledgeable – but in many cases, the people who write health stories and features for newspapers and consumer magazines have qualifications in writing, not in medicine. That’s why every day or so there’s a “cure” for cancer, and why every drug is a “miracle drug”.

Incidentally when I mention a product or health issue here, it’s not from a position of knowledge: I’m as clueless as, well, a youngish hack on a newspaper writing a story about the latest health fad, desperately trying to write 500 words on something they don’t really understand on a half-hour deadline.

Part of the problem, I’m sure, is that if you go to the doctor he or she won’t tell you what you want to hear. We don’t want to be told to change our diets or our lifestyles, to take more exercise or to cut down on the things that are bad for us; we want a quick fix, a miracle drug, a magic bullet. That such things rarely, if ever, exist doesn’t stop newspapers from levelling entire forests to bring us articles expounding the virtues of assorted quackeries.

Before his death, John Diamond began writing Snake Oil, a broadside against some of the quackery that’s printed without qualification in newspapers. He recalls a visit to the GP when he was suffering “one of the routine bouts of vague and minor mental and physical distress which strike most men as they slip out of young manhood”:

What I needed was somebody to tell me to stop working fifteen-hour days and playing twelve-hour nights; what I wanted the doctor to say was “Ah! Chronic Farnsbards Syndrome! Take this linctus twice a day for a week and you’ll feel better again.”

In many cases, newspapers do just that: Chronic Farnsbards Syndrome makes a better story than “stop overdoing it, you silly sod”.

The list of examples is depressingly long. Faddy diet after faddy diet, alternative treatments that are presented as cast-iron cures when the evidence for their efficacy is questionable at best and entirely absent at worst, “breakthrough” after “breakthrough”. Soon afterwards, the backlash. For example, Goldacre writes:

The Daily Mail… made big meat of a scientific study proving that the Atkins diet worked. The study, which only lasted six months, showed that the Atkins group lost just 4% more weight than the control group. A month later the paper turned on the Atkins diet as a result of a passing comment from an expert who had worked for the carbohydrate-peddling Flour Marketing Board.

Do you remember the Zyban hype, and the Zyban scares? They’re fairly typical of how tabloid and middle-market newspapers report health stories.

First, the hype: a new miracle drug stops people smoking, by removing the desire to smoke. It’s amazingly effective! It’s the drug everyone who’s tried and failed to stop smoking has been waiting for! Hallelujah! Look at all of these case studies! Zyban changed their lives!

Such claims were largely lifted from press releases – and when Zyban was made available on the NHS, GPs were inundated. But as GPs tried to explain to their patients, Zyban wasn’t a miracle cure: its success rate was one in three – still double that of nicotine replacement therapy, but hardly miraculous – and for it to be effective, you also needed to take part in counselling sessions. There was also a serious risk of side-effects: where most drugs have side effects that affect 1 in 1,000,000 people, Zyban’s side-effects seemed to affect 1 in 1,000.

(I have first-hand knowledge of this: I took Zyban and it plunged me into the worst depression I’ve ever experienced.)

Soon afterwards, the backlash came. Zyban is dangerous! It’s killing people! It’s plunging Scottish hacks into severe depression! It doesn’t stop everyone from smoking!

True enough, some people did die while taking Zyban – by 2001, the toll was 18 people out of the 1,000,000 Brits taking the drug. Most of those deaths were unlikely to be connected to Zyban – people whose doctors urge them to stop smoking because of serious heart disease or other severe health problems, people with underlying and undiagnosed health problems and so on – and people also die while taking nicotine replacement therapy, or going cold turkey, or while merrily puffing away on a cigarette, or while living a virtuous, smoke-free life.

The truth about Zyban is that it’s neither a miracle cure nor a tool of the grim reaper: it’s a drug that in the right circumstances and with the right support and attitude, can improve someone’s chances of stopping smoking; its side effects can be nasty, and it should be prescribed with caution. But “new drug slightly improves your chances of binning the cigs, but you’ll still need determination and willpower; it isn’t suitable for everybody and you really need to talk to your GP about it” doesn’t make a good headline.

