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Melvin Goldsmith

More Violin Mislabelling

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Take photos of every instrument you make and catalog it on your website for quick public reference. Take a closeup of a bee sting, corner, peghole, etc. where one can match up some subtleties (ex. tree ring spacing, maple curl) that would be difficult to reproduce. Of course that person can always email or call you like they should.

I know a few makers who stock no DETAILED photos of current work, to address this problem. Simply labeling another violin with a VSA winner's label is one thing. But the craftsmanship out there (in China) is incredible, when it finds focus. If there is something to be said for the workmanship indicated by that country's craftsman, it is that they can make a thing look exactly how they want it to.

How it works, or sounds, is another thing.

I was told by a maker I respect greatly to not update from my older instruments on my website, and to bust my sales the old-fashioned way. He has denied two violins that look pretty damn near those details he considered his calling cards in the last 3 years.

Just the idea that someone would copy my violins is ludicrous, I know. But I listened anyway.

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I agree the BVMA has no real power to police a situation like this, but It would be interesting to hear if the association that states its aims as being, “to raise the standard of skill and expertise of makers and restorers, share information among makers and restorers, promote the craft to the general public and promote fellowship among all those interested in violins and bows” has a policy on the forgery of contemporary violin makers work.

...

I’m not suggesting that BVMA should or could police situations like this, but as an organization that’s aims include promoting our trade and broadening the knowledge of expertise in making, I would have thought this is a case that should have the administrators asking a few questions.

It would be very interesting to have an official line on this as I am sure some of the committee members read this forum, if so it would be nice to hear your opinion on faking contemporary violin makers work, and if you feel this type of mislabeling is something we as a trade should be worried about.

I would love to be proven wrong on this, but having just visited the BVMA web site and read their mission statement, it's pretty clear to me that they regard their role as primarily educational. In no way do they position themselves as an old-fashioned guild, with the ability to adjudicate disputes or sanction undesirable behavior within the trade.

It's certainly possible they might have someone with sufficient moral authority and influence but I certainly wouldn't hold my breath to rely on them for any enforcement actions.

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I think it is safe to assume that whoever labeled the violin as a John Harte did so to enhance its saleability and present it as the real thing, as such that is fraud and potentially damaging to the reputation of John Harte.

It seems I am in a minority in seeing this type of labeling as quite different to the tens of thousands of mislabeled antique instrument floating around the market, and I’m not for a second advocating removing labels from any of those instruments…..in fact I can think of extremely few cases where removing a label makes any sense.

But where its label is presenting an instrument as being the work of a contemporary maker when it clearly isn’t is to me the one clear case for removing the label.

To my mind not removing it implies the seller wishes to promote the possibility that a potential buyer will think they are buying a John Harte.

I agree with you here Neil, unfortunately I think it is something that we will only see more and more of as time goes on. Contemporary makers are an easy target for this type of deceit, after all it is far easier to pass off a recently made instrument than to try and fake an antique one.

It seems many people who have contributed to the thread feel that it is easy for potential buyers to be able to ascertain if an instrument is genuine before a purchase, but is it really? Whilst it may seem very obvious to do a lot of background checks first and contact the maker etc, many players simply don't do this or even ask the right questions, usually trusting the dealer or excited by the prospect of a bargain. Many older makers I know do not have much of a web presence, if at all. Paperwork too could be easily forged.

I am often astonished by some of the instruments people bring in for an opinion, when it seems so obvious from a professional viewpoint that it is nothing like what they believe it to be, or even of remotely the same quality. (I'm not talking about grandpa's 'strad' in the loft here).

For a living maker this type of fraud could be devastating, undermining a hard won reputation and putting uncertainty into the minds of potential customers. It would be useful if there was some sort of advice from makers associations such as the BVMA and VSA about this problem and how to proceed. Most makers are not legal experts, and I can see that it would be an awful situation to try and deal with, especially if the instrument were for sale in another country.

