Craig Murray, for those who don't know, was the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan who was removed from his post on October 14, 2004, after criticizing that country's human rights record. (One method of execution in Uzbekistan is boiling alive.) By all accounts, he became fairly outspoken about this sort of thing, and, as any Ludlum or Clancy reader would predict, soon found himself embroiled in a web of allegations, including sexual misconduct and drunkenness.
He was cleared of all charges, but began to be noisily critical of the American and British governments' use of Uzbekistan as a place for the extraordinary rendition of suspected terrorists. (Just as well, by the sound of it, that Maher Arar was bundled off to a relative rest-camp like Syria instead.) That got him sacked by the Tony Blair government. But he would not shut up.
Murray now has his own website, and a regular column in the Guardian. He ran against then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw last year, memorably stating in his campaign literature that "a vote for Jack Straw is a vote for lies, torture, and George Bush." His on-going human rights campaign has met with various threats from the British government, who have brandished the Official Secrets Act and tried to suppress his recently-published book, Murder in Samarkand. The book has now appeared, but with omissions demanded by the British government.
That government is at present feverishly trying to suppress a number of incriminating documents that form the material basis of the book, and that bear out Murray's claims of British and US complicity in torture. On July 7, Murray received letters* from Foreign Office lawyers telling him to remove these documents from his site by yesterday or face a High Court injunction. Creatively enough, the Foreign Office is going after Murray on alleged breaches of copyright this time rather than of the Official Secrets Act.
But the irrepressible Murray has the international blogosphere to fall back on.
I am sorry to trouble you, but believe that we now face a threat both to
the Web and to Freedom of Information in the UK which must be
challenged. The British government is arguing that government
documents, even if released under the Freedom of InformAtion [sic] Act
or Data Protection Act, cannot be published, on the web or elsewhere, as
they remain Crown Copyright. They have required me to remove documents
from my website on that basis, under threat of legal action - see
the attached letter from the Treasury solicitors.
If you think about it for a moment, the government could thus cancel out
almost the whole purpose of the Freedom of Information Act; information
released would be just for the private use of an individual. Newspapers
- or bloggers - could not publish it in any detail.
If accepted, this extraordinary use of copyright could keep literally
everything - everything - produced by government a secret.
The documents in question are the supporting evidence for my book,
Murder in Samarkand, which has just been released. The government
continues to claim my story is untrue. There is one important advance
in all this. Up until now the government refused to acknowledge the
documents were authentic. Now Buttrill's letter specifically
acknowledges all of the documents and claims copyright over them.
Some of these documents have already been published widely on the web
(not least due to the efforts of many of you on this list), particularly
the "Tashkent telegrams" on CIA and MI6 use of intelligence obtained
under torture in the UK. Those are now admitted as authentic.
Some are new to the web. Perhaps the most important is the chart of the
changes the British Government insisted be made to the book. These are
extremey [sic] revealing for what they admit to be true - for example, only
minor changes are requested in the key meeting between senior officials
on the legality of using intelligence from torture, at which it was
confirmed that this is US and UK policy.
Perhaps still more revealing is the insistence on removal of the
assertion that "Colin Powell knowingly lied" when he claimed that bombs
in Tashkent were the work of al-Qaida. The British government insisted
on removal not because it was untrue - as detailed in the book, they
know full well it is true - but because it would "Damage UK-US relations".
The changes requested were made in the book, because my publisher would
not publish without. That is why the truth needs to be out there on the
It is on the face of it very strange that the British Government is
going after me over the Copyright Act and not the Official Secrets Act.
The answer is simple - under the Copyright Act there is no jury. A jury
would never convict for campaigning against torture, and be most
unlikely to accept that documents released cannot be published. The
table of changes requested by the government is not even a classified
document in the first place. But a single judge may be more malleable -
John Reid had put a huge effort lately into browbeating judges over
anything connected to the so-called War on Terror. As the government
know very well I have no money to pay a small, or even large [sic] fine, they
can get the book and documents banned and me in jail without having to
convince any jury of pesky citizens.
How to fight back?