You can see the same trends in other health stories: the Atkins diet, MMR jabs, cosmetic or eye surgery, miracle homeopathic treatments, magic drugs that shift weight, improve your skin and make your hair glossy, and so on. The hype is usually based on press releases and the excitable claims of people with something to promote – self-appointed health gurus, pharmaceutical companies, beauty firms – and the backlash is the inevitable result of the products, services or treatments failing to live up to the ridiculous claims parroted from the original press release, or made by a well-meaning but clueless “expert”. Most of these stories are flatly contradicted soon afterwards: coffee kills you, coffee is good for you, no, coffee kills you, oops, we meant it’s good for you… and so on.

In many cases the problem is that the writer doesn’t understand what he or she is reading. Goldacre again:

The Daily Express [declared] in September that “recent research” has shown turmeric to be “highly protective against many forms of cancer, especially of the prostate” on the basis of laboratory studies into the effects of a chemical extract on individual cells in dishes, and no (zero) trials in humans.

One of the most worrying developments is the way in which information about alternative treatments is often presented. If that information you’re given is wrong, it could kill you. As Goldacre explains:

Ah, Susan Clark of the Sunday Times (What’s the Alternative?), how I love her. This time she’s giving advice about which natural substances are safe to take with warfarin. First, she bemoans the dearth of research on the subject. Then she ignores the useful stuff in what we do know. “As a simple guideline, patients who are taking warfarin should avoid any natural remedies that have an action on the cardiovascular system.” I have no idea where that idea came from: but warfarin is famous for being interfered with by other drugs. St John’s Wort, for example, is a very popular drug – herb, collection of drugs in a plant, whatever – that reduces the plasma concentration of warfarin, along with phenytoin and rifampicin: that’s not because they’re active on the cardiovascular system, that’s probably because they interfere with liver enzymes, which means it makes them work harder. Those enzymes also break down warfarin, so if they’re working harder, they break down the warfarin more too, so there’s less of it around in your blood, and you’re more likely to have another nasty clot and die. Likewise, ginseng reduces the plasma levels of warfarin, so they shouldn’t be mixed either. And lots of others.

This is serious. He continues:

In a recent study, 2,600 patients on warfarin were sent a questionnaire on what alternative therapies they took: 1,360 responded (believe me, that’s a high response rate) and a whole 19.2% of those responders were, it turned out, taking one or more complementary therapies. Ninety-two per cent of them hadn’t thought to mention this to their doctor. Only 28.3% of all respondents had even thought that herbal medicines could interfere with prescription drugs. Because hardly anybody’s telling them.

That doesn’t mean that all of the claims made by alternative health “experts” are without merit; the problem is the way in which they’re reported. As Diamond points out:

Alternative medicine in Britain is a business with a turnover of billions of pounds and an establishment all of its own, a business which gets regular and often uncritical coverage in most of our popular papers and magazines, which regularly makes – or allows to be made on its behalf – remarkable claims for its abilities, which are often untested, let alone proven, which has no independent body monitoring its activities and which from time to time kills its customers as a direct result of the advice or actions of its practitioners.

Of course, traditional medicine often kills its customers too – and not just when your GP is Harold Shipman. But to become a GP or a hospital consultant you need to undergo years of intensive study followed by a tough apprenticeship, and you need to stay on top of developments in medicine.

A quick quiz for you. You’re ill – who do you ask for advice?

(a) a qualified medical professional who spends all day every day dealing with health issues
(b) a journalism graduate whose last assignment was comparing lipsticks
(c) a self-appointed health guru with a mail-order PhD
(d) Big Dave down the pub

I’m a simple soul: if my car’s knackered I call a mechanic, if the central heating packs up I’ll call a plumber, and if I want advice on interviewing techniques, subheadings or newspaper style I’ll ask a journalist. But if I’m sick, I’ll go to the doctor.

Categories
Media

Blogging and the underpant gnomes

One of my favourite South Park episodes features the Underpant Gnomes, who have a plan for world domination:

Step 1: collect underpants
Step 2: ?
Step 3: profit

I’m reminded of them any time I browse the various journalism jobs sites, where you’ll invariably spot jobs that aren’t jobs, all of which have been posted by the internet equivalent of the Underpant Gnomes.

Jobs that aren’t jobs? Underpant gnomes?

A job is something you do for money. Jobs that aren’t jobs are those job listings that look like job ads, read like job ads, have the same requirements as job ads, but have one key difference from job ads: there’s no cash involved. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. Instead, you’ll be offered “exposure” and, if you’re lucky, an unspecified share of the unspecified profits that will result from an unspecified level of success at an unspecified point of time.

