Do paywalls make for better journalism?  

There’s no denying that there’s been a marked decline in newspaper sales over the past decade or more, which corresponds with the growth in news’ digital presence, as our appetite for content on-the-go increases. However there appears to be a continuing battle between those who expect their news to be delivered for free, and publishers who understandably see cost and value in reporting which they are keen to recover and exploit.

The free/paywall divide appears most marked between not only the generations, but the type of content they view.  Hard paywalls appear to work for publications that already dominate the niche market in which they operate (e.g. FT / Economist / WSJ).  

According to 2023 research by Reuters Institute for Journalism, only 9% of UK consumers of news were paying for it – near on the lowest percentage of any of the top 20 richest countries. In contrast, Norway has 39% of its public paying for news content. Perhaps more concerning for publishers keen to expand or introduce paywall mechanisms, the same research found that about half of non-subscribers say that nothing could persuade them to pay for online news, with lack of interest or perceived value remaining fundamental obstacles. Generally, with regards to news, audiences say they pay more attention to celebrities, influencers, and social media personalities in networks like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat than journalists working for traditional media. 

Media brands themselves do not necessarily appear to attract news readers – only 22% say they go to a specific website or app for their news, with younger groups showing a weaker connection to news brands’ own websites and apps than previous cohorts, preferring instead to access news via alternative routes such as social media, search or mobile aggregators. Although Google and Facebook still account for about half of the traffic to news sites, there are signs that their platform position is becoming a little less concentrated in many markets, with more providers competing. Most people aged between 18-24 received their news via social media channels, with TV news being most important to those aged over 55.

Podcasts retain their popularity but only among a certain niche of individuals – upmarket young people.  In fact, only 34% of people have listened to a podcast, and then the most popular tend to be ones involving discussion between men!

Back to paywalls: publishers recognise that to attract new subscribers, content is key. They also value paywalls as a way of recovering the revenue once received from digital advertising but which is now under pressure as a result of ad blocking technology and the change in Google and Facebook algorithms. The new Mail+ paywall gives access to premium content across their most popular subjects – the royal family, special investigations, health, personal finance and certain columnists.  The Mail is confident of leveraging subscribers from its existing high-visibility website, being the second most commonly visited news website in the UK (after the BBC) and benefitting from high overseas traffic .  The introduction of paywalls is the antithesis of click-bait journalism, and models that look to reward journalists on the value of clicks their individual stories received, resulting in an emphasis towards the trivial.

However, perhaps the reality is that introducing paywalls mean that publishers will learn exactly how loyal their readership is, and as soon as the content value doesn’t outweigh the cost, then subscribers will walk. There is a concern also that paywalls increase the opportunity for siloed-thinking and echo chambers, if people align themselves to media that fit with their own viewpoint, thereby insulating themselves from contrary opinion. Most people (aside from those in the PR industry), would tend to seek out multiple sources for news only when it’s free to access. To subscribe to multiple channels is rare, so arguably the paywall game is one that will have few winners but many losers over time.  

The jury is out as to whether we’ve seen better journalism since the introduction of paywalls but it is fair to say that exclusive content from trusted media brands has value. Nonetheless, given the next generation’s declining appetite for paid-for news, the publishing industry may find itself needing another way of funding its output. In the end however, for the communications industry it’s really about what clients want from their media hits – volume in free-to-read outlets that can be readily amplified via their social media sites, or placement before fee-paying readers seeking quality contributions. You pays your money, you takes your choice.

By Melanie Riley

Match 2024

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Interview with Gareth Brahams, Senior Partner at BDBF LLP

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=liqLAxxRAQU

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PR Perspectives: Taking Stock Of 2023, Preparing For 2024 (Bell Yard writes for Law360)

Bell Yard Director Louise Beeson reviews the past year in the world of legal PR and looks ahead to 2024 in the below article for Law360.

As we approach the year end, many law firms and public relations teams will be reviewing their external communications output for 2023: Which campaigns broke through, which legal experts did well in the media and why, opportunities missed perhaps, and which issues were defining for a firm’s reputation in the last 12 months. 

An analysis of this nature is wise housekeeping — it is useful to take stock and learn lessons to plan for the year ahead. It is also important to ensure that an eye is kept on whether a firm’s external profile activities are properly aligned with strategic communications aims and business plans.

In addition, it is prudent to be aware of the big topics that are driving narratives in the legal sector right now and to consider a firm’s positioning on these so as to be best prepared for 2024. 

Such a review exercise, involving a look at channels too, is critical to disciplined reputation management and, in turn, how a firm is perceived by its stakeholders — clients, referrers, recruits and staff.

What Does a Firm Want to Be Known For? 

While it is rarely possible to translate legal marketing slogans into sycophantic coverage in mainstream media — law firm brand straplines such as “A point of view like no other” and “Driving progress through partnership,” for example, are not phrases that reporters will likely ever reproduce except in brand-related articles — press effort and coverage should nonetheless ideally reflect a firm’s practice and management priorities.

One partner dominating the airwaves all year round can create a skewed impression of what a firm is about. Equally, an analysis of social media output should show a range of experts contributing to the reputation of the firm.

Topics should also be on-grid. Opportunistic comments on heart-on-sleeve subjects or areas the firm does not usually advise on may be quick wins or keep a journalist happy, but if they are off-piste in terms of what the firm wants to talk about, this will create the wrong impression of expertise and client focus in that unforgiving Google or LinkedIn archive.

Another question is whether external media coverage for 2023 has achieved the right balance of client expert versus employer brand content. Is it enough to showcase the firm’s ecological, pro bono, equality and diversity initiatives on a firm’s website and in socials, or do they deserve greater attention if a crucial part of the story?

If the latter, do efforts really stand out versus peers and is the right target U.K. Tech News, TikTok or the Financial Times?

Lastly, did an event or incident come along that sullied a law firm’s brand and reputation in the eyes of beholders? While it may pay to keep a low profile after a media storm in the short term, it is usually essential to fight back with commentary that promotes a healthier mix of topics and initiatives in the medium term.

Measuring Success

Of course, social media tools and website analytics make it easy to measure readership or listenership of posts, blogs and podcasts and that is a start. Engagement is harder to measure.

Also less easy to measure data-wise is whether style, tone and format of these efforts have been optimal and whether people feel they have the right skills to populate priority channels.

An accurate and rigorous measurement of press coverage output is also difficult to achieve. Media evaluation is expensive and time-consuming. External evaluation agencies can pore over press coverage and create charts and graphs showing positive messages conveyed, favorability of coverage ratings, share of voice in an article, audience reach, and the volume of hits compared to competitors.

Alternatively, a basic counting exercise can be carried out to measure coverage achieved by topic, practice area and publication, spinning this data into charts. For some, the regularity of firm name checks in the Financial Times will be important; for others, the measure of success might be the breadth of spokespeople quoted in an agreed list of priority media.

Regardless of firm and evaluation budget available, the point is to have a defined set of objectives at the start of the year and assess how far external output supported those at year end. Only then can one consider whether the balance of activity — i.e., proactive versus reactive; mainstream media versus social media; data-led or news-surfing-led; expert lawyer versus managing partner firm spokesperson — should be adjusted in the year ahead.

The Big Beast Topics of 2024

The final prong of any law firm’s annual review and year-ahead planning exercise should be to compile a list of hot topics for the legal sector — whether or not the firm has been quizzed on them yet — and develop an agreed position on them.

This can help to inform on which topics a firm wants to be proactive or reactive going forward; what the managing partner says at a lunch with the new Financial Times legal correspondent; or, indeed, what a trainee recruitment manager puts in the crib-sheet for lawyers manning a stand at the university careers fair.

The list should, of course, be comprehensive and iterative, but below are examples of the questions it should include, and that law firms’ communications teams should have answers for right now in their so-called hot topic bible.

  • Will there still be a firmwide Christmas party? 
  • Are there any #MeToo incidents under investigation internally or escalated to the Solicitors Regulation Authority? 
  • Are there any disputes with any clients over unpaid fees or negligent advice? 
  • What is the current working from home policy? 
  • Has the firm paid bonuses this year? Has the firm recently made job cuts or does the firm plan any such cuts in the next six months? 
  • What is the policy on publishing profits per equity partner? 
  • What percentage of lawyers in the firm went to Oxbridge and private schools? 
  • How many black, female and LGBTQ partners respectively are there in the firm? 
  • How much per square foot do you pay for space? How much space is being utilized? 
  • Has the firm investigated its slave trade links, and will it be making reparations? 
  • Have any Labour politicians been invited to meet clients? Does the firm fund the Labour Party, or is the firm preparing clients for a Labour election win? Are there any talks in progress to offer a job to any outgoing Tory politicians? 

Concluding Thoughts

There is no textbook manual as to how law firms can get external communications right: how to turn lawyers into amazing communicators; how to interest journalists in the right stories; how many LinkedIn posts are optimal to keep front of mind with contacts and how to maintain the perfect firm profile.

Reputation is a complex construct and reputation management is an art rather than a science. But the year-end point is always a good moment in the calendar to consider how best to enhance, protect and advance reputation, ensuring it is as controlled and planned as possible, and not left to the wrong people or, worse, chance. 

By Louise Beeson, Director at Bell Yard Communications

This article previously appeared here in Law360

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The Lawyer Behind the Infected Blood Scandal, and more: Bell Yard interview with Des Collins

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhDY74ykqD0

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The Story of the ‘NatWest Three’: Bell Yard Interview with David Bermingham

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJu1Vb_FoQA
The Story of the ‘NatWest Three’ | David Bermingham interview | Bell Yard Communications

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Q&A with The Legal Diary’s Founder & Editor Edward Fennell

Edward Fennell, ‘The Legal Diary’ founder & editor and former editor of The Times’ ‘Law Diary’, delves into how law firms have changed their approach to PR and gives advice for lawyers in dealing with journalists in a Q&A with legal and litigation agency, Bell Yard Communications.

Edward Fennell began his legal beat when working at The Times where he memorably interviewed a Baker McKenzie partner in 90’s Moscow who described the scene of Russian tanks rolling past the window. Edward’s journey progressed to starting The Legal Diary blog and penning a medieval monastic murder story in semi-retirement.

Over the course of your career, how have law firms changed their approach to PR? Did their attitudes change? Any notable trends?