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It's not clear who you're advocating should be the one to act in this particular case, namely physically remove the spurious label (or have authority, responsibility, or obligation to do so).

I think you'll find the law sets forth some pretty specific requirements on all parties, and there are remedies. Despite what you and Melvin have told us we do not know the full story, nor do we have the framework to judge. It certainly might very well be existing law is inadequate, but you haven't told us what that might be.

Flyboy, you are correct in stating that you do not know the full story. And neither do I.

In terms of what I do know and have presented, I can't think of anything that has been omitted that would have significantly altered the course of this discussion.

Regarding who should be the one to remove the label, in my particular case it could be me, it could be the shop owner, it could be a third party who both the shop owner and I agree to.

Obviously in these situations establishing that an instrument has been incorrectly labelled is paramount. In my case the name, street and country listed on the label make it absolutely clear that this label refers to me. The only Hartes who live in any of the several Rutland Streets that exist in New Zealand are my family and I am the only John B. Harte living here. The shop owner has accepted that this label refers to me and that I did not make this violin.

Why then won't the shop owner remove the label?

The only reason that the shop owner has given me is, “It is not, and never has been our policy in 24 years to add and remove labels from violins.”

While I am very interested in the legal issues surrounding fraudulent labelling, does there need to be a law involved here? Isn't this a matter of common sense and decency????

I think that Neil Ertz has summed up the situation extremely well.

Not removing this label has the potential to cause both short and long term damage.

John

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While I am very interested in the legal issues surrounding fraudulent labelling, does there need to be a law involved here? Isn't this a matter of common sense and decency????

As you've mentioned yourself, there are at least two goals:

1. Remove the label

2. Trace the counterfeit origin

Now there is no guarantee that once the spurious label is removed that another one won't be put in its place. There is the possibility that you're just deferring the problem or passing it on to someone else.

As I stated earlier, the law provides various remedies such as seizure. If you're successful on that front even if you don't manage to trace the counterfeit origin, you're sending a powerful message to them and their enablers that they're wasting effort. They'd be less likely to target you in the future.

Now I'm not saying if you take the legal route everything is going to be easy. But initially all you have to do is provide a sworn affidavit to the court that the fiddle in question is not your work, and you're the victim of "passing off," and what remedies you're seeking (consult a good attorney for this part). I don't know what the court filing fee is in the UK but I can't imagine it particularly expensive.

http://books.google.com/books?id=KscQ0rI2-18C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

PS:

What may be immediately apparent to you as common sense and decency may seem like folly and abuse to another. That's why judges and laws exist to sort out as much of the facts and differences of interpretation. Vigilantism will just lead to chaos.

Edited by Flyboy

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I know a few makers who stock no DETAILED photos of current work, to address this problem. Simply labeling another violin with a VSA winner's label is one thing. But the craftsmanship out there (in China) is incredible, when it finds focus. If there is something to be said for the workmanship indicated by that country's craftsman, it is that they can make a thing look exactly how they want it to.

How it works, or sounds, is another thing.

I was told by a maker I respect greatly to not update from my older instruments on my website, and to bust my sales the old-fashioned way. He has denied two violins that look pretty damn near those details he considered his calling cards in the last 3 years.

Just the idea that someone would copy my violins is ludicrous, I know. But I listened anyway.

Do instruments have any visual "fingerprints"? Something that can't be reproduced. So instead of an image of the entire instrument, you upload just a macro shot of this "fingerprint" to thwart any copying of your style.

The companies I deal with all have this gimmicky proprietary DNA ink that they mark on the item to be authenticated. The mark can only be seen with their super duper uv light that nobody else is allowed to have.

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As you've mentioned yourself, there are at least two goals:

1. Remove the label

2. Trace the counterfeit origin

Now there is no guarantee that once the spurious label is removed that another one won't be put in its place. There is the possibility that you're just deferring the problem or passing it on to someone else.

As I stated earlier, the law provides various remedies such as seizure. If you're successful on that front even if you don't manage to trace the counterfeit origin, you're sending a powerful message to them and their enablers that they're wasting effort. They'd be less likely to target you in the future.