This, then, is what they’re offering would-be writers:

Step 1: write stuff for us
Step 2: ?
Step 3: profit

And this is their business plan:

Step 1: get people to write stuff
Step 2: ?
Step 3: profit

As I said, they’re underpant gnomes. But the explosion of blogging has given them a new lease of life, and the same old ads are starting to reappear – but this time they’re headed “bloggers wanted” rather than “writers wanted”.

The reason for the resurgence in such adverts is that the people behind them have looked at weblogs and thought “hey! People write for free! That means they’ll write for free, for me!”

What amazes me about the write-for-free crowd is that their ads wouldn’t be acceptable in any other industry. For example, some people like tinkering with cars. Can you imagine if a garage placed ads looking for mechanics, charged its customers for any work carried out, but expected the mechanics to work for free? Some people like doing DIY. Would a firm of painters and decorators hire new employees on the understanding that they wouldn’t get a penny for their efforts (Work experience aside)? Yet when it comes to writing, there’s this assumption that businessmen and women – which is what the people behind these ads believe themselves to be – should pay for every aspect of their business except for the important bit: their site content.

Think I’m exaggerating? I saw one ad a few weeks back (can’t remember the URL, sorry) looking for bloggers, whose content would be syndicated across 17 different web sites. The pay? Zero. The promise? Exposure. The employer? A large chain of local newspapers – that is, a perfectly profitable business that pays its existing writers, but expects people to provide its online content for free. Meanwhile the firm will sell ad space on its sites, and the blogs would drive traffic to those advertisers – and the bloggers wouldn’t get a single penny. You can bet that the firm asked its existing writers first, and those writers said “sure, at the usual rates” – so the newspaper publisher thought “aha! Bloggers!” Is it me, or is that taking the piss?

Journalists have some experience of this – and we’re pretty good at spotting the scams. For example, about a year ago I was approached by a music site who wanted to re-run an article I’d already stuck on the web. We talked for a bit and it turned out the site was strictly non-profit, designed as a resource for musicians. Great, I said. Go ahead, reprint away. And then a month later I visited the site and discovered that my article was being used to sell advertising, the profits of which were being kept by the site owners. Underpant gnomes. Cue some very irate emails and the article being removed from the site (it’s still online, ad-free, on my own music site). Writing for free? Sure. Writing for free so that someone else can make money from my work? No chance.

It’s important to point out that the internet underpant gnomes aren’t hobbyists, or charities. They’re people who have decided that there’s gold in them thar interwebs, and that the way to get that gold is to get lots of people to provide content for nothing. That’s the online equivalent of opening a shop and expecting Nike or Armani to give you all your stock for nothing, with no cut of any sales.

Of course, bloggers write for free – but free of charge doesn’t mean free from benefits. You might run an amazon wish list, or google ads. You might blog because you want to flex your writing muscles, or because you’re obsessed with a particular firm, film star or technology, or because you’ve found that blogging is a much easier way of communicating than posting on spam-filled newsgroups or avoiding flame wars on messageboards. Or you might blog because you’re a journalist who wants to mouth off about any old crap (raises hand). There are almost as many reasons for blogging as there are bloggers, and they’re all valid.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t blog for others at all. For example, like-minded bloggers could and do get together to create multi-author blogs for no financial reward, and that’s great. However, far too many of the “writers wanted” (and now, “bloggers wanted”) ads are something very different: someone that intends to set up a business and wants people to help them do that for nothing.

In most cases those “businesses” are doomed from the start: let’s start a gadget weblog! Yeah, that’s a great idea, because Engadget and Gizmodo don’t exist. Let’s start a Republican blog! Aye, because there aren’t any of them on the web. A music weblog! Yeah, that’ll sell lots of ads. In most cases these sites will disappear in a fairly short time without generating a single penny, and the time and effort you’ve put into such sites would have been much better spent on your own weblog. If you’re not being paid, any benefits that derive from your writing should go to you.

Categories
Media

Bloggers beware

Influential blogger Jason Kottke has run into a spot of legal trouble with Sony after he blogged about the TV show jeopardy, and the situation has exposed one of the biggest differences between blogs and Big Media: newspapers and magazines have legal teams and big pockets, and bloggers don’t.

