Thursday, December 14, 2006

Happy Holidays!

The Society will be taking a break over the Christmas holidays, but we'll be back with a programme for the new year by the end of January. We have a number of discussions and presentations in mind. We'll start out with a roundtable discussion regarding global warming towards the end of January. Any suggestions can be posted in the comments section and would be much appreciated.

Till then, best wishes to all for this holiday season!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Programme Update

The Society is pleased to announce the final two research presentations for this calendar year. Eleanor Sharpston, the British Advocate General at the European Court of Justice, will present a paper on Friday 08 December. Dr Lorenzo Zucca will present a paper on Monday 11 December in preparation for the International Conference on Conflicts between Fundamental Rights.

Friday 08 December, 12pm, Room 613 MacRobert Building
Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston ‘European Citizenship and the Fundamental Freedoms: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?’
(moderated by Prof Paul Beaumont)

Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston will present a paper as part of the Law School’s Research Seminar Programme. The Legal Research Society is proud to have collaborated with the Law School to bring one of Britain’s foremost European lawyers to Aberdeen. Further information about the Advocate General can be viewed at the website of the European Court of Justice.

Monday 11 December, 5pm, Taylor A15
Dr Lorenzo Zucca ‘Conflicts of Fundamental Rights as Constitutional Dilemmas’
(moderated by Jernej Letnar)

This paper deals with one of the most important issues of philosophy of law and constitutional thought: how to understand clashes of fundamental rights, such as the conflict between free speech and privacy. The main argument of this book is that much can be learned about the nature of fundamental legal rights by examining them through the lens of conflicts among such rights, and criticizing the views of scholars and jurists who have discussed both fundamental legal rights and the nature of conflicts among them.

Theories of rights are necessarily abstract, aiming at providing the best possible answers to pressing social problems. Yet such theories must also respond to the real and changing dilemmas of the day.Taking up the problem of conflicting rights, Zucca seeks a theory of rights that can guide us to a richer, more responsive approach to rights discourse.

The idea of constitutional rights is one of the most powerful tools to advance justice in the Western tradition. But as this book demonstrates, even the most ambitious theory of rights cannot satisfactorily address questions of conflicting rights. How, for instance, can we fully secure privacy when it clashes with free speech? To what extent can our societies assist people in dying without compromising the protection of life? Exploring the limitations of the rights discourse in these areas, Zucca questions the role of law in settling ethical dilemmas helping to clarify thinking about the limitations of rights discourse.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Roundtable Discussion: File Sharing and Copyrights

This Tuesday, November 28, at 5 pm, in Taylor A15, the society will be discussing the tension between existing copyright law and the sharing of music and movies over the internet.

Resolved: (1)File sharing encourages artistic creativity, allows new artists more access to consumers, and should be encouraged. (2) Copyright protection provides too much protection for corporations and artists, and should be amended so as to provide more access for consumers and the general public.

File sharing has grown in popularity with the spread of high-speed internet connections. Though legal per se, file sharing is most often used to share copyrighted materials such as music and movies. Recently, some record companies and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) have initiated lawsuits against individuals, as their efforts to pursue the file sharing networks have largely proved unsuccessful. Record companies have argued that the advent of file sharing has hurt their profits and, by extension, the artists themselves. However this claim is up for debate. Others argue that file sharing actually enhances revenue for artists, and gives consumers a greater degree of choice. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is a non-profit lobbying group which has urged the RIAA to end its lawsuits against ordinary consumers. The EFF argues the suits generate income for the attorneys involved in the litigation, but do not pass any money on to the artists themselves.

To inform our discussion, have a look at the following materials:

It should be a lively discussion. There is a wealth of material out there on this issue, so please post material you may find in the comments section.

Monday, November 13, 2006

High Five for Borat!

Donn Zaretsky's Art Law Blog has an interesting piece on litigation surrounding Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Two of the "participants" in the movie, a couple of inebriated college students from South Carolina, are bringing suit in Los Angeles Superior Court. You can view the complaint here. Incidentally, whoever drafted it needs to work on their spelling. The students, who might I say looked like complete idiots, are alleging that the production crew got them drunk, and then took advantage of their state. They were paid $200 for their participation. They are asserting causes of action for fraud, rescission of contract, false light, appropriation of false likeness, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Borat is a smart cookie, and he made the participants in the film sign a consent form, which Slate has made available here. However, there are a couple of problems with it.

First, the production company is fictional. Though there is a merger clause, there might be a case for fraud, as the participants were lied to, and were apparently given copious amounts of bud lite. Its unlikely that a California court would look very favorably on an argument that the plaintiffs were inebriated, as American courts are generally loathe to nullify contracts on that basis. Second, they were told the documentary would only be shown abroad. In the end, they didn't seem to have been forced to say anything, and its not the kind of thing I personally haven't heard a million times from inebriated fraternity brothers from South Carolina.