Yes, absolutely dramatic changes since I first started in 1987. Until shortly before there had been a ban on marketing and promotional activity and when this ended most firms were very unclear on how to handle it. A few went for immediate activity and made a botch of it. Others were very nervous with everything having to be handled by the managing or senior partner. In due course, they brought in PR firms but often expected unrealistic results. Besides, many were still reluctant to get drawn in. Famously, when Slaughter and May came top of the M&A table one year I asked for a comment. They replied that they would think about it. And much later in the day they simply got back and said they did not think a comment was appropriate!

The big catalyst for change was when firms suddenly started to open up offices all over Europe – especially Eastern Europe. They were desperate to get the news out and that prompted the development of a much more professional approach.

What inspired you to pursue a career in journalism?

From my early teens I became an avid reader of newspapers and news magazines and had a strong sense of vocation towards journalism. The Times, The Daily Mail (a very different kind of paper back in the 1960s) and The Economist were my big reads.

After university I started working as an Information Officer in local government. Employment and recruitment issues were my specialism and that gave me some expertise to start writing for The Times. Subsequently, I was on hand when The Times set up its weekly LAW section in 1987 and I continued to do that for 30+ years until a combination of age and Covid brought it to an end.

What was your best scoop/what’s been the most interesting story you’ve ever covered and why?

In August/September 1991, Russia was going through a terrible period of unrest. Some elements of the army staged a coup involving driving tanks into Moscow. I was aiming to write an article on the general situation from a legal perspective and was interviewing a Baker McKenzie partner in the Moscow office. As we started to talk the tanks began to roll past the building. He went to the window and gave me a vivid description of what was happening. It made the opening para a lot easier and more exciting to write!

How do you fact-check your work?

At The Times one was backed up by a fantastic sub-editing and legal service so one was saved from the worst errors. Just in the course of writing though I usually fed back to interviewees what I was planning to quote or say on their behalf. Many of the topics were highly technical, even for lawyers, so I had no hesitation in double checking that I had understood correctly.

Why did you set-up The Legal Diary?

After stopping writing the Legal Diary for The Times in Spring 2020, I thought it might be fun to continue it on a bigger basis, taking in some of the other material that I thought was interesting but had not been able to use. Besides, being now semi-retired I needed something to do with my time and keep in touch with the wider world. 

What is the best tactic for approaching you with storylines?

Usually best just to drop me an email as it is the best way to digest a story. Tuesdays are probably the best days to reach out because I publish on Friday so I need, ideally, to have my stories sorted in priority by Wednesday/Thursday morning. Getting them to me on Tuesday or Wednesday morning allows me time to digest them and get a sense of their level of priority.If I think they are ‘possible/probables’ I often come back with a query/clarification. Or a request for an accompanying image.

What advice would you give to lawyers for dealing with journalists?

Keep to the point – distill your expertise to the key points. Don’t blind with science. Bear in mind that the journalist is an intermediary to an interested audience – even, maybe, potential clients!

What advice would you give to aspiring journalists?

To be frank I feel so far removed now from what it’s like getting into the business today that I am not sure I can offer any meaningful advice other than the obvious:

  • start writing about topics that fascinate you and develop some expertise and contacts in that field,
  • try to get the pieces published somewhere/anywhere to show your abilities/expertise (and, one hopes, talent),
  • then start extending and making the right contacts across the media,
  • pray for a bit of luck

Tell us about your recent novel and how it came about.

I am a historian by background and am lucky enough to live in Winchester adjacent to the site of the medieval monastery – Hyde Abbey – where Alfred the Great was buried (it’s now a ruin, destroyed by Henry VIII). I am also very interested in Chaucer and was pretty convinced that Chaucer had known Hyde Abbey quite well. The clue is that the Tabard Inn in Southwark – where Chaucer’s pilgrims meet – was a real place and was actually owned by Hyde Abbey – and the abbot spent quite a lot of time there. So a medieval monastic murder story against the background of the Peasants’ Revolt was an obvious plot line, linking up real historical characters with Chaucer’s fictional ones. I thoroughly enjoyed writing it!

Order ‘CHARTER FOR MURDER’ by Edward Fennell here

Read/sign-up to ‘The Legal Diary’ here

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Litigation PR: Crypto Issues

Bell Yard Communications has vast experience working for clients involved in legal crypto issues that require expert litigation PR and crisis communications advisers.

ONTIER LLP

This has most prominently taken the form of Bell Yard working for the law firm ONTIER and their client Dr Craig Wright, the author of the Bitcoin White Paper under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. This White Paper served as the blueprint for a new digital asset over 15 years ago. Dr Wright chose to prove his identity as Satoshi as well as establishing and enforcing his copyright in the White Paper and numerous patents relating to the blockchain through the legal system.

Bell Yard advised ONTIER on how to promote the legal successes the firm had in the English legal cases brought by Dr Wright following the relentless online hostilities experienced by Dr Wright from individuals and entities online.

We advised on the communication around a ground-breaking action against 16 bitcoin developers to establish their duty to restore access to stolen/lost private keys to those who can demonstrate, to the satisfaction of a court, their ownership of the wallet in which digital currency is stored. We also supported ONTIER in the various copyright infringement cases ongoing, as well as defamation actions in UK and Norway.  Running in parallel was a huge case (brought by ONTIER on behalf of an entity beneficially owned by Dr Wright), against digital currency exchanges Kraken and Coindesk, valued in the hundreds of billions of pounds.

About Bell Yard Communications

We advise individuals, firms, chambers, companies large and small, charities and community groups – all of whom have one thing in common: the desire to communicate on matters relating to the law.

Bell Yard are consistently top ranked in Chambers & Partners’ Litigation Support Guide since 2018.

Contact London’s leading litigation PR and reputation management experts at Bell Yard Communications here.

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Bell Yard Litigation PR Clients: Michael Jackson

Instructed the morning after Martin Bashir’s documentary ‘Living with Michael Jackson’ was aired in the UK, Bell Yard set to work devising and implementing a robust rebuttal strategy to overturn the initially hostile global media coverage and subsequent litigation PR work.

Using MJJ Productions’ own footage of Bashir interviewing Jackson, we focused media attention on the betrayal Jackson felt at the hands of Bashir. Working closely with Jackson’s UK & US legal teams, Bell Yard led the global media handling of Jackson’s claim for injunctive relief and damages from Granada.

Michael Jackson Litigation PR Media Statement:

Here is the full text of the statement issued today on behalf of Michael Jackson by Bell Yard Communications:

“Michael is devastated and feels utterly betrayed by the British television programme, Living With Michael Jackson, presented by Martin Bashir and broadcast in the UK on Monday, February 3, 2003, which he regards as a gross distortion of the truth and a tawdry attempt to misrepresent his life and his abilities as a father.

“In a number of crucial respects Michael is concerned that Martin Bashir and Granada Television have broken the trust he placed in them.

“In particular, he felt he had obtained their assurance that his children would not be featured in any way in the broadcast programme.

“Michael repeatedly asked Bashir to stop filming his children, and was promised by him that the footage of his children would be taken out in the final edit but, Bashir said, shooting should not be stopped because “it would break the continuity of filming”.

“Michael is deeply upset that the programme sensationally sets out to use two or three pieces of footage giving a wholly distorted picture of his behaviour and conduct as a father.

“Michael feels particularly devastated that he has been treated so badly by Martin Bashir, whom he let into the Jackson family home on a number of occasions over eight months, in the belief that Bashir wished to make a genuine documentary of his life.

“Michael believes that what was eventually broadcast was a salacious ratings chaser, designed to celebrate Martin Bashir, and which was indifferent to the effect on Michael personally, his family and his close friends.

“Michael originally consented to grant Bashir extended access to the Neverland Valley Ranch, his family and Michael himself, because he wanted to give the world a faithful representation of the truth about his life.

“Michael believes that the programme Bashir has produced is a travesty of the truth. Michael would never have consented to participating in this film if he had been aware of how Bashir was going to falsely portray him.

“Michael believes that this programme was intentionally produced and edited with a view to broadcasting sensationalised innuendo.

“Michael feels deeply angry that the programme could have led viewers to conclude that he abuses children in any way. Michael Jackson has never, and would never, treat a child inappropriately or expose them to any harm and totally refutes any suggestions to the contrary.

“Michael would never betray the trust that a child, or their parents, might place in him.

“Michael was today moved to make the following personal statement: ‘I trusted Martin Bashir to come into my life and that of my family because I wanted the truth to be told.

‘Martin Bashir persuaded me to trust him that his would be an honest and fair portrayal of my life and told me that he was “the man that turned Diana’s life around”.

‘I am surprised that a professional journalist would compromise his integrity by deceiving me in this way.

‘Today I feel more betrayed than perhaps ever before; that someone, who had got to know my children, my staff and me, whom I let into my heart and told the truth, could then sacrifice the trust I placed in him and produce this terrible and unfair programme.

‘Everyone who knows me will know the truth which is that my children come first in my life and that I would never harm any child.

‘I also want to thank my fans around the world for the overwhelming number of messages of support that I have received, particularly from Great Britain, where people have e-mailed me and said how appalled they were by the Bashir film. Their love and support has touched me greatly.’

“These comments are excerpts from a videotaped statement from Michael Jackson, which shall be released after the airing of the Bashir television special in the United States.

“Debbie Rowe, Michael’s ex-wife and the mother of two of his children reacted today: ‘It breaks my heart that anyone could truly believe that Michael would do anything to harm or endanger our children: they are the most important thing in his life.'”

Contact

Get in touch with Bell Yard for any litigation PR/legal sector reputation management needs.

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Litigation PR Experts: Bell Yard Communications

Bell Yard Communications is a leading litigation PR and reputational management agency based in London with over two decades of experience supporting high-calibre and ground-breaking clients.

Over the years we have helped guide HNW individuals, companies, law firms, finance houses, family-run businesses, celebrities and embattled employees through the challenging process of being in the public eye during times of dispute or difficulty.

Claimants or defendants may require media support on matters from fraud to divorce or from employment actions to personal injury cases. The media spotlight may fall on judicial reviews or sensitive coroners’ inquests. Perhaps intellectual property disputes or planning law reviews. Even administrative court proceedings and certainly some criminal prosecutions.

Bell Yard’s expertise in the field of litigation PR is shown through the continued inclusion of the firm and its Director Melanie Riley in Chambers UK’s Litigation and Support Guide in the Litigation PR & Communications category.