Now I'm not saying if you take the legal route everything is going to be easy. But initially all you have to do is provide a sworn affidavit to the court that the fiddle in question is not your work, and you're the victim of "passing off," and what remedies you're seeking (consult a good attorney for this part). I don't know what the court filing fee is in the UK but I can't imagine it particularly expensive.

http://books.google.com/books?id=KscQ0rI2-18C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

PS:

What may be immediately apparent to you as common sense and decency may seem like folly and abuse to another. That's why judges and laws exist to sort out as much of the facts and differences of interpretation. Vigilantism will just lead to chaos.

Thank you for the book reference. It looks very interesting, and one worth taking a closer look at!

Yes the label could be replaced by another and this could have equal or even more unfortunate consequences. I would hope, though, that the violin would remain unlabelled and of anonymous origin, as it should, particularly if the original maker is responsible for the current label.

As you know, the fact that the violin is not my work is not being contested.

It is purely a matter of the continued presence of the label within the violin.

I take your point about sending a powerful message. If common sense doesn't prevail, I may well have to consider legal options. Several suggestions as to how this could be approached have been received. Your suggestions have been added and are certainly appreciated.

I hope that this thread doesn't get bogged down with this single case of mislabelling. While I would obviously like to see a satisfactory resolution, there are a number of issues that various contributors have raised in this thread that are worthy of much wider discussion.

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I think there are a few misconceptions here ....

This is a Chinese violin which will have been "fitted out" with a spurious contemporary label by the wholesaler. We see these regularly at auction in the UK (particularly "seconds" stock sold by violin shops through Gardiner Houlgate et al), and they are the mainstay of a few dodgy Ebay dealers. There is no attempt to copy or "fake" - to call it a fake is to blow one's own trumpet, it's just a Chinese violin with a spurious label.

As for the retailer in Australia, this violin is worth a lot more with a spurious label than without, but Mr Bristow certainly won't have bought it as a John Harte. I don't think there's any law which can force him to remove the label, and it's clearly not in his interests to do it, since without the label the violin is a basic Chinese violin worth $4-500. While disingenuous, his behaviour is absolutely commonplace in the violin trade, at all levels of pricing. I don't think this is any different philosophically from selling a violin as "attributed to ..." with a certificate known to be inaccurate.

Does this mis-labelling activity have any impact on a modern maker's reputation? I think it's much worse for the dealer's reputation!

Any modern maker can put together an online catalogue of their work, and this seems like the best way to protect against confusion or profiteering.

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I think that this discussion could rather easily become bogged down on individual names and impossible legal routes when I think there are some basic questions arising from this particular situation that I would love to hear some clear comments on.

The reality is that while this particular case must be incredibly frustrating for John Harte I think it must be just the tip of an inevitably growing iceberg, and all of us as makers who are working hard to create a name for our work should be considering what our options are.

I stand corrected and appreciate there is no trade organization that I am aware of that has the power or jurisdiction to step in and adjudicate on a case of fraudulent labeling, but it would be in all our interests to have a healthy debate on what the options are and what the legal implications of removing (and inserting) fake labels on contemporary instruments and stamps on bows is.

It would be great to see some solid research and possibly even a seminar run by one of the violin making organizations that would look into the legal aspects of the fraudulent labeling of contemporary violin makers, and set out a protocol about what is acceptable and legal to do, this way we as makers would know how best to protect our work and reputation.

I’d love to see some more of the high profile makers and dealers who undoubtedly read these threads step in to offer their opinion on whether it should become a trade standard to remove fraudulent labels stating and instrument to be made by contemporary maker.

I am under no allusion/delusion that our work as modern makers can be protected from being faked, but a clear set of protocol and a healthy discussion amongst the various trade associations and violin making clubs/societies would give all dealers and makers a better idea of what to do when we come across someone presenting work as or own when it quite clearly is a forgery.

neil

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The seller is clearly a (perhaps I better not use that particular Australian expression).