Anyway, have a look at the complaint, and let's strike up a discussion regarding whether these two guys have a legal leg to stand on. I do not think they have much of a case. In my view, its not totally frivolous. But the outcome these two poor South Carolinians are hoping for is to get a nice clean settlement. It's no coincidence either that the suit was filed after the movie's opening weekend. The US legal system is much different from the rest of the world in that the loser in an action seldom is required to pay the legal fees of the other party. Incidentally, Borat has earned $111 million worldwide.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Programme November-December 2006

The Legal Research Society is pleased to announce its research programme for the coming months:

Tuesday 14 November, 5pm, Taylor A15

Ole W. Pedersen (co-authored with Anne-Michelle Slater) ‘Devolved Scotland and Environmental Justice’
(moderated by Justin Borg Barthet)

Scotland has been a devolved administration since 1999. In this period environmental justice has received increasing attention from a variety of participants and stakeholders on the Scottish political scene. This paper seeks to explore and analyse the emergence of environmental justice in Scotland today. This is done by, outlining the devolution arrangements of the Scottish Parliament and touching upon the implications this has in the area of environmental law. The paper then goes on to consider the origin of environmental justice in Scotland and assesses the development of environmental justice as a concept at governmental level, by analysing the Scottish Executive’s stance on environmental justice and tracing the concept’s incorporation into legislation. The paper concludes that while a strong desire for developing an environmental justice agenda in Scotland exists this has resulted in environmental justice being interpreted to date both widely and rapidly. There is concern that this may in fact reduce the value of the concept.

Tuesday 28 November, 5pm, Taylor A15
Roundtable Discussion ‘The Internet and Musical Copyright’s Swan Song’
(moderated by Derek Fincham)

Following the success of our first roundtable discussion, we will next discuss the challenges to musical copyright posed by the internet as well as the opportunities that the electronic environment presents to stakeholders in the musical industry.

Tuesday 05 December, 5pm, Taylor A15
Dabney Evans Interpreting the right to health under the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination
(moderated by Jernej Letnar)

The study aims to develop a model for the interpretation of the obligations under Article 5(e)iv of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination utilizing normative texts on the right to health as well as public heath measures such as health disparities. The study begins with an examination of the historical development of the terminology of discrimination in general and racial discrimination in particular culminating the drafting of the Convention on the Elimination of all for of Racial Discrimination. Next the human rights treaty and normative texts relevant to the right to health are examined. The author presents a model for the interpretation of Article 5(e)iv which asserts that the familial texts of the ICESCR and CESCR General Comment 14 on the right to health should be utilized to interpret States obligations under CERD. The author suggests that health disparities between racial groups may serve as a measure of racial discrimination. Finally, the author attempts to apply the model by examining health disparities across racial groups in several country settings. The model may be a useful tool for States and international treaty bodies as they attempt to address racial discrimination and evaluate the fulfilment of State obligations under Article 5(e)iv of CERD.

Friday 08 December, 12pm, Venue TBA
Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston ‘European Citizenship and the Fundamental Freedoms: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?’

Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston will present a paper as part of the Law School’s Research Seminar Programme. The Legal Research Society is proud to have collaborated with the Law School to bring one of Britain’s foremost European lawyers to Aberdeen. Further information about the Advocate General can be viewed at the website of the European Court of Justice.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Interdisciplinary Workshop - The Place of Religion in the European Public Sphere

The Law School has organised a workshop regarding 'The Place of Religion in the European Public Sphere. 'The single most important issue in the future of our polities.''

The workshop will take place on Friday 3rd November at the Advocates Hall Concert Court and on Saturday 4th November at MacKay Hall, King's College. Please click here for further information. A copy of the programme can be downloaded by clicking here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Thoughts on freedom of expression

The first roundtable discussion held by the Society was certainly thought provoking. A number of important and indeed fundamental issues were raised regarding the possible limits to the right of freedom of expression and the manner in which those limits should be policed. The following is a personal account of what I understood and took from the debate. This does not reflect the Society’s position or that of any of the participants at the discussion. I hope that this post will serve to stimulate further discussion.

Perhaps the most important notion forwarded throughout the course of the discussion was that human rights are not values-free. It is inevitable that there will be political overtones when discussing the manner in which the law should or should not regulate society. Clearly there is some tension between freedom as a cornerstone of democracy on the one hand, and respect as a building block of a coherent and integrated society on the other.

Several participants at the discussion felt that the Jyllands-Posten controversy evidences the failure of unfettered freedom – that the freedom to offend was a catalyst for the accentuation of tensions and the stereotyping of segments of European society. Some participants proposed that the cartoons actually amounted to hate speech, and as such fall foul of the legal limits of freedom of expression.

However, the discussion generally revolved around the assumption that the publication of the cartoons was perfectly legal but editorially irresponsible and sensationalist. In this context it was asked whether legal limitations should be imposed or if the current regime of self-regulation is a better option. The predominant view was that it is dangerous and cumbersome to prescribe limitations to freedom of expression based on the extent to which offence may be taken. Others felt that religious freedom and dignity are values of equal importance and should not be sacrificed at the altar of freedom of expression.