Bell Yard’s Melanie Riley, Sarah Peters, and Louise Beeson were also selected once again in the 2023 Lawdragon Global 100 Leaders in Legal Strategy & Consulting list. This illustrious list, in its 9th edition, recognises the exceptional advisors who have played an instrumental role in the exponential growth of the legal industry by providing cutting-edge advice and strategic guidance to legal leaders.

Things to consider before choosing litigation PR:

  • Can you control the information flow?
  • Should you comment publicly and, if so, when?
  • What can be divulged pre-trial?
  • Should your shareholders know in advance?
  • What do you tell employees without destabilising the business
    or risking leaks?
  • If the other side is briefing, should you react?

Above all, how do you balance the public’s right to know with your desire for
confidentiality?

If even just one of these issues resonates, do get in touch as Bell Yard can help.

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What is litigation PR?

Litigation public relations (litigation PR), is a powerful means of communications management that can directly affect the outcome of any legal dispute or adjudicatory processing, or mitigate the impact on the client’s reputation.

Litigation PR relates to a legal dispute, which is vastly different to other forms of PR such as profile-raising. Bell Yard Communications is one of the very first litigation PR agencies in England and have assisted a range of clients in extremely important and impactful legal cases over the years.

This litigation PR service allows us to protect our client’s overall reputation and support their legal dispute. When looking for a PR company it is important to focus on a brand that can consider and deliver within the implications of communicating during any proceedings. Such as navigating any sensitive rules all while keeping to a strategic plan and approach.

Since the boom of social media and the internet the need for litigation PR has never been more important. Especially with the scale of consequences potentially being larger and the scale of coverage magnified.

Chambers Litigation Support Guide comments on Bell Yard:

“Bell Yard is a market-leading litigation PR boutique with a long-established presence in London. The firm represents defendants and claimants across a range of case types and sectors. Its services include media risk assessment, dispute profiling and public relations connected to trial, among others.”

Chambers Litigation Support Guide comments on Director Melanie Riley:

Melanie Riley is a co-founder and director of Bell Yard Communications. She is instructed by corporate clients, law firms, barristers’ chambers, charities and high net worth individuals in disputes ranging from white-collar crime to matrimonial matters.

“Melanie Riley is very personable and unflappable, which is needed for this job. She is incredibly knowledgeable. She knows all the courts and the system. Melanie is well connected and is my one-stop shop into that world of the courts and how to work through the system.” 

“She has probably the best book of journalist contacts of anybody in the business.”

If you are interested in finding out more about Bell Yard Communications’ litigation PR work then please click here to explore our various archived cases.

Contact Bell Yard Communications

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Magazine editor Richard Burton: “Don’t offer me listicles or I’ll give you 10 reasons why they’re outdated and a little desperate.”

Richard Burton, magazine editor/media consultant, shares his thoughts on what makes a good PR pitch and reflects on his own impressive career within the journalism profession in the below Q&A with Bell Yard Communications that will be of interest to anyone working in/with the media.

From being inspired by comic book characters to editing the Telegraph online on 9/11 and revealing the identity of a schoolgirl’s killer with a picture exclusive, the business editor and former Fleet Street journalist has plenty of stories to share.

What inspired you to pursue a career in journalism?

I’d love to say it was reading the Washington Post, but it was really looking at DC Comics in the back of my father’s car on long journeys. More specifically, Clark Kent. Seriously. At aged nine I wasn’t interested in his Super sideline, just the day job. I became hooked on working for an editor with a fat cigar and a disregard for anything resembling HR. The prospect of being kicked out on to the streets in search of scandal, meeting contacts in alleyways and whistle blowers in low dives sounded more enticing than “retails sales” which is what the careers people later said I’d be suited for. When I got a real job and my name appeared in my local paper, a curmudgeonly neighbour who used to disapprove of everything I did, suddenly became my best friend.

Why did you gravitate towards being an editor?

I spent 10 years in the provinces before I came to Fleet Street, actually starting as a tea-boy in the provinces, before moving from weeklies to agencies to dailies and, basically, stringing for the nationals on every patch I worked. Some of the papers back in the late 70s had lineage pools where we shared the spoils like waiters share tips. I always refused to join as I was pretty much on it 24/7 so I guess I needed greater ownership of the job. I took a news editor role purely for the money after Margaret Thatcher came to power and a sudden 17 per cent interest hike meant I couldn’t afford the mortgage I’d just signed up for. But it meant I was able to nurture a young team which I did until I fell out with the boss and got the sack.  I then went for a deputy editor job as, by then, I’d got a proper taste for management, and after about a year, two directors took me to a hotel too posh for my payband and asked me to step up. That job got me into Fleet Street. 

How do you fact-check your work?

Most stories are fairy linear and, if properly attributed, speak for themselves, but the fact that I do fact-check at all is usually a good start. So much I read these days clearly hasn’t been. Having spent years subbing on the Telegraph – querying and correcting – helps a lot. I try to use the best sources, aren’t afraid to say to someone’s face: ‘that can’t be true, I’m going to need more than that.’ I use the Deep Web a lot. I was an early adopter of CAR [computer assisted research] and never shy away from seeking an honest right of reply. I hate it when a reporter tells me they ‘saw it on the Internet.’ It’s like saying they read something in Smiths.

What does your daily/weekly schedule look like when crafting a story?

Depends. I’ve been on investigations that dragged on for weeks and involved hours of trawling microfiche files (oh, the memories), knocking on every door on the estate and,  even sitting in cars waiting for someone to arrive or leave. But back to the present: I write, edit and commission around three dozen a week, plus a bit of ghosting. Crafting is instinctive in 99 per cent of cases; I usually know where a story should be going by the time I’ve read the first few lines and I tend to edit as I read, a habit developed from years of filing ‘off the cuff’, dictating to copytakers from the scene.    

What is the best tactic for approaching you with storylines?

I’m not a huge fan of email for everything but it’s the only way when you’re editing six magazines and get 50-plus pitches a day. I get annoyed when people play games: a LinkedIn message reaching out to me to jump on a call (mind boggles) as they have something I’d be interested in. If it’s a pitch, just say so. I actively welcome them. I’ve had splashes and coverlines that simply came to my inbox. Go easy on the surveys (I get loads) and don’t offer me listicles or I’ll give you ten reasons why they’re outdated and a little desperate.  

So, I’d say pertinence, patience and persistence. By that I mean, tell me as simply and directly what it’s about, don’t expect an answer immediately and feel free to prod me – I’m old fashioned enough to be shamed into the courtesy of an eventual reply.   

What makes a good story/quote?

Emotion – in both cases. Something that moves a reader who’s short on time and has lots of media competing for their attention. The problem is, so much is hyped online these days, readers are rightly sceptical of anything too dramatic. 

In terms of quotes specifically, I find people are often reluctant to express themselves. I get offered thought leadership pieces a lot and love it when I can hear the voice of the writer. When I get something marked Approved: 4th and final revision, I know it wont be.   

What is the best/worst part of being a journalist/editor? 

The anecdotes. Hate to sound trite, but that sort of sums it up: If you spend every day seeking out something that (you hope) others will pay to know about, especially if they involve people and places they’ll pay to see or listen to, you’ll have them in abundance. Not sure there are many other jobs where a crown court judge would delay sentencing until he saw me in my seat, a rock group would ask me to drive them home to avoid crowds and a Question Time panellist would text me from the car afterwards to ask how I think they did.

I can’t honestly think of a worst part, other than the odd hours, the occasional drudgery (I couldn’t always choose my subjects) and the odd time I found myself in the night lawyer’s office struggling to reconcile what I’d written with what I could prove.   

What advice would you give to aspiring journalists?

Do it because it’s a calling and you believe in people’s right to know and the importance of an open, honest media, not because you want to “find your voice”.  That’s what blogs are for. It’s not about you. It’s about what you can impart. Also, absorb all media. Read the tabloids for word economy, the broadsheets for context and do learn the language. Few use it correctly, you’ll need to at least make a decent fist of it.

How do you consume media/stay up to date with the news?

Its easy these days. It’s all brought to your phone. But I subscribe to a few aggregators, have Sky News or CNN on constantly while I’m on the Mac in my home office, a habit I picked up during my Mirror days when TVs hung from the ceiling while we worked and I have access to news wires so it’s pretty full-on. 

What was your best scoop/what’s been the most interesting story you’ve ever covered and why?

I was editing the Telegraph online on 9/11. We ran 148 stories in one six-hour period alone  and I catnapped on a physio table at about 4am attempting round-the-clock updates. Other than that, too many to say: doorstepping a young Lady Diana Spencer in Northampton had a sense of history in the making, revealing the identity of a schoolgirl’s killer with a picture exclusive gave me notoriety and enough money to move house … but the most rewarding was unashamedly using the Mail’s massive reach to expose a couple’s agony at watching an incurable gene defect gradually take their children’s lives. I tracked down the one clinic in the world which had had any, albeit experimental, success and, even though it was massively oversubscribed, got them to agree to see them if I had them flown out. Their daughter survived another six years and the son is now symptom-free.   

Richard Burton: LinkedIn

Richard Burton is a former Fleet Street journalist who manages a range of digital titles in the UK and across Europe. His main London title is the business magazine, Director of Finance. 

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Climate Change: A Growing Election and Legal Battleground

Climate change is gearing up to become a key election – and legal – battleground. 

‘Just Stop Sunak’ screamed Tuesday’s Daily Mirror in response to the government’s confirmation on Monday that it would grant more than 100 new North Sea oil and gas drilling licences, while The Sun led with the launch of its ‘Give Us A Brake’ campaign, urging politicians to “protect hard-up motorists from expensive net zero policies”. The Times, meanwhile, reported that the government will ask the heads of major UK energy companies to reconsider their investment strategies following Rishi Sunak’s call to “max out the opportunities” in the North Sea.

Emboldened by the Conservatives’ recent Uxbridge by-election victory, in which opposition to the expansion of London’s ultra-low emission zone played no small part, the Prime Minister insisted that plans to expand North Sea drilling, said to be essential for the UK’s energy security, were “entirely consistent with our plan to get to net zero”.

The new North Sea licensing round – which will be accompanied by two more carbon capture and storage projects – drew condemnation from environmental groups, opposition figures, the renewable energy industry, investors and some former Tory ministers.

Lambasting the plan as “the wrong decision at precisely the wrong time, when the rest of the world is experiencing record heatwaves”, Chris Skidmore, the former science minister who led a review into net zero, said it was “on the wrong side of modern voters who will vote with their feet at the next general election for parties that protect, and not threaten, our environment.”