Well, we must not let the documents disappear from the web. There is as
yet no legal ruling on these matters, Mr Buttrill's claims are only
highly controversial legal contentions. So if you post the documents
pending a court ruling, there is a danger you may be contravening the -
civil, not criminal - law, but then again you may not. You would quite
likely receive a threatening letter from Mr Buttrill. Now you have this
email from me, NSA and GCHQ are almost certainly tracking you, (they
can, incidentally, reciprocally spy in the other country for each other
and then swap the info, because neither needs a warrant to spy abroad),
but then they probably were already.
The publisher had firm and very expensive legal advice that it was not
contravening any civil or criminal law to publish in the book links to
web pages containing the documents. So you are almost certainly on safe
legal ground in publishing this link to the Dahr Jamail site if you do
not wish to mirror the docs yourself.
Feel free to publish this email and the letter from Mr Buttrill [attached].
It might also be helpful if we urged people to contact him, by phone,
email or letter, and ask him complex questions about the fascinating and
difficult legal and ethical questions thrown up by the government's
position. As a government servant he's obliged to reply.
Finally, the government made plain to parliament that it would act
against the book itself if it was published. As it only came out on
Friday, no injunction yet but it could happen any time. So if you are
interested in getting it, buy now and beat the injunctions! It is
available from most online booksellers, though bookshops seem very
reluctant to stock it.
And many thanks to you, Craig Murray. It's an honour to help out.
Check out the documents, people, now safely out of reach of Blair's censors. But make sure you have the stomach for it.
* Text of the two letters:
7 July 2006
Dear Mr Murray
INFRINGEMENT OF CROWN COPYRIGHT
The Treasury Solicitor acts for the Foreign Secretary in this matter. This letter should be treated as a letter before claim in accordance with the Civil Procedure Rules 1998.
It has come to our attention that, on 4 July 2006, you placed 15 documents on your website (www.craigmurray.co.uk) which you describe as "supporting documents" relating to your book 'Murder in Samarkand'. We have reviewed the documents and it is clear that in each case (save for document 12 and the majority of document 13) the copyright in the documents subsists with the Crown. I refer you to section 163(1) of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 which states:
"163(1) Where a work is made by Her Majesty or by an officer or servant of the Crown in the course of his duties --
(a) the work qualifies for copyright protection notwithstanding section 153(1) (ordinary requirement as to qualification for copyright protection), and
(b) Her Majesty is the first owner of any copyright in the work".
We take the position that all of the documents (save for 12 and the majority of 13) were produced by an officer or servant of the Crown in the course of their duties. As you do not have permission or a licence to reproduce the documents we consider that Crown copyright has been infringed. In particular, you should note that the statement on your website that " Net posting is not breaching copyright because there is no charge to access the documents" is wrong as a matter of law. Whether or not a charge is made is wholly irrelevant to the issue of copyright infringement. Further, even if a document is released under the Data Protection Act or Freedom of Information Act that does not entitle you to make further reproductions of that document by, for example, putting them on your website or making further copies to be provided to third parties. The copyright remains enforceable.
As you are infringing Crown copyright, you are required to remove the documents from your website immediately and to provide an undertaking that you will not further infringe Crown copyright by reproducing these documents, or any other document or documents in which Crown copyright subsists and which relate to Foreign and Commonwealth Office matters, without permission or licence. If you do not do this by 4pm on Monday 10 July 2006 my client will issue a claim in the High Court for an injunction requiring you to remove the documents. The claim will be issued without further notice to you. An application for an interim injunction will also be made.
If my client is forced by your actions to issue proceedings, she will seek to recover from you the legal costs incurred as a result. Such costs are likely to be substantial. You are strongly advised to seek legal advice.
We are copying this letter to your publishers Mainstream Publishing. We consider this to be necessary as you state on your website that 'Murder in Samarkand' will be an "interactive book" containing URL links to the Crown documents. In the circumstances we consider that your publishers should be aware of my client's proposed course of action in view of your infringement of the Crown's rights.
I look forward to receiving your response.
