To tie in with the release of the promotional video for Tim Minchin's Storm (produced by my friend Tracy King), I thought it about time to disclose the legal advice that Storm herself received when the poem first came to light.
Dear Ms. Storm
Thank you for visiting our offices today.
You are seeking advice as to the legal actions available to you in respect of the so-called “beat poem” called Storm by a Mr Timothy Minchin. Thank you for confirming that your trust fund will cover all our legal expenses: please see attached an initial invoice.
We first discussed a claim for invasion for privacy. Here you will be helped by the potential defendant clearly reporting a private conversation at a dinner party in an inner North London flat.
In accordance with the principles set out by the European Court of Human Rights in the Hannover case, as followed by the High Court in Max Mosley, you had a reasonable expectation of privacy in such surroundings.
The question then becomes whether Mr Minchin has misused your private information.
There is clearly reference to your physical characteristics which appear entirely irrelevant to any serious point which Mr Minchin may be seeking to make.
The mention of “the tip of the wing of a fairy tattooed on that popular area just above the derrière” combined with “fairies on their spines and butterflies on their titties” is both gratuitous and sexist. They certainly would undermine any attempt by the potential defendant to justify the work as a rational contribution to a debate about science.
Mr Minchin also reports, without your permission, your private conversation, including opinions which you hold on controversial matters. In particular, you are quoted as saying the following. I have added my own comments in brackets.
“You can’t know anything, knowledge is merely opinion”
[Thank you for confirming this particular comment is absolutely correct.]
“But the human body is a mystery! Science just falls in a hole when it tries to explain the nature of the soul.”
[Mr Minchin interestingly fails to respond to this particular "soul" point.]
“Pharmaceutical companies are the enemy. They promote drug dependency at the cost of the natural remedies that are all our bodies need. They are immoral and driven by greed. Why take drugs when herbs can solve it? Why use chemicals when homeopathic solvents can resolve it? It’s time we all return-to-live with natural medical alternatives.”
[Again, it is significant that Mr Minchin does not deal directly with the point about Big Pharma, which of course - as you say - may be because of a conflict of interest. This evasion tells against any fair comment defence he may wish to adopt.]
“So you don’t believe in any natural remedies?”
“Shakespeare said it first: “There are more things in heaven and earth than exist in your philosophy…”. Science is just how we’re trained to look at reality,it can’t explain love or spirituality. How does science explain psychics; auras; the afterlife; the power of prayer?”
“You’re so sure of your position but you’re just closed-minded. I think you’ll find your faith in Science and Tests is just as blind as the faith of any fundamentalist”
[Here you are helped by Mr Minchin just resorting to repeated swearing and aggressive vulgarity: “What, are we fucking two”, “Wiki-fucking-pedia”, “Is it not totally fucked in the head”, “I’ll spin on a fucking dime” and “I will take a compass and carve Fancy That on the side of my cock.”]
Even on his own account, it is evident that Mr Minchin either misses the points which you are making or is adopting a confrontational and intimidating approach. He also admits to the influence of some eight glasses of wine.
Accordingly, Mr Minchin will find it difficult to legally justify his use of the private information about your appearance and your opinions in publishing his beat poem for financial profit.
We also discussed a claim for libel.
It is your view that the potential defendant’s characterisation of you in Storm means that you are ridiculed and shunned by right-thinking members of our society.
In particular, you are concerned by the description of your opinions as “vacuous crap” and that people who also hold your views are “either lying or mentally ill”, “fundamentally sick”, “pricks like John Edward”, and “using bollocks for ammunition”.
I can confirm that such allegations would indeed be classed as defamatory.
It would then fall on Mr Minchin to justify the statements as fact or the opinions as fair. In respect of the latter, the evidence of his boorishness in the poem itself suggest malice: there will probably be no defence of fair comment available to him.
Mr Minchin will thereby need to justify the factual statements as true: see the High Court ruling in BCA v Singh.
He will thereby need to show that, as a matter of fact:
• your opinions are vacuous;
• your opinions are crap;
• psychics either are knowingly dishonest or have mental health problems;
• your opinions are not only sick, but fundamentally so;
• psychics are not only all pricks, but actually pricks like John Edward; and
• bollocks can and are being used for ammunition.
Although Mr Minchin may well be able to do this (unfortunately it would appear science will be on his side on all these, apart from the bollocks as ammunition point, which we hope the court will take literally), the costs of trying to do so will surely encourage him into an early settlement and an apology. (That said, these skeptic sorts can be resilient and not east to intimidate: see what happened after the High Court ruling in BCA v Singh.)
Please thereby confirm your trust will pay our next five invoices whilst we threaten litigation; for, as discussed, with your positive energy (and monies) channelling through all our team of lawyers, we can cross our fingers and see what happens.
See Crispian Jago's blog for an account of what also went on in the flat on that fateful evening...
Full authorised audio version below
And a transcription is at the site of the lovely PodBlack Cat.