The North Sea plan follows the government’s approval in December of the UK’s first new deep coal mine in thirty years, recent changes to the UK’s carbon trading scheme that cut incentives for industry to reduce emissions, a planned national review of low-traffic neighbourhoods, not to mention a damning progress report from the Climate Change Committee in June, which claimed that the UK has lost its global leadership position on climate change and risks failing to meet legally binding emissions targets made at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

Meanwhile, a coalition of nature groups, including the National Trust, RSPB and RSPCA, have threatened to mobilise their 20 million or so members, should the government “use the environment as a political football” by watering down its climate commitments. 

The net zero fallout comes amid a continuing rise in climate litigation. According to research published last week by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University and the UN Environment Programme, the number of climate-related lawsuits has more than doubled in the past five years to 2,180 court cases globally.

And a report by the LSE’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, published in June, found a significant increase in legal challenges to the climate policy response of governments and companies, particularly outside the US. It also reported a surge in greenwashing cases relating to climate mis- and disinformation, and an increase in litigation concerning investment decisions – a fact of which the energy companies summoned to Number 10 will be only too aware. 

While both reports highlight a growing ESG backlash with a rise in lawsuits that seek to delay climate action or obtain compensation for government climate policies, in the overwhelming majority of cases, “People are … turning to courts to combat the climate crisis, holding governments and the private sector accountable and making litigation a key mechanism for securing climate action and promoting climate justice,” according to Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. 

Indeed, Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and Good Law Project are taking the UK government to court for the second time in under two years over its plans for tackling climate change. They claim that the government’s revised net zero strategy – the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan – is unlawful and are seeking a judicial review. It follows the organisations’ landmark legal victory last year, with the High Court ruling that the government’s net zero strategy breached the Climate Change Act and required revision to show how key emissions reduction targets would be met.

Greenpeace, meanwhile, was in court last week to challenge the government’s “reckless decision to greenlight a new oil and gas licensing round, without properly checking the damage it will do to the climate”.

The UK government’s climate climbdown and vocal support for motorists, while clearly a calculated risk, is a polarising issue, pitting as it does short-term energy security against long-term green investment, economic self-interest against the ‘greater good’, and – as the Financial Times suggested yesterday – individual freedoms against statutory diktat. 

But whatever the ultimate impact on UK voting intentions of the net zero pushback, especially in light of the prolonged cost of living crisis, the increasing appetite for challenging governmental and corporate climate policy response in the courts as we enter the “era of global boiling” means that these latest lawsuits are unlikely to be the last. 

With more than half of climate litigation cases having direct judicial outcomes favourable to climate action, including prompting policy changes, according to the LSE report, Rishi Sunak – and the energy companies – better take note.  

By Sarah Peters

03/08/2023

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Gen Z’s Relationship With Media: Q&A With Bell Yard Intern

Hopefully our young intern Sadie has gained some useful experience from her week spent in the world of litigation PR chez Bell Yard. Whilst she was with us, we asked her to share some of her insights into how she and her generation (Z in case you were wondering) consume and interact with traditional and social media platforms. Here is what she had to say, some of which chimes with the recent OFCOM report on News Consumption in the UK which may also be of interest:

  1. Where do you usually get the news from and why?

All my news consumption is from free online sources, whether that be the BBC News app or social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok. Not only are they free, but they also tend to cover popular subjects and are easy to use with content being in video form or short, punchy articles. Additionally, I look to be entertained rather than purely informed which is typical of my generation and which these sites often achieve.

  1. How much news-related content do you consume per week?

I rarely consume day-to-day news unless a particularly interesting headline from BBC News pops up. A growing number of teenagers just aren’t interested in the daily government dramas and frequent royal spats – it’s too much of the same thing we’ve heard before.

However, during “big” news scandals, like the recent implosion of the Titan submersible, I tuned in a lot. News-related content on this was everywhere online and I liked the way platforms turned it into a captivating drama through vivid storylines and the unravelling of the facts. 

  1. Do you listen to podcasts? If so, which ones? 

I rarely listen to podcasts, I’m more a music listener. However, historical podcasts on Greek Mythology interest me as they align with my reading interests. If I were to listen to more podcasts, they would be about escaping the real world, exploring a new passion or curiosity. 

  1. What social media platforms are you on and which do you use most actively?

I use Snapchat, WhatsApp and occasionally Instagram and TikTok due to their addictive, scrolling-for-hours nature. Many my age use Snapchat to meet new people with whole relationships being formed online. So much of a young person’s life is on their phone that it makes sense this is where much of their news is consumed. 

  1. What is your favourite trad media outlet, and why?

I prefer BBC News – the notifications of enticing headlines draw you in, and information is given in short, snappybursts.

  1. Do you trust the media old and new? 

I trust BBC News, as its primary role is to distribute reliable news. I do not, however, trust social media because its role is to keep users on their screens as long as possible and to make as much money as possible. This is achieved largely through their algorithms pushing “clickable” posts that are controversial and usually fake or soaked in opinion. There is also a real danger of misinformation, especially when there is no counterargument or impartial voice of reason.

  1. How do you avoid misinformation?

I use social media less than most of my peers, and I rely on BBC News or Apple News for information. On social media, I remind myself of the importance of stepping back to remember that, despite how it may seem for a lot of young people, the online world isn’t the real world and that truth is to be found in the real one. 

  1. If you wanted to hire a lawyer for an issue (e.g. allegations of sexual harassment, academic misconduct, recruitment discrimination), how would you go about finding one? 

I would research on the internet, look at different options, and ask trusted adults who know more about the subject than me.

  1. Do you think Meta’s Threads will be a success or is it a passing fad?  

For myself and my peers, Threads doesn’t feel important. In my head, the only thing different about it is a different rich man running it!

  1. To what extent has Twitter fallen out of favour with your generation?

I don’t know many people my age who even have Twitter, let alone actively use it. With the heavy stimulation and escapism of short video footage available on TikTok and Instagram, Twitter seems less exciting. In fact, there is almost a stigma around using the app for my generation.

27/07/2023

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Court of Appeal Grants Important Bitcoin Blockchain IP Appeal

The Court of Appeal today granted an appeal brought by Dr Craig Wright, the pseudonymous author of the Bitcoin White Paper, and associated entities (Wright International Investment Ltd and Wright International Investments UK Ltd) over the intellectual property rights in the Bitcoin File Format – i.e., the structure of the Bitcoin Blockchain.  This finding is to be welcomed for its importance to both the digital currency and the wider IT industry.

Lady Justice Asplin, Lord Justice Arnold and Lord Justice Warby today overturned the first instance ruling of Mr Justice Mellor, insofar as he had determined that there was no serious issue to be tried (for both the Defendants in this jurisdiction and outside of the jurisdiction) in respect of the Bitcoin File Format.

Whilst it was accepted for the purposes of the service out application that the Bitcoin File Format satisfied the originality requirements, Mellor J had declined to accept that the Bitcoin File Format was fixed, i.e., it is was not possible for it to be identified with sufficient precision and objectivity and therefore copyright could not subsist in it.

However The Court of Appeal today concurred with the Claimants’ assertion that there is a real prospect of successfully establishing that the Bitcoin File Format is fixed.  The judgment of the Court of Appeal was given by Lord Justice Arnold, with whom the other two Lord Justices agreed.  

As the world relies on data and computer programs stored electronically, the trial will determine whether the format of a file is, in principle, capable of protection by copyright. The IT industry needs certainty regarding how this file format requirement may be met.

Damon Parker, of Harcus Parker said:

“We welcome this significant ruling which enables Dr Wright to advance his claim for copyright in the Bitcoin File Format which potentially affects all future use, and marketing, of Bitcoin and will prove to be a crucial development in intellectual property law.”

Dr Wright said:

“I am pleased with the outcome of this appeal. As many developers do not fully document their entire body of work, this appeal shows that, even without documentation, their work is still considered to be capable of copyright protection”.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

Lady Justice Asplin, Lord Justice Arnold and Lord Justice Warby heard the appeal on Wednesday 12 July 2023.

The case number is CA-2023-000404.  Harcus Parker instructed Michael Hicks of Hogarth Chambers as Counsel for the appeal.

Terence Bergin KC (4 Pump Court), Adam Heppinstall KC (Henderson Chambers), Daniel Goodkin (4 Pump Court) and Jack Castle (Henderson Chambers) are Counsel for the underlying claim (case no. IL-2022-000069).

A copy of the judgment is available on request.

For further information please contact:

Bell Yard Communications:        Melanie Riley / +44 (0)7775 591244 / melanie@bell-yard.com       

Notes to Editors

On 7 February 2023, Mr Justice Mellor granted the Claimants’ permission to serve the claim form on the foreign defendants residing out of the jurisdiction. 

This permission was granted with respect to two of the three limbs of the Claimants’ claim – that of infringement of database rights in the Bitcoin Blockchain and copyright which subsists in the Bitcoin White Paper (that Dr Wright asserts he authored). 

The third limb, that of infringement of copyright in the Bitcoin File Format, was struck out on the basis that there was no serious issue to be tried (for both the Defendants in this jurisdiction and outside of the jurisdiction).

The claim will proceed against the defendants, all 26 of whom are involved in the use of and promotion of the BTC network.

The Claimants assert that the Defendants in this claim have been developing, promoting, funding, trading – and encouraging investors and consumers to trade and invest in – digital cash known as BTC (Bitcoin Core), whilst throughout infringing the Claimants’ intellectual property rights in both the White Paper and the Bitcoin Blockchain on which these digital assets are based.

Dr Wright devised the Bitcoin System and issued the White Paper under the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto” on 31 October 2008.  A number of the Defendants to these proceedings proposed significant changes to the Bitcoin System in 2016, which deviated from the protocols as set out in the Bitcoin White Paper.  On 1 August 2017, the BTC Network was created without the authorisation of the Claimants.

By participating in the operation of the BTC Network, it is the Claimants’ case that the Defendants have infringed the Claimants’ Database right which subsists in the Bitcoin Blockchain and infringed Dr Wright’s copyright which subsists in the Bitcoin White Paper by copying Block 230,009 in the Bitcoin Blockchain whilst making copies of the BTC Blockchain.

According to Dr Wright, the only digital asset that implements the protocols as set out in the Bitcoin White Paper is “Bitcoin Satoshi Vision” (BSV).   