For the Treasury Solicitor
Cc. Mainstream Publishing
7 July 2006
Dear Mr. Murray
INFRINGEMENT OF CROWN COPYRIGHT
You have requested more time to seek legal advice. I have my client's instructions.
We are prepared to extend the deadline for you to give an undertaking until 4pm on Thursday 13 July 2006 on condition that the documents referred to in my first letter are immediately removed from your website and not reproduced by you anywhere else whilst negotiations regarding the undertaking are ongoing. If you do not immediately remove the documents from your website the offer of an extension will be withdrawn and the original deadline of 4pm on Monday 10 July will apply.
In the event that you fail to give the required understanding by 4pm on 13 July, or if the documents reappear on the website during the course of negotiations, my client reserves the right to issue a claim against you without further notice.
I should be grateful for your response by return.
For the Treaasury Solicitor
Craig Murray's response to the second letter:
To: Gareth Buttrill
Sent: Monday, July 10, 2006 8:43 AM
Subject: Re: Infringement of Crown Copyright: letter before claim
Thank you for this second letter. It is rather a peculiar request. You
claim to be willing to extend the deadline for me to be able to take
legal advice, providing that I concede the principal point in the meantime.
I cannot see the need for this haste. In copyright cases it is not my
understanding that it is generally considered necessary to remove a
publication from circulation pending a court decision. For example,
there was a recent highly publicised copyright case over the Da Vinci
code. Was it deemed necessary by the court to withdraw the Da Vinci
Code from sale while the case was heard? No, it was not.
Your peremptory demands reveal the motive behind your actions in this
case - the suppression of information for political purposes. I don't
believe it is right to use Crown Copyright in this way. Otherwise the
government has an arbitrary power to keep secret absolutely anything
that it does. Your contention in your letter of 7 July that the
government can use Crown Copyright arbitrarily and politically to
suppress material released under the Freedom of Information Act, would
obviate the whole purpose of that Act in giving the public a "Right to
know" what is being done in their name.
I have this morning contacted solicitors to take legal advice. I could
not do so over the weekend as this is not a criminal matter, and
copyright lawyers do not run 24 hour call out services. Unfortunately I
must spend much of today at St Thomas' Hospital for treatment of serious
medical conditions. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office's treatment of
me, as detailed in the documents you are trying to suppress, was the
direct cause of those medical conditions, a fact I would welcome the
chance to discuss in court.
You have been free to advise me what I "Must" do. You must bear in mind
what the content of the story is, that I am seeking to tell and the
government is seeking to suppress.
I accept your renewed deadline as reasonable, but will not be removing
the documents in the interim - until I get advice, I shall go by what I
know of the law, and all I know in this matter is the Da Vinci Code
In the meantime, I should be grateful if, entirely without prejudice,
you could furnish me with some practical advice. If the documents are,
as you allege, Crown Copyright, where and how do I go about making a
formal application for permission to reproduce them?
Also, I am copying your letters to my website. Do you allege that to be
also a breach of Crown Copyright? If I remove the documents but not
your letters, would you still go for an injunction? If I am served an
injunction and remove the documents, but put the injunction on my
website to explain why, do you allege I am breaching Crown Copyright by
publishing the injunction?
Do you allege it to be a breach of Crown Copyright to reproduce on a
weblog any document at all produced by government? The definition given
in your letter of 7 July would plainly cover speeches given by Ministers
and written by civil servants. Is it a breach of Crown Copyright to
reproduce such ministerial speeches on a weblog? How long a quote could
you make from a ministerial speech before breaching copyright? Does this
cover, for example, letters from local authorities and health trusts, or
just from central government? Does it cover parking tickets? What
about quotes from the King James Bible?
If all or any of these are, in your view, matters of discretion where
the government can exercise Crown Copyright if it so chooses, then the
following is perhaps the most important question of all. Are there any
criteria of reasonable action which the government is obliged to
consider when deciding whether to enforce claimed copyright or not, or
is the Crown claiming a power which is solely arbitrary?
I apologise for my confusion. You can see why I need to take legal
advice. I will revert to you.