One participant raised the question of how one would draft a law that would limit the right to offend religious sentiments. The fact that religion is often a personal belief creates a possibly insurmountable obstacle to precise definition. Perhaps the solution could be the prohibition of the stereotyping of racial, ethnic and religious groups. Yet, might this not render religion and religious institutions immune to criticism? Most participants felt that allowing the State to determine what is or is not offensive is too high a price to pay. The participants expressed the hope that the media would refrain from harmfully stereotypical publications, as indeed has been the case in respect of other groups.

In the final analysis most participants felt that limiting fundamental freedoms should not be taken lightly. It is certainly true that proponents of unfettered freedom of expression attach a value thereto in much the same way that religious persons attach a value to their faith. However, the empowerment that freedom of expression grants to individuals and groups also has the practical implication of limiting the powers of the State and acts as a check on majority rule. It was felt that it would be wiser to allow social perceptions to evolve through the use of a free press, rather than by limiting what may or may not be said.

Many thanks to all those who participated in an informative debate. Thanks especially to Derek Fincham who chaired the discussion.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Self-censorship in Berlin - Artists and Religion

Just in time for our debate the Deutsche Oper Berlin cancelled the performances of Mozart's 'Idomeneo' causing a huge row amongst politicians.
In the epilogue added to the original version, Idomeneo, King of Crete, was supposed to pull the heads of Poseidon, Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed out of a sack. Police advised the Deutsche Oper about potential disturbance due to the showing of Mohammed's head. They had no concrete evidence, though.

Many (eminent) German politicians criticised such self-censorship in "anticipatory obedience) (as one commentator wrote). As a consequence the Oper now plans to stage "Idomeneo" once a security concept is found.

The following links give an overview:

On another note, Madonna was mounting a cross in her concerts, but this will not be shown on NBC.

Despite the general conflict between freedom of speech and religion these examples seem to raise questions as to a potential different position regarding artistic freedom.

Should there be more freedom for artists than the general public?


"A leader of the Turkish community in Germany - the country's largest Muslim group - Kenan Kolat was quoted as telling Bavarian radio: 'This is about art, not about politics. We should not make art dependent on religion - then we are back to the Middle Ages.'

The head of Germany's Islamic Council, Ali Kizilkaya, was quoted as telling Berlin's Radio Multikulti, that a depiction of the Prophet's severed head - 'could certainly offend Muslims,' and that cancelling the opera was the responsible thing to do. 'Nevertheless,' he continued, 'I think it is horrible that one has to be afraid... That is not the right way to open dialogue.'" (cf. here)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Censorship Roundtable Discussion

Next Tuesday, October 24th at 17.00, the University of Aberdeen Legal Research Society will hold its first roundtable discussion on the topic of freedom of expression and censorship. The meeting will take place in Taylor Building room A15.

The discussion will examine the tension between censorship and freedom of expression in the context of the recent Jyllands-Posten Muhammad editorial cartoon controversy. For those who want to look at the cartoons, this website has posted all of them, with English translations. This is an image of the page layout as they originally appeared in the Ryllands-Posten. We have decided not to show the cartoons at the meeting, out of respect to our muslim colleagues. Here are two very different opinions of the controversy:

Here are a number of other links meant to spark intellectual debate. If there are other materials which you think might foster an informed debate, please post them in the comment section below. The Legal Research Society looks forward to an intelligent and informed debate about this issue. Please come along for a respectful and informed discussion.


Welcome to the Legal Research Society’s space on the web. The Legal Research Society organises symposia where students and staff present their work to colleagues and get valuable feedback in an open and friendly environment. We also organise roundtable discussions on topical matters where a lively debate and a healthy exchange are always the order of the day. In addition, we've hosted learned guests who have come to the University of Aberdeen to discuss their work with research students and staff at our Law School. Finally we organize occasional film nights where we watch movies and discuss their legal and political implications.

We are mainly focussed on postgraduate research students in law but we are open to anyone who is interested.

This site is used to create discussions of legal interest and to keep you updated on the Society’s activities. There are also a number of links to legal blogs and other resources that we hope you might find useful.

Committee members for the year 2009-10 are: Khaled Ramadan Bashir, Ahmad Torabi, Philip Bremner, Oyinkansola Chukuka Tasie . Ahmed Hassanein is our blog administrator.

Committee members for the year 2008-09 are: Khaled Bashir, Yongqiang Han, Paula Herm, Malik Hafeez and Yin Bo. Ahmed Hassanein is our blog administrator. You can find our contact details here.

A (very) Brief History

The Society was set up in October 2006 by a group of research students at the University of Aberdeen’s Law School. The founding committee was composed of Derek Fincham, Gerd Koehler, Jernej Letnar Cernic, Justin Borg Barthet, Ole Windahl Pedersen and Yona Marinova.

The members of the committee for the 2007-08 term were Alessia Vacca, Gerd Koehler, Justin Borg Barthet, Ole Windahl Pedersen, Paula Herm and Thushara Kumarage.


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