The Claimants seek an injunction restraining the Defendants from continuing to develop and/or participate in the promotion of BTC.  The Claimants also seek a declaration from the Court that database rights subsist in the Bitcoin Blockchain and that copyright subsists in the Bitcoin White Paper and that Dr Wright is the owner of it.  

20/07/2023

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Crisis and Litigation Communicators’ Alliance announces KARV Communications and HilburgAssociates as new partners in the United States and Canada

The Crisis and Litigation Communicators’ Alliance (CLCA) is pleased to announce fresh partnerships that will further strengthen the network’s international footprint.

KARV Communications, based in New York (United States) is a globally recognized strategic communications and advisory firm with a focus on corporate and litigation communications, crisis management and public affairs/issues management. With experience across the globe, KARV helps clients achieve their communications and business goals through its expertise in crafting and honing often complex messages to a variety of stakeholders.

KARV has received recent international recognition for its work, including a Chambers & Partners ranking for both its Litigation Support and Crisis PR & Communications capabilities.

Andrew Frank, founder and CEO of KARV Communications said on joining CLCA:

“As KARV celebrates our tenth year with a reach far outside of our New York home, we welcome the opportunity of CLCA membership. With our growing book of clients often having interests outside of the United States, we are greatly anticipating meaningful and impactful collaboration with other CLCA members across the globe.” 

HilburgAssociates, domiciled in Canada is a pioneer in both crisis leadership and litigation communication/trial services.  Its principal, Alan Hilburg, has been personally involved in more than 100 trials (both criminal and civil) across multiple sectors such as tobacco, chemical, hospitality, transportation, manufacturing, telecommunication, consumer products, pharmaceutical and healthcare.

Since the 1980s Alan and his colleagues have provided a range of services with a focus on trial strategy including co-authoring openings and closings, daily trial services, witness preparation, media relations, executive and employee communication, post trial trust recovery, and even incorporating jury science in the psychological profiling of prospective jury members, which would not be permissible in many jurisdictions outside of the US.  

HilburgAssociates established its crisis leadership credentials in 1983 with its management of the Tylenol crisis, which became the Harvard Business School’s platinum case history on crisis management and human-centered design.

Alan Hilburg, CEO said:

“The CLCA offers the gold standard of communication counseling excellence when company or executive brands are under threat. We’re honored to be part of such an important global resource.” 

The CLCA Chairman, Martin Jenewein adds:

“Our Alliance once again demonstrates its best-in-class position as a network for litigation communicators offering clients litigation support services, each of whom are at the forefront of rapidly developing markets in their individual jurisdictions. The recognition our members receive internationally and in their home markets, through legal industry rankings, is proof positive of their capabilities.

“We are particularly honoured to have attracted both a pioneer in trial management and strategic communications such as Alan Hilburg as well as an award-winning specialist agency such as KARV to join our network. We look forward to working with them to build ever stronger alliances across our member firms and sharing best practice for the benefit of the network and all our clients.”

Issued on behalf of CLC-Alliance by:

Bell Yard Communications          +44 (0)20 7936 2021     BellYard@bell-yard.com

Melanie Riley                                 +44 (0)7775 591244      Melanie@bell-yard.com

Louise Beeson                                +44 (0)7768 956997      Louise@bell-yard.com

Notes to Editors

About CLCA 

The Crisis and Litigation Communicators ́Alliance (CLCA) is a global network of owner-managed PR consulting firms who are each leaders in the areas of Crisis Management and Strategic Legal communications in their respective markets. Clients can benefit from the collaboration of members on cross-border matters and the CLCA’s specialist expertise in international disputes (especially competition law and cartel cases, cross-border litigation, class actions, regulatory enforcement cases, fraud and employment related disputes).

Our constituent firms can be found here. For membership enquiries in jurisdictions not already covered, please contact chairperson@CLC-Alliance.org.

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Lessons for #MeToo trials by media

The flurry of #MeToo-related allegations that recently have rocked high-profile individuals and business organisations shows the fuse of non-financial misconduct still burns fiercely post-Weinstein. Reputational impact reaches far and wide in the face of an investigative journalist’s pursuit of targets to name, and publicly shame, after an allegation has been made.

For the individual involved, if arrested and charged, there’s not just a trial under the public spotlight to endure, but the many months of professional paralysis beforehand, let alone acute pressures on their private life and endless sleepless nights taking their toll. Yet, as nightmarish as legal proceedings are, they at least have a clear endpoint. There is a court process and, importantly, one starting with the presumption of innocence. There’s a forensic examination of evidence, a verdict and potentially a sentence. Society puts faith in the expertise, checks and balances involved in establishing the truth. Sometimes the court gets it wrong – but it’s the most reliable system we have in this country of exposing fact and reaching a just determination.

If convicted, you pay your dues and subsequent rehabilitation is possible.

In contrast, paradoxically, should the allegations appear insufficient to warrant a criminal charge, the accused arguably faces a worse reputational position from which to defend themselves.

Investigations by Tortoise Media, The Guardian, FT and others, while no doubt painstaking, cannot possibly replicate the analysis and impartiality of a court case. The drip feed of innuendo, untested assertions, anonymous briefings and breaking of NDAs to reveal a person’s ‘truth’ is nigh on impossible to counter, let alone defeat, in the height of the media maelstrom. Coupled with a knee-jerk reaction by employers suddenly under intense scrutiny, a full pile-on can be triggered, with investors and intermediaries swiftly seeking to distance themselves from any perceived scandal.

Of course objectionable behaviour should always be called out. However, not all stories are quite as clear cut as first painted. #MeToo trials by media involve journalists acting as judge and jury, with nuance and mitigation too often left by the wayside. Few complainants actively seek public vilification of the perpetrator – an honest apology, cessation of the unwanted conduct coupled with improved, robust processes for prevention in the workplace can represent the necessary and appropriate resolution.

For those caught in the cross-hairs of a media pursuit, the prudent course is to let calm heads prevail and avoid the temptation to rush to act on every emerging new detail. Gather together a small but experienced team, share the facts, listen to advice, determine a strategy, consider the professional and personal ramifications, stick to a consistent narrative and allow others to go into bat on their behalf at the appropriate time. 

This may not immediately stem the tide of suspicion while the storm rages, but will likely prove sustainable, allowing for a more balanced and fair appraisal of the facts as they emerge over time.

By Melanie Riley

15th June 2023

This article previously appeared in PR Week

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Bell Yard Recognised by Chambers in Litigation Support Guide

Bell Yard Communications is proud to once again be recognised by Chambers and Partners in this year’s Litigation Support Guide.

Our founder and director, Melanie Riley, continues to be listed in Band 1 of the individual rankings, as she has been since the guide’s inception in 2018.

This accolade is a welcomed recognition of the quality of service given to our clients that puts Bell Yard amongst the leading litigation support specialists in the UK and the world, coupled with our recognition in the US’ Lawdragon awards once again this year.

Bell Yard has achieved 20 years of interesting instructions and wishes to extend a huge thanks to all our colleagues, clients and contacts alike for this commendation. Here’s to the next 20!

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Bell Yard Helps Kingsley Napley Scoop Gold in Best PR Category

We are delighted to have helped Kingsley Napley scoop Gold in the Best PR category of the CityWealth Brand & Reputation Awards 2023.

Our client was recognised not only above other law firms but also wealth managers and accounting firms for their impressive press profile and use of the media to support their BD & Marketing effort.

The firm is a deserved winner given the commitment throughout the firm, top down and across all practice areas, to talking to journalists, writing expert articles and commenting on newsworthy topics, cases and developments. In the last eighteen months they have also got great exposure in target sector based publications by commenting on ONS statistics to build expert profile in the regulatory space.

Kingsley Napley acknowledged Bell Yard’s decade-long contribution to this success in their Linked In Post here.

Congratulations to everyone not only at Kingsley Napley but also to our very own Louise Beeson for this well-deserved award – a truly collaborative effort of which we are very proud. 

Thank you Kingsley Napley for continuing to value our services, and long may the awards flow!

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Legal PR: Building a Positive Reputation

Since the Law Society of England and Wales first allowed lawyers to advertise in 1986, the UK legal sector has grown to become the largest legal services market in Europe, valued at £41bn in 2021, second only to the US globally. As competition intensifies, law firms need to catch the eye of clients and stand out from the crowd, making effective PR and communications more critical than ever.

This begs the question; how can a law firm establish itself a positive reputation? Here are a few tips:

1. Be realistic: Ask yourself key questions from the outset – “By whom do we want to be known?”, “For what do we wish to be respected”, and “Who do we have that can best deliver our message(s) to our preferred audience(s)?”

2. Be clear and concise: Use audience-appropriate and unambiguous language that is comprehensible to the intended recipient. If speaking to the general public, avoid legal jargon or technical terms that may confuse or intimidate readers of non-specialist publications. If speaking to peers in the profession, legal detail and nuance may not only be appropriate but a requirement. 

3. Be professional: Consider your tone and avoid derogatory or inflammatory language (no matter whether using personal or work accounts as the two are increasingly considered indistinguishable). Always maintain a respectful demeanour irrespective of provocation and especially, when addressing controversial topics during interviews (whether on or off-record). It’s best to believe there’s no such thing as off-record these days, given the combined effects of pressure for scoops; the ease in which those with ‘off-message’ views can be cancelled and the omnipresence of self-style ‘citizen journalists’ armed with only a mobile but who can do their worst for clicks. One unfortunate slip-up can result in career-threatening consequences.

4. Be accurate: Ensure that all statements made to the media are accurate and verifiable. Avoid making unfounded claims or exaggerating the facts as this could come back to haunt you.

5. Be transparent: Where it is feasible to do so, be open about your law firm’s activities, goals, and values. Avoid misleading or unnecessarily withholding information from the media as this could lead to a breakdown in your relationship with the journalist/outlet should the full facts become known. In a PR prep call before an interview Learn to politely side-step an unwanted inquiry where appropriate – but, as a guiding light, consider authenticity as the best policy.

6. Be strategic: A strategy for building your reputation is important and it starts with knowing your audience and how to reach them.  Thereafter it’s about being efficient, responsive and giving good counsel. A great example of a solicitor who has successfully utilized social media to build a unique brand is Akhmed Yakoob, the director of Maurice Andrews Solicitors in Birmingham. With his engaging personality and savvy use of social media, Yakoob has amassed an impressive following of 100,000 on TikTok. His distinct public persona, which includes driving a bright yellow Lamborghini and signing off his videos with the catchphrase, “So always remember: there is a defence for every offence,” has been effective in capturing the attention of his preferred audiences and conveying his own message. While Yakoob’s specific tactics are not for everyone, there’s an art to developing a specialist brand that speaks to your firm’s chosen goals and values. The strategic purpose is to differentiate yourself from the competition and attract both clients and talent.