Inevitably, as blogs become more influential they attract the attention of lawyers, and it’s very important to know the law to make sure you don’t get into trouble. For UK bloggers, there are three key things you need to watch out for: copyright, malicious falsehood and libel. These things are drummed into every trainee journalist from day one, and as the lines between blogging and “proper” publishing continue to blur, bloggers should pay attention to them too.

Libel is the biggie. Put simply, libel – often described as “defamation” – is when you write something that’s provably false, and which damages someone’s reputation. Such cases are open to interpretation, and because libel cases are so expensive they are often seen – rightly, in my view – as a way for rich and powerful people to suppress legitimate criticism. Robert Maxwell was a big fan of libel cases, and won countless cases against journalists; after his death it emerged that most of the supposed libels were in fact true.

It’s important to note here that you don’t need to be the person who started the libel: under UK law, repeating the libel is enough to land you in hot water. There have been a number of cases where sites have been held responsible for their users’ posts on message boards, and they have set the precedent that the site owner is the publisher – which means it’s the site owner who gets sued. In the case of a blog, that means you.

It’s also important to note that it doesn’t matter where your site is actually located. Successful legal action has been brought against site owners in the UK and Australian courts over material posted elsewhere, on the grounds that while the material may have been on a US server, it was available to readers in the UK or Australia and therefore still damaged the person’s reputation in those countries.

(Incidentally, libel and slander are often confused. Slander is verbal, libel is written.)

Copyright is a fairly common one, and the main thing to watch is content that encourages others to infringe copyright – such as links to illegal software downloads, or files that break copy protection. If you’re unlucky enough to catch the attention of a firm with deep pockets, the penalties for copyright infringement can be severe.

Malicious falsehood is similar to libel, but works in a slightly different way. It applies when a false statement is published maliciously and causes (or is likely to cause) financial loss. So for example if you say a firm has gone out of business but it hasn’t, then that is potentially a malicious falsehood: it isn’t defamatory – you’re not suggesting that the firm’s boss eats babies or has sex with Saddam Hussein – but it’s a false statement that could cause the firm financial harm.

David Price has an excellent guide to this stuff here. If you’re writing controversial content on your blog, it’s worth reading up on media law. The last thing you want is a lawsuit.

Categories
Media

Earn less money, get fewer benefits… pay more tax?

More proof that the Chancellor hates self-employed people: The Times reports that the Treasury wants to dramatically increase the amount of tax paid by people who dump well-paid jobs for less lucrative, home-based jobs.

The Times notes that self-employed people pay National Insurance at 8% instead of the 11% paid by full-time employees, and suggests:

Ministers’ particular aversion to “lifestyle” businesses is the lack of contribution they make to the economy: in general they are run from home, with no employees and the owners often have no ambitions to grow them into large companies. There are an estimated 500,000 such businesses in Britain.

I’m sure that many of the people reading this will think “well, it’s only fair that self-employed people pay the same amount of national insurance as employed people.” I’d disagree with that: if you’re an employee you get holiday and sick pay; self-employed people don’t. Your boss pays you on time; when you’re self-employed, that’s a rarity. Self-employed people pay more home insurance, pay higher car insurance, find it much more difficult to get finance, have to provide their own equipment (whether that’s a joiner’s tools or a writer’s computer), have to deal with a tax system that was designed by Beelzebub, can’t get benefit if their wage drops from £10,000 a year to £1,000 a year, etc etc etc. Financially any benefit from a lower national insurance rate is more than compensated for by the risks and costs of going it alone.

As the article notes:

John Whiting, a partner at accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers, pointed out that while there are tax advantages for the self-employed over employees, they also receive fewer benefits and have to take more risks emotionally and financially than employed people. “All this seems to be forgotten,” Mr Whiting said.

I suspect that this move, like the recent rise in NI rates for everybody and the growing number of stealth taxes, is motivated by a desire to increase the tax take without boosting the headline rate of income tax. Which is a bit rich when the government cheerfully flogs off the Inland Revenue’s buildings to a company based in a tax haven, and Murdoch’s News International doesn’t pay a penny in corporation tax thanks to some clever financial footwork. Compared to those activities, any lack of revenue from the self-employed sector is very small beer indeed.