Sadly, having looked at the Trading Standards web site he is probably within the law.

He also cannot spell.

Tim

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The seller is clearly a (perhaps I better not use that particular Australian expression).

Sadly, having looked at the Trading Standards web site he is probably within the law.

Nothing is 100% certain, but I have no doubt a good lawyer will turn Mr. Bristow into mincemeat by the time he's through. It will make what the guilds did to C.F. Martin look merciful by comparison.

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Unfortunately I think the law is quite probably rather blunt in this sort of situation, and unless the perpetrator is doing something that quite clearly breaks trading standards they will often get away with fudging the situation to their financial advantage and others disadvantage.

I should also like to apologise for having said “the BVMA seems so completely uninterested in putting a bit of moral pressure to have the label removed”, in reality they have no more authority then any of us in a situation like this and it was a foolish and incorrect statement made in the heat of my frustration, sorry.

I would still really like to see a wider discussion within the trade about how best to react when we come across clear forgery of contemporary makers work and make the buying and selling of such forgeries something that is universally considered unacceptable.

Neil.

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...

I would still really like to see a wider discussion within the trade about how best to react when we come across clear forgery of contemporary makers work and make the buying and selling of such forgeries something that is universally considered unacceptable.

Neil.

This is the situation that many professional groups face. Unless the profession is like the law or medicine there is usually no particular legislative regulation other than the common and statute law that applies to the rest of society. An action may not be illegal but it may be seen to be immoral, unethical and/or unprofessional. Who is to decide? Well, often it is the professional association but such groups have limited power and can only act in relation to their members. Even then there can be dangers, at least in Australia, relating to defmation actions. It is a long slow campaign to have a set of ethical standrds developed and accepted. Then they need to be publicised - but most buyers don't really care until or unless they suffer as a consequence of a breach of the standards. In the best of all possible worlds there would be agreed standards relating to the advertising and sale of instruments and all sellers would abide by them. I hope this case will move the wider discussion forward to some kind of public statement on what is, or is not, appropriate behaviour.

Would someone like to have a go at drafting such a statement?

Regards,

Tim

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This thread now comes up as number 1 in Google when you search for "john Harte violin". So hopefully anyone considering the purchase of the violin in question will be able to educate themselves fairly quickly.

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This is the situation that many professional groups face. Unless the profession is like the law or medicine there is usually no particular legislative regulation other than the common and statute law that applies to the rest of society. An action may not be illegal but it may be seen to be immoral, unethical and/or unprofessional. Who is to decide? Well, often it is the professional association but such groups have limited power and can only act in relation to their members. Even then there can be dangers, at least in Australia, relating to defmation actions. It is a long slow campaign to have a set of ethical standrds developed and accepted. Then they need to be publicised - but most buyers don't really care until or unless they suffer as a consequence of a breach of the standards. In the best of all possible worlds there would be agreed standards relating to the advertising and sale of instruments and all sellers would abide by them. I hope this case will move the wider discussion forward to some kind of public statement on what is, or is not, appropriate behaviour.

Would someone like to have a go at drafting such a statement?

Tim, I think that you have made some very good points!

Before I make further comment, I would like to thank Neil for having moved the discussion in the direction that he has. The need for some solid research is certainly evident and his idea of a possible seminar is of significant merit.

Coming back to your comments Tim, I am not sure about drafting a statement at this stage. I am not saying not to, but think that there are a number of issues that need to be investigated.

Off the top of my head, and using your suggestions, possible issues are:

1. Arriving at some sort of consensus on the significance and importance of labelling and consequences of mislabelling. To me this is a no brainer. However we already see variation in opinion in this thread.

2. Identifying and addressing the many and various legal issues involved. Should a seminar ever eventuate, it would be excellent to see Carla Shapreau, Professor Brian Harvey or someone of similar background being involved.

3. Developing protocols surrounding identifying fraudulent labelling involving the identities of living makers and what forms of action would be deemed acceptable. I would like to see dealers involved in developing these protocols. Developing agreed standards relating to the advertising and sale of instruments might come under this.