7. Be agile: Be responsive to media inquiries and requests for information. Promptly address any inaccuracies or misunderstandings that may arise in the press to nip them in the bud and avoid a crisis unfolding. Understanding the prevailing media zeitgeist and proactively engaging through your own lens and experience, shows fleet of foot and encourages media to seek your counsel when the next opportunity arises.  Repetition of the brand name in the public sphere helps with recognition and appreciation.

8. Position yourself as a thought leader: Demonstrate your expertise and knowledge through writing articles and speaking at industry events, to establish yourself (and by extension, your firm) as a credible and authoritative voice in your area of law.  Applying yourself in this way, helps garner your reputation as an ‘expert’ in an area for which the firm wishes to be known.  After all, people often google-search their prospective lawyer to get an understanding of their expertise prior to making the decision to instruct. And this media presence helps with directory listings too, which is never bad for an individual’s career prospects and benefits the firm more broadly too.

The media establishes a law firm’s reputation: positive coverage enhances images and increasing visibility, while negative coverage can erode public trust. 

A law firm can only build and then maintain a positive reputation in the public eye by putting in the hard yards.  But the benefits are self-evident: as it attracts clients and talent while setting itself apart in a highly competitive industry.

By Declan Flahive

15/05/2023

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English High Court Takes Reins in Unprecedented Bitcoin Database Rights Claim

Dr Craig Wright, together with two of his associated companies, Wright International Investments Limited (WII) and Wright International Investments UK Limited (WIIUK), have filed and served a claim for infringement of database rights and copyright in the Bitcoin White Paper against all 26 individuals and entities involved in the promotion, development and use of Bitcoin Core (BTC).  

The Claimants assert that the Defendants in this claim have been developing, promoting, funding, trading – and encouraging investors and consumers to trade and invest in – digital cash known as BTC (Bitcoin Core), whilst throughout infringing the Claimants’ intellectual property rights in both the White Paper and the Bitcoin Blockchain on which these digital assets are based.

Dr Wright devised the Bitcoin System and issued the White Paper under the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto” on 31 October 2008.  A number of the Defendants to these proceedings proposed significant changes to the Bitcoin System in 2016, which deviated from the protocols as set out in the Bitcoin White Paper.  On 1 August 2017, the BTC Network was created without the authorisation of the Claimants.

By participating in the operation of the BTC Network, it is the Claimants’ case that the Defendants have infringed the Claimants’ Database right which subsists in the Bitcoin Blockchain and infringed Dr Wright’s copyright which subsists in the Bitcoin White Paper by copying Block 230,009 in the Bitcoin Blockchain whilst making copies of the BTC Blockchain. 

According to Dr Wright, the only digital asset that implements the protocols as set out in the Bitcoin White Paper is “Bitcoin Satoshi Vision” (BSV).   

The Claimants seek an injunction restraining the Defendants from continuing to develop and/or participate in the promotion of BTC.  The Claimants also seek a declaration from the Court that database rights subsist in the Bitcoin Blockchain and that copyright subsists in the Bitcoin White Paper and that Dr Wright is the owner of it.  

Damon Parker of Harcus Parker, leading this claim on behalf of the Claimants, said:

“At its heart, this litigation is straightforward, in so far as it represents a claim for breach of database rights and copyright in the White Paper.   

“My clients simply assert their rights to the intellectual property underpinning Bitcoin.  For the digital asset market to gain widespread credibility, users need confidence in a sustainable digital currency underpinned by enforceable laws and regulation. This claim, in parallel with other claims brought by my clients, may prove a step in the right direction.” 

ENDS 

Issued on behalf of HARCUS PARKER by: 

Bell Yard Communications       BellYard@bell-yard.com            +44 (0) 20 7936 2021

Louise Beeson                         Louise@bell-yard.com               + 44 (0) 7768 956997

NOTES TO EDITORS

Dr Wright, WII and WIIUK are advised by Harcus Parker PartnerDamon Parker, alongside AssociatesOlivier Altmeyer and Brad Pistorius.

If successful, the claim is likely to be worth several hundred billions of pounds when an inquiry into the full account of profits is undertaken by expert witnesses to the Court.

At a hearing on 3 February 2023, permission was granted by Mr Justice Mellor for the Claimants to serve the Defendants out of this jurisdiction, concurring there is an arguable case for the database claim.  Defendants are known to be based in USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, The Netherlands, Switzerland and the UK.  The Claimants are seeking permission to appeal a judgment of Mr Justice Mellor in which he declined to allow a claim in relation to copyright in the Bitcoin file format to proceed.  

Bitcoin (BSV) is the fastest, most scalable environmentally-efficient and regulation-friendly public ledger that exists whilst remaining fixed to Dr Wright’s original protocol.  Dr Wright is concerned to ensure that no other digital asset improperly advances itself on the basis of unauthorised use of his substantial intellectual creativity, skill and labour over decades.

Dr Wright was involuntarily outed as Satoshi Nakamoto by Wired magazine in December 2015. Since then, he has faced unprecedented levels of harassment and disparagement by those who have a vested interest in supporting BTC and BCH.

In response to this persistent and pervasive abuse both online and in print, Dr Wright has sought to uphold his and his associated entities’ rights to protect their intellectual property in the Bitcoin eco-system, as well as his reputation as the creator of Bitcoin.  

As a result, there is a series of pending legal claims issued by lawyers across jurisdictions on behalf of Dr Wright and his associated entities which include:  

  • Tulip Trading Ltd, a trust beneficially owned by Dr Wright has been granted permission by the English Court of Appeal to bring an action against developers of the BTC network to restore the Trust’s access to Bitcoin stored in an encrypted private wallet that was stolen in a hack on Dr Wright’s computers in 2019.
  • Dr Wright and companies owned by him last year issued passing off claims in the High Court against exchanges Kraken and Coinbase.
  • Dr Wright is bringing a defence to the Crypto Open Patent Alliance’s (COPA) challenge to his authorship of the White Paper, which will be heard in the High Court in early 2024.
  • In May 2023, the High Court in London will hear Dr Wright’s defamation claim against digital currency enthusiast, Mr Magnus Granath, in England.  
  • In September 2023, the Court of Appeal in Oslo will hear Dr Wright’s appeal of the November 2022 judgment that determined Mr Granath’s campaign of disparagement of Dr Wright through social media was not defamatory under Norwegian law. 
  • In 2022 the London High Court found that podcaster Peter McCormack had defamed Dr Wright – the costs awarded are currently being appealed.
  • In 2021 Dr Wright, successfully brought a copyright claim against the anonymous digital currency enthusiast operating under the pseudonym “Cøbra”. Enforcement of this judgment is ongoing, with the court recently concurring with Dr Wright that no individual can take part in proceedings for detailed assessment of costs whilst declining to inform the court of their identity.

In addition, in December 2021 Dr Wright successfully defended a claim brought in Florida, USA, by Ira Kleiman, brother of Wright’s late friend Dave Kleiman, who predicated the claim on the fact that Dr Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto, but that Wright created Bitcoin with the help of Dave Kleiman.  The jury rejected that allegation.

London, 14 March 2023

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NFT Handbags at Dawn

The latest battle of the handbag, aka the high-stakes lawsuit brought by French luxury design house Hermès in the US against the artist Mason Rothschild over his ‘MetaBirkin’ NFT collection was hardly going to go unnoticed. Not only did the subject matter offer great headline and photo opportunities for business, tech, crypto, art, fashion and legal news outlets alike, but there were important principles at stake for the burgeoning world of NFTs and luxury brands. 

Some say Hermès took a risk filing such a dispute to be heard before a jury and taking on the so-called artistic community. However, its success in protecting its brand was a legal and reputational triumph setting a precedent for other brands and NFT creators in the relationship between digital art, NFTs and the physical fashion it purports to replicate. 

The Birkin handbag

Hermès was established in 1837 and, inter alia, they are known for designing and producing the iconic and highly sought after Birkin handbag. The Birkin handbag has been synonymous with high fashion, exclusivity and wealth since it burst onto the cultural scene in 1984 with its value being seen through the two-year-long waiting list and the hundreds of thousands of pounds each one can fetch at auction. Unsurprisingly, Hermès owns trademark rights for the “Hermès” and “Birkin” marks as well as trade dress rights in the design of the handbag.

‘MetaBirkin’

The artist Rothschild, whose real name is Sonny Estival, began selling ‘MetaBirkin’ NFTs in 2021 that portrayed the highly coveted Birkin handbag adorned with various eccentric items like fur, tusks and even a Santa hat, rather than the typical leather of the genuine Hermès handbag. He intended this as a comment “on the animal cruelty inherent in Hermès’ manufacture of its ultra-expensive leather handbags”. The NFT collection proved a hit with fans shown through the range reportedly making over $1 million for Rothschild through online sales. 

See you in court

Hermès filed a lawsuit in January 2022, arguing that consumers only purchased Rothschild’s NFTs because the Birkin name wrongly led them to think the product was endorsed by Hermès.

In response, Rothschild argued that his ‘MetaBirkin’ NFT project was an “artistic experiment” that commented on society’s adoration of luxury goods and its displays of wealth. He adopted a fair use defence in line with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, referring to the example of Andy Warhol’s depictions of Campbell’s soup cans. 

Furthermore, Rothschild relied on the ‘Rogers’ legal test from the landmark Rogers v. Grimaldi case from 1989 that allows trademarks to be used without permission being granted so long as a) the title of the work has some artistic relevance to the underlying work and b) that the title is not explicitly misleading as to the source of the content of the work. However, Hermès claimed that these NFTs were not only created purely for financial gain and not protected under free speech as an artistic expression but they also diluted the Birkin name and violated Hermès’ trademarks. Hermès further argued the ‘MetaBirkin’ experiment had damaged its future prospects in the NFT world where other luxury brands are already active. 

Hermès wins

On February 8, the jury in the Southern District of New York reached its finding that Rothschild’s unauthorised versions of the Birkin handbag constituted trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and cybersquatting, since Rothschild used the ‘MetaBirkins.com’ domain name that was deemed confusingly similar to that of the luxury fashion house. Hermès was awarded US $133,000 in damages.

