Why the Queen Can Enjoy Her New iPod

EFF's Fred von Lohmann has a very nice analysis of the copyright law quagmire caused by President Obama's gift of an iPod with 40 show tunes to the Queen of England.

I am not a copyright scholar, but I think Fred may have left out one aspect of the issue which I think means that the Queen can enjoy her iPod in peace: sovereign immunity.

In the US “sovereign immunity” is something that keeps you and me from suing the government for certain classes of misdeeds. But, as I understand it, in the UK sovereign immunity means…sovereign immunity. The Queen IS the THE sovereign. She has immunity. It's really pretty much that simple.

The government in the UK doesn't have “sovereign” immunity because it's not sovereign. Sovereigns have two legs. The UK government just has “government” immunity. In practice that works like our sovereign immunity, so no one minds. But the distinction matters when you are thinking about the Queen's legal exposure in what are “her own courts.” And although I don't know UK copyright law, I'm guessing she didn't waive anything….

(As Fred noted when I sent him an earlier draft of the above, Obama's import to the UK is likely protected by diplomatic immunity. So the issues, whatever they are, are US law issues.)

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16 Responses to Why the Queen Can Enjoy Her New iPod

  1. thejungle says:

    How ironic. Consider that the Brits “provided Obama with an ornamental pen holder, made from the timbers of the anti-slave ship HMS Gannet – the sister ship to that of which the oval office desk was made from, the HMS Resolute.”

    At least one source suggested that iPods were once manufactured in Asia under sweatshop labor conditions that would be illegal in the US, what some might even call “slave labor”:

    Even more ironic, is that the UK already has a WalMart where the Queen can buy her own imported Asian electronics, thank you very much:

    I think he should have given her a Snuggie:

    Lord Obama’s gift giving skills are really “Special Olympics”, you know.

  2. michael says:

    Do you think the President picks the gifts? I hope he has better things to do.

  3. Patrick (G) says:

    I’d guess that picking out gifts for foreign dignitaries is
    1. one of the duties of one of the First lady’s office.
    2. one of the duties of whatever foggy bottom branch coordinates visits to/from foreign dignitaries.
    2a. possibly in conjunction with white house political staff in case they want to send a subtle message via the gift. Though for most gifts, I imagine they’d want it to be neutral with regards to any visit purpose.

    I also imagine a set of forms/memos providing a profile of the dignitary and their country and their relations with us, and a rationale explaining why a particular item would be a good match for that dignitary…

    With Regards to the Queen’s iPod, I can just imagine future political cartoons: captionless scenes of political mayhem with the Queen regally watching…with headphone cords dangling from her ears.

  4. Santa Claus says:

    Honestly – between giving the Queen an iPod (n.b. she already had one), giving the Prime Minister movie DVDs (not only incredibly declasse but also not in the European format, so COMPLETELY useless), comparing his bowling (in)ability to the “Special Olympics,” and watching his wife make physical contact with the Queen of England, President Obama is certainly making a real splash on the international stage. I find it incredibly difficult to believe that the White House does not have some sort of “protocol officer” who would brief him on these sorts of things, so that he could avoid this seemingly never-ending string of faux pas.

    Somehow, this isn’t the sort of “change” that I believe in.

  5. scot says:

    Complaining the that Queen already has an iPod or that Brown can’t play the DVDs misses the point. Gifts like this are supposed to symbolise the relationship or something interesting about the gift giver. The point of the iPod isn’t about whether or not the Queen already has one – firstly the iPod is symbolic of American design and technology, and second, it’s full of *American Show Tunes* … things that make up a powerful contribution that America has made to world culture.

  6. Santa Claus says:

    Then I haven’t missed the point at all, my friend. If the point is to symbolise “something interesting about the gift giver,” then what President Obama’s gifts have symbolised is that he (and, by extension, all Americans) is an uncouth, crass moron, who can take neither the time nor the trouble to make even a half-hearted attempt to comply with proper social etiquette.

  7. michael says:

    Apperently she wanted a newer model iPod with video as the old one lacked it. Or so say the polite British.

  8. Patrick (G) says:

    ya know, for someone who’s taken on the handle of ‘Santa Claus’,
    you show a rather marked lack of generosity of spirit towards the Obamas.

    Crass is complaining about gifts you been given or that have been given to others and not to you.

    Proper social etiquette would require giving the benefit of the doubt if these perceived slights do not seem to have been done intentionally.

  9. Santa Claus says:

    Bah, humbug. It’s the off-season for me, spirit be damned.

    Unfortunately, Rudolph seems to have eaten my OED, so the best I can come up with on short notice is from dictionary.com. Crass: without refinement, delicacy, or sensitivity; gross; obtuse; stupid . . .

    By this definition, at least, I believe that giving such tacky/thoughtless/useless gifts to world leaders can justly be characterised as crass behaviour. At the very least, I think it is “without sensitivity” to give a gift that is chintzy, that the donor already has, or that cannot be used as anything other than a coaster for a nice hot toddy. I’ll leave it to you to determine if these gift-giving behaviours were “obtuse” or “stupid.”

    I wish President Obama well. Perhaps he just needs more time to “grow” into the position. I just wish he’d surround himself with advisors/protocol officers so as to avoid these unintentional international misunderstandings. They really don’t go very far towards improving the image of the US.

  10. Steve R. says:

    The story is a bit juicer. Obama’s overall gift to the Queen included DVDs. All the news reported was that the DVDs could not be played on England’s DVD players because of “incompatibility”. Seems to me that DRM (regional encoding) has created an international incident!!!! The desire of US companies to “restrict” access to content through DRM has finally bit us.

    I hope that Obama may have learned something from this internationally embarrassing fiasco caused by DRM, DRM is bad.

  11. Steve R. says:

    The situation, I believe is much more onerous than portrayed. The US is pushing for ever more draconian Copyright and DRM. Now we have an international embarrassment of how really absurd copyright laws have become. If I can read a book anywhere, I should be able to play my DVDs anywhere, and so should the Prime Minister.

    The US Congressional leaders and the President appear to be nothing more than agents for the RIAA and the MPPA. A country of, by, and for the corporations. Unfortunately, this trend for ever more draconian copyright law appears to be spreading world-wide.

  12. Randy Paul says:

    Steve R.

    You’re confusing the gift to Gordon Brown with the gift to the queen. The gift to Brown consisted of DVD’s.

    If you want to see draconian copyright laws, the ones in the US are nothing compared to the ones in the EU.

  13. LACJ says:

    Gotta have something to whine about, that’s all. Just like the media has just got to find something to write about. Like the Pittsburgh paper getting everyone worked about about totally made-up rumor about gun control. Which then led to a shooting…

  14. Mark Tearle says:

    There’s a further question to be answered, UK law is all well and good, but she is also the Queen of Australia (and a few other minor dominions like Canada) … does it affect her use as my monarch? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monarchy_of_Australia

    Taking that a step further … how is she bound by agreements such as the USA – Australia Free Trade Agreement?

  15. Rgur says:

    OMG, queen and new iPod? I cant even imagine this. Mike – the regcure license consultant

  16. Look like the queen loves in-trend gadgets. I heard that she got a golden Wii console from Nintendo as well. You know, even the queen of England thinks it’s fun.

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