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Legal practitioners, linguists, anthropologists, philosophers and others have all explored fundamental challenges presented by language in formulating, interpreting and applying laws. Building on centuries of interaction between legal practice and jurisprudence, the modern field of 'law and language', or 'forensic linguistics', brings insights in linguistics and related fields to bear on topics including legal drafting and translation, statutory interpretation, expert evidence on language use and dynamics of courtroom interaction. This volume presents an interlocking series of research studies engaged with different legal jurisdictions and socio-political contexts as well as with the more abstract notion of 'law'. Together the chapters, written by international leaders in their fields, highlight recent directions in research and investigate in particular how law expresses yet also conceals power relations in its crafted use of words and in the gaps and silence between those words.
Commenting on the resemblance between two designs with similar patterns of stripes and flowers in Designers' Guild, Lord Hoffmann explains how there can still be infringement without literal copying. He points out that:
The original elements in the plot of a play or a novel may be a substantial part, so that copyright may be infringed by a work which does not reproduce a single sentence of the original. If one asks what is being protected in such a case, it is difficult to give any answer except that it is an idea expressed in the copyright work.
‘It is difficult’, says Lord Hoffmann, ‘to give any answer’. The answer he does give (that the idea is ‘expressed’ in the copyright work) neatly encapsulates the challenge presented by what is called the ‘idea–expression dichotomy’ in copyright law. That dichotomy, visited and revisited from different points of view in judicial statements and in the academic literature, forms the main topic of this chapter. My aim is to consider whether linguistic description can add anything to its clarification.
The basic distinction between ‘ideas’ and ‘expression’ can be simply stated: ideas are not protected (and so cannot be monopolised by a copyright holder, remaining available for everyone to use) but the specific expression of an idea is. This is an established concept of Anglo-American copyright law, based on the contribution made by public communications to the ‘marketplace of ideas’.
Meaning in the Media addresses the issue of how we should respond to competing claims about meaning put forward in confrontations between people or organisations in highly charged circumstances such as bitter public controversies and expensive legal disputes. Alan Durant draws attention to the pervasiveness and significance of such meaning-related disputes in the media, investigating how their 'meaning' dimension is best described and explained. Through his analysis of deception, distortion, bias, false advertising, offensiveness and other kinds of communicative behaviour that trigger interpretive disputes, Durant shows that we can understand both meaning and media better if we focus in new ways on moments in discourse when the apparently continuous flow of understanding and agreement breaks down. This lively and contemporary volume will be invaluable to students and teachers of linguistics, media studies, journalism and law.
In this chapter and in Chapter 8, I consider how disputes over meaning are handled, as disputes: what roles are played by the parties; how the parties engage with one another; and what standards are appealed to in efforts made by third parties to arrive at decisions. This chapter begins with ideas of ‘argument’ and develops an account of how disputes over meaning often combine perceived cooperation with underlying conflict of intention and interest. Taking up the theme of time from Chapter 6, I also show how media law and regulation procedures create distinctive, ‘after-the-fact’ adjudicative speech events, even as they seek to evaluate interpretations that, it is claimed, were ascribed ‘at the time’. Overall, I show how complainant and defendant work over earlier versions of meaning in order to accentuate their own claims. In doing so, they pull meaning in different directions. Meanwhile, a judge, jury or adjudicating body seeks to decide ‘the meaning’.
Fighting over meaning
In the red corner, complainants and accusers (often individuals, but they can also be companies or institutions): ‘widespread and systematic deception of millions of viewers’; ‘a farrago of half-truths’; ‘a grotesque manipulation of the facts’; ‘a pyramid of piffle’; ‘a pile of claptrap’; ‘a tissue of serious factual inaccuracies’; ‘simply vicious vapourings and a vile tissue of lies’; ‘a piece of window-dressing designed to deceive’; ‘a view that cannot have been honestly held’; ‘flagrantly outrageous remarks’; ‘a series of half-truths, distortions and what appear to some as not so much amnesia as lies’.