Interestingly, the jury also found that Rothschild’s unauthorised use of the Birkin handbag as an NFT was not a protected form of speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as it was explicitly misleading to consumers. The jury found that the ‘MetaBirkin’ was more akin to consumer goods, which are subject to trademark regulations, than free speech-protected works of art, and that Rothschild did this to profit from Hermès’ goodwill.

NFT legal precedent

Whilst Hermes can now claim that it fiercely defends its brand from replicas in both the real and virtual worlds, this lawsuit also has implications for the wider world of NFTs. The ruling has been reported as a blow to creators looking to use online space to sell replications of established brand products for financial gain, representing a win for IP protection for luxury brands in general. One headline even went so far as to report that the judgment meant NFTs are not art.

Clearly, there will be further cases in this new frontier where technology and art – and the legal principles to be applied – collide. Meantime, this case offers various other lessons and consideration points.  Commentary in established media was, unsurprisingly, more pro-Hermès than the spectrum of debate on social media, where the David v Goliath battle was sometimes viewed more sceptically. It highlights not only the threat to big brands but also the potential for a new realm of customers that this new technology can bring.

Crypto Experience

By Declan Flahive

22/02/2023

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Crypto Experience

Bell Yard advises ONTIER, the firm whose client, Dr Wright, authored the Bitcoin White Paper, under the pseudonym, Satoshi Nakamoto, creating the blueprint for a new digital asset over 15 years ago.

Having been ‘doxxed’ as Satoshi in 2015, he faced relentless online hostility from individuals and entities with a vested interest in alternative digital coins. Dr Wright soon determined to prove his identity through the courts, establishing and enforcing his copyright in the White Paper and numerous patents relating to the blockchain.

Bell Yard’s role has been to promote ONTIER’s incremental successes in the English legal cases being brought and/or challenged by the firm on Dr Wright’s behalf, so as to marginalise the online abusers and to achieve public recognition, through court judgments, that Dr Wright is indeed who he says he is.

We work in close conjunction with Dr Wright’s personal PR team, while remaining dedicated to our task of promoting the litigation outcomes. 

We are currently advising on the communication around a ground-breaking action against 16 bitcoin developers to establish their duty to restore access to stolen/lost private keys to those who can demonstrate, to the satisfaction of a court, their ownership of the wallet in which digital currency is stored.   We also support ONTIER in the various copyright infringement cases ongoing, as well as defamation actions in UK and Norway.  Running in parallel is a huge case (brought by ONTIER on behalf of an entity beneficially owned by Dr Wright), against digital currency exchanges Kraken and Coindesk, valued in the hundreds of billions of pounds.

Summary

Not only are these various litigations complex, involving multi-parties across multiple jurisdictions, they are also at the cutting edge of digital currency development, with Bitcoin gaining increasing traction towards mainstream acceptance.  There can be few litigation PR instructions of such novelty and magnitude and we remain fortunate to be advising such a creative and brilliantly innovative legal team and end client.

Bell Yard’s contact details can be found here.

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‘Sportswashing’: You Pays Your Money and You Takes Your Choice

The greatest and most popular football league in the world (arguably) turns 30 this week. In the space of a few decades, the English Premier League has blossomed into a global marketing powerhouse with all the theatrics and drama any sports spectator could dream of – from transfer deadline day to emotional local derby duels. But along with its success story, there exists a growing threat to its reputation. The Premiership is susceptible to accusations of a practice known as ‘sportswashing’ whereby club ownership is said to be used to clean up a tainted public image. 

The Premier League kick-started the celebrity era of football with the likes of David Beckham. When the dainty-voiced, floppy-fringed fella scored from the halfway line against Wimbledon for Manchester United in 1996, he lit the fuse for an explosion of his fame and the 21-year-old soon became a global superstar. His relationship with “Posh Spice” only served to augment his popularity credentials. 

This interweaving of football with mainstream culture has grown with icons such as Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, whose personal lives have increasingly taken centre stage.  Around-the-clock TV coverage and the emergence of the internet and social media has increased demand for every little morsel of the private lives of these very rich and famous athletes. Noticeably, this interest is no longer confined to the players. 

Since Abramovich took over Chelsea FC in the early noughties and in a similar vein the owners of Manchester City, Sheikh Mansour, and Newcastle United, Saudi Arabian-led Public Investor Fund (PIF), each have been accused of using the English game to not only advance their own net worth through marketing opportunities but also to enhance their public images. 

Football’s ability to cement a relationship between owners and fans is surprisingly powerful. When Roman Abramovich’s assets were seized and he was reported to have been chased out of the country for his alleged connections to Vladimir Putin following the unlawful Russian invasion of Ukraine, not all of the supporters of his club Chelsea F.C. were so keen to push him out of the door – due to the success his resources had enabled. Fans continued to chant the now former owner’s name in the stands well after the war had unfolded. It’s fascinating how a game of sport can warm the hearts of those unlikely to hold similar sentiments for others on the Russian sanctions list.

Buying a football club can be seen as a chance to revolutionise not just your own public image, but even that of your country. After purchasing the blue side of Manchester, Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi has enabled City to accumulate title after title. The investment from the oil-rich Sheikh is undoubtedly part of a wider plan to present the Abu Dhabi state in a positive light in the West.  In fact, since 2014, the ruling family has invested outside the club’s doors and tapped into the wider Mancunian area through the Manchester Life project. A joint partnership between the Abu Dhabi United Group and Manchester City Council, it has a £1 billion goal to transform 200 acres surrounding the Etihad Stadium from a derelict wasteland into a hub of modern real estate. 

Other resultant developments include the regeneration of an 80-acre brownfield site into the City’s state-of-the-art training facility. The club has also donated 5.5 acres of land and at least £12 million towards Beswick Leisure Centre, the sixth form Connell college and the Manchester Institute of Health and Performance. Furthermore, the club’s ‘City in the Community’ programme has invested thousands of hours of work into noble causes such as disability football teams and mental health support for the younger generation. 

Whilst cynics might question the motives of these actions, the benefits to the recipients are undeniable. The Emirati State’s human rights record is well-documented but its largesse in Manchester seemingly allows many to turn a blind eye. 

Wider public disapproval (ie from those not directly benefitting) of alleged ‘sportswashing’ seems to provide little of an actual roadblock to investment. Newcastle United is the latest high-profile English Premier League club to be bought out by an overseas investor with a controversial history. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund invested in the takeover at St. James’ Park on October 7th 2021 costing a reported £415 million. 

At the time, Amnesty International was very critical of the move with its UK’s chief executive officer Sacha Deshmukh saying: “The Saudi buy-out of Newcastle exposed the glaring inadequacies of English football’s ownership rules – with no bar for those complicit in acts of torture, slavery, human trafficking or even war crimes – yet it hasn’t led to the change we urgently need to see.” 

Deshmukh continued: “When Saudi Arabia swooped in and bought Newcastle, it was one of the most glaring examples of modern sportswashing the world has ever seen. “With Mohammed bin Salman now effectively Newcastle’s owner, the Saudi state will see the club as another means to try to shape Saudi Arabia’s international image and distract from the country’s appalling human rights record.

“The Saudi authorities clearly see Newcastle as a long-term sportswashing project, but for now we’re seeing Eddie Howe and sections of the fanbase dodging questions about Saudi human rights abuses – neither of which is healthy for football.” 

One wonders whether those responsible for English club ownership rules will decide to introduce more strident checks and balances to prevent such future allegations of ‘sportswashing’ being levelled.  Or perhaps, to better protect ‘the beautiful game’, the introduction of majority fan-ownership such as that deployed in Germany will instead take root as the preferred future investment model. 

Conclusion:

The expansion of the Premier League in the most popular sport on the planet suggests it will only continue to attract those looking for a public relations revamp. The question is whether the sport chooses domestic social benefits over its international ESG responsibilities. 

While more stringent regulation could be implemented to prevent allegations of ‘sportswashing’, revelations of FIFA corruption show that a root-and-branch clean-up of football management is unlikely. Women’s tennis is one major international sport that has begun to put the defence of human rights before play. Unfortunately in football, just as we’re now seeing in golf, money still rules.

18th August 2022

Declan Flahive

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Tulip Trading given leave to appeal Bitcoin recovery jurisdiction judgement

Rt. Hon. Lady Justice Andrews DBE has granted permission for ONTIER LLP client, Tulip Trading Ltd, to appeal the judgment handed down by Mrs Justice Falk of 25 March 2022 denying jurisdiction over a claim for breach of fiduciary and tortious duties. Tulip Trading Ltd, a Seychelles registered company, whose primary beneficial owner is Dr Craig Wright, is seeking to bring proceedings in the English High Court against 16 bitcoin developer defendants, 13 of whom had challenged jurisdiction leading to Mrs Justice Falk’s judgment upholding their challenge.

However Lady Justice Andrews in granting the appeal recognised the importance of the issues in the claim, saying:

“The issue as to whether Developers owe duties of care and/or fiduciary duties to the owners of digital assets and if so, what is the nature and scope of those duties is one of considerable importance and is rightly characterised as a matter of some complexity and difficulty.  Given that in addition to its complexity and difficulty the underlying facts will play a significant role in determining that issue, it is arguable with a real prospect of success that it is not susceptible of summary determination in the context of a challenge to the jurisdiction, and therefore that the Judge fell into error in deciding that there was not even a serious issue to be tried and in the approach she adopted.”

Oliver Cain, Partner at ONTIER LLP comments:

“We are grateful that Lady Justice Andrews recognised the wider importance of establishing in law the responsibilities of developers of digital assets to end users. The complex and fact-heavy considerations, that characterise developers’ duties to those who have lost access to their Bitcoin, deserve to be explored and determined at full trial and not to be dismissed through a jurisdiction challenge.

“Individual owners of digital currencies will be grateful that leave to appeal has been granted as the outcome will set the precedent for others to follow, should they lose access to their private wallets.  We look forward to successfully presenting our case in full in due course.” 

ONTIER (on behalf of Tulip Trading Ltd) seeks to recover £3+ billion worth of Bitcoin 

Claim has significant implications for other users and the way Bitcoin operates

The defendants in this unprecedented action are the developers of BTC, BCH, BCH and ABC residing in various jurisdictions across the world including: Netherlands, Switzerland, Kitts and Nevis, France, Japan, numerous different states in the USA, New Zealand and Australia.

ONTIER was originally granted permission to serve all the developers out of the jurisdiction by the Business and Property Courts of the High Court in London, following a 173 page application submission detailing the claim.

Following the jurisdiction hearing, the Bitcoin Association, developers of BSV, has entered into a settlement agreement with Tulip Trading Ltd.

ENDS

In the Court of Appeal: Lady Justice Andrews DBE.

Legal Advisors:   Dr Wright was represented by Derek StinsonOliver CainFelicity Potter and Nicolas Dawson of ONTIER LLP.

For further information please contact:

Bell Yard Communications                        +44 (0)20 7936 2021  BellYard@bell-yard.com

Melanie Riley                                            +44 (0)7775 591244   melanie@bell-yard.com

Notes to Editors:

Dr Wright is the inventor of Bitcoin who set out his vision for the digital currency in his famous White Paper under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. 

The litigation seeks to examine, for the first time, the nature and extent of legal duties conferred upon and owed by developers resulting from the control they exercise over their respective blockchains.

As detailed in the Particulars of Claim, TTL requested that the individual developers enable TTL to regain access to and control of its Bitcoin on the grounds that they, the developers, owe Bitcoin owners both tortious and fiduciary duties under English law as a result of the high level of power and control they hold over their respective blockchains.

In February 2020, Dr Wright’s personal computer was hacked by persons unknown and encrypted private keys to two addresses, which hold substantial quantities of Bitcoin belonging to TTL, were stolen. These assets were, and continue to be, owned by TTL. 

Other litigation involving Dr Craig Wright

There is a series of successful or pending legal claims issued by lawyers across jurisdictions on behalf of Dr Wright and his associated entities, to uphold his right to protect his lawfully-held digital assets, his reputation as the creator of Bitcoin and his associated intellectual property:

·         Earlier this year, Dr Wright’s UK lawyers, ONTIER LLP, on behalf of Dr Wright defeated a strike-out attempt by Magnus Granath, following Dr Wright’s English defamation proceedings against Granath.  This trial will heard by the High Court in late 2023. 

·         On 12 September 2022, the District Court of Oslo will hear Granath’s application for a Negative Declaration to determine that his campaign of disparagement of Dr Wright through social media is not defamatory. This is challenged by Dr Wright, who will give evidence in person in Norway during this trial.

·         Earlier this month, influential digital currency podcaster, Peter McCormack, was found by the English High Court to have defamed Dr Wright in 14 tweets and 1 YouTube video, in which McCormack decried Dr Wright’s assertion that he invented Bitcoin.  This judicial ruling came not long after McCormack withdrew his reliance on a defence of truth to his publications.  Aspects of this judgment are under consideration by Dr Wright and his lawyers with a view to launching an appeal.

·         In 2021 Dr Wright successfully brought a copyright claim against the anonymous digital currency enthusiast operating under the pseudonym “Cøbra”. Enforcement of this judgment is ongoing.

·         ONTIER LLP and Harcus Parker LLP are advising companies owned by Dr Wright in their passing off claims against exchanges Kraken and Coinbase, filed in the High Court earlier this month.

·         Dr Wright is also advised by ONTIER on his defence and counter-claim to the Crypto Open Patent Alliance’s (COPA) challenge to Dr Wright’s authorship of the White Paper, which also will likely be heard in 2024.

·         In December 2021 Dr Wright successfully defended a claim brought in US by Ira Kleiman, brother of Wright’s late friend Dave Kleiman, who predicated the claim on the fact that Dr Wright is Nakamoto, but that Wright created Bitcoin with the help of Dave Kleiman.  The jury rejected that allegation.

About ONTIER

ONTIER has an established and growing practice for recovering stolen and hacked Bitcoin. Its partners, Oliver CainDerek StinsonFelicity Potter and Nicholas Dawson (Associate), are advising TTL and instructed John Wardell QCBobby Friedman and Sri Carmichael of Wilberforce Chambers as Counsel on this matter.

This litigation is the latest in a series of legal claims issued by ONTIER LLP on behalf of Dr Wright and his associated entities to uphold his right to protect not only his lawfully-held digital assets, but also his reputation as the creator of Bitcoin and his associated intellectual property.

The firm is well known for its high-profile Bitcoin related litigation and has a highly regarded dispute resolution team. Its work is almost exclusively international and multi-jurisdictional in nature, focused on complex, high value international litigation, insolvency matters and arbitration in a wide range of financial and industry sectors. 

The firm acted in successful English High Court proceedings against Reliantco Investments Ltd, a digital asset and securities exchange, which blocked and seized a substantial amount from a client’s trading account. ONTIER LLP was able to recover the client’s full investment, its unrealised gains and loss of profit (that the client would have earned from intended investments had its funds not been unlawfully withheld).

ONTIER is recognised in the UK Legal 500 for commercial litigation, international arbitration and civil fraud.

The firm has offices in 18 cities in 13 countries, giving a truly international capability. 

London, 12 August 2022

https://uk.ontier.net/

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NFTs: Ukraine, Beeple & The Law

Whether you own or trade in them or think they’re little more than a speculative bubble, you can’t deny that NFTs – or Non-Fungible Tokens – have entered the public consciousness in recent times.


What are NFTs?

Firstly, what even are these strange digital tokens that have been causing such a wave of interest across popular culture? 

Non-fungible tokens are essentially unique and irreplaceable digital tokens containing valuable information stored on a blockchain – essentially a database of transaction records – with the Ethereum blockchain being the most popular. Think of them as a digital asset that represents real-world objects like music, digital trading cards, in-game items, and videos – but the real craze has been for NFTs in the digital art format which has taken the art world by storm. 

Art World

The prevalence of NFTs can perhaps be attributed to the continued endorsements of high-profile names, mainstream media coverage, and social media hype which boosts a market whose products arguably have no actual intrinsic value. However, the seismic shift this new art form is causing can be clearly seen through nearly $41 billion being spent on NFTs by the end of 2021 – making the market nearly as valuable as the global art market. One of the most well-known NFT artists is Mike “Beeple” Winkelmann, whose NFT “Everydays: the First 5000 Days” sold for an astounding $69 million at Christie’s in March 2021.  According to Christie’s, the sale put “Beeple” “among the top three most valuable living artists,” behind only David Hockney and Jeff Koons.

Popular Culture

Celebrity endorsements for NFTs and such collections as “The Bored Ape Yacht Club” has been a significant catalyst in the explosion in popularity of NFTs. “The Bored Ape Yacht Club” is one of many exclusive NFT digital art collections, with only 10,000 Bored Apes NFTs in existence. Access to an exclusive club known as “the swamp club” is also granted to each owner of one of the rare ape-themed NFTs. Owning NFTs from an exclusive collection usually grants access to prestigious real-world events or Discord group chats with the world’s elite, thus increasing their value beyond mere aesthetic appeal.

Many influential people display their allegiance to their NFT community by changing their social media profile picture to a cartoonish picture of their colourful animated ape NFT, for example. Such celebrity endorsements range from billionaire Elon Musk, Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey, and footballer Lionel Messi to artist Damien Hurst, online personality KSI, and former One Direction singer Liam Payne, to name a few.

Companies are also jumping on the trend, with Spotify recently announcing plans to add blockchain technology and non-fungible tokens to its streaming service, a move that many are optimistic will help to boost artists’ earnings. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit are also some of the latest social media heavyweights to announce plans to enable the trading and displaying of NFTs on their platforms. Snoop Dogg has also emerged as a prominent player in the market, selling more than $44 million worth of NFTs over the course of five days in support of his new album, sending shockwaves across the music industry in the process. For context, the album would have needed to amass 7.3 billion streams to earn him that same amount of alleged revenue. 

Concerns & The Law

NFTs have, however, prompted security concerns that need to be addressed if they are to convert the doubters. These issues include such scenarios as if the platform an NFT is built on goes out of business the NFT might not be accessible and thereby lose all value. Also worth noting is the rise in NFT fraud with one of the simplest forms of fraud coming in the form of people selling NFTs from artworks that they do not own the right to use. Litigation PR skills could be needed to convince a sometimes sceptical mainstream media that the theft of NFTs by unanimous individuals acting online is as damaging as the misappropriation of real-world assets. To ensure such online characters are held accountable for their actions there will also need to be an adaption of the law for a new third category of legal “things” to exist – a tertium quid – to sit alongside those of ‘chose in possession’ and ‘chose in action’.

The NFT market has also been unsteady in recent times with a significant slowdown in the market seen through the number of accounts buying and selling NFTs falling from 380,000 at its peak in November 2021 to 194,000 currently, along with a startling drop of 48 percent in the average selling price in the same period, according to NonFungible – the world’s largest NFT data resource. This also correlates with the cryptocurrency market which widely peaked in November 2021, such as the Ether cryptocurrency which uses the Ethereum blockchain upon which many NFTs are positioned, issuing a stark reminder of the digital assets market volatility.

Ukraine

The war in Ukraine has seen a significant flow of cryptocurrency and NFT donations coming into the country to help fund its war efforts against the invading Russian forces. The Ukrainian government is even releasing an NFT collection to add to this unconventional fundraising vessel, with each token carrying a piece of art representing a story from a trusted news source documenting the war. This opening of the door for media-related NFTs could mean that in the future we may well see a collection of NFTs released by broadcasters on our own shores. NFT collections of archive footage from the two World Wars and later conflicts to fundraise for Remembrance Sunday, or famous newspaper front pages from the past could be just a few of the copious digital products on the horizon. If it makes money it makes sense. Rather than just reporting on the subject from the outside looking in, the media world would be interwoven with it. You would reasonably assume that this would cause a greater sense of seriousness and urgency to develop around the reporting of the subject, particularly around allegations of fraud.

Final Note

Do NFTs represent the future of the internet as it edges towards its new phase of the “Web3” and the metaverse which will transform a myriad of industries, or are they just a huge digital pyramid scheme that is yet to implode? Whatever the outcome, there is something to note from a PR standpoint and that is the power of the endorsement and hype in bolstering the emergence of NFTs and cryptocurrencies in the past couple of years. 

This familiarisation and repackaging of NFTs to make them appear “cool” to own – and smart to invest in – by some of the most influential people on the planet have fanned the flames of society’s interest and allowed the NFT train to continue down its uncertain tracks. 

Is this the start of a new era? We’ll have to wait and see.  

By Declan Flahive

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