John

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2. Identifying and addressing the many and various legal issues involved. Should a seminar ever eventuate, it would be excellent to see Carla Shapreau, Professor Brian Harvey or someone of similar background being involved.

Carla has been an excellent resource regarding violin-related legal issues.

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Torbjörn, I respectfully have to disagree with your comment regarding labels.

Sometimes a label is all that we have to go on.

If one of your violins came through the door of my workshop, how would I recognise your work? Would I recognise any particular characteristics that might suggest that you had had some association with the Violin Making School of America, or Stråkton Violin Ateliers or Sam Zygmuntowicz? Probably not. In the end I would almost certainly be reduced to looking at the label.

If the person who brought the violin into my shop required a valuation, I would then need to go through the process of wanting to satisfy myself that what I was looking at was in fact made by you...

Some excellent points regarding the importance of labelling have been made on Maestronet.

See Post number 159 here:

http://www.maestrone...c=323802&st=140

and Post numbers 48 and 49 here:

http://www.maestrone...ic=326124&st=40

It seems to me that if we ignore the importance of labelling, instrument identification and the subsequent setting of values can only become even more problematic than already exists. Many of us may feel that value should be decided by sound and quality of materials and workmanship alone, but this will never rule the day. That horse bolted centuries ago....

Where living makers are concerned, identifying cases of mislabelling should be a relatively simple matter of establishing fact. If this area of mislabelling is not acted upon while the affected makers are alive, the opportunity to rectify this with complete certainty will have gone.

John

Hi John,

My violins should be easy to identify. They are all marked in specific places. You could contact me and I would tell you where to find them. If that's not enough, I make exclusively personal designed models. The outline can be seen in my Inside information article. So it shouldn't be a problem. :)

If a maker contacted me and asked to have a false label removed, I would be happy to do so, could they show that they weren't at all associated with the instrument, and could it possibly harm their reputation. My current default position is to not alter an instrument in any way, unless deemed necessary. Mislabeling instruments is despicable. But removing a label on less than solid evidence that it's fake is also wrong, and in many cases unnecessary. As some people have commented, false labels are often a sign that the maker is in demand. Which is a good thing.

Torbjörn

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I had understood that the evidence that this violin is falsely labeled to create a forgery of a contemporary maker was clear cut and unquestionable.

Am I misunderstanding you, or are you saying there is not in your opinion a clear case to have the label removed from the violin this discussion is about?

Neil.

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I had understood that the evidence that this violin is falsely labeled to create a forgery of a contemporary maker was clear cut and unquestionable.

Am I misunderstanding you, or are you saying there is not in your opinion a clear case to have the label removed from the violin this discussion is about?

Neil.

If the violin was mine I would remove the label.

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Melvin thank you for posting this.

I guess that it’s time for me to stop being a Maestronet lurker and emerge from under my rock…

Two points to add to Melvin’s post:

1. In early March 2012 the violin featured was advertised as being “by John B. Harte, Rutland Street, New Zealand“. Following contact with Daniel Bristow, the wording was changed to what now appears. The fact that I did not make this violin is not being contested.

2. In spite of my requests, Daniel Bristow has said that he will not remove the label, has not removed my name from his website and has not supplied me with the name of who sold him the violin. He has not replied to my last email where I repeated these requests.

I believe that it is important the label be removed from the violin at this stage as it will only be a matter of time before it reappears somewhere else as having been made by me.

Unfortunately for many of us, our labels will likely be the only means of identifying our work in the future. Beyond my lifetime, identifying this case of mislabelling on a factual basis will disappear, leaving opinion to rule the day.

I cannot understand the reluctance to remove this label. It seems nonsensical.

I look forward to your comments.

John Harte

I would guess that unlike the e-bay crooks, this looks like a clear case for the "Trade Descriptions Act". Moreover if you have made contact and no action has been taken, then you will almost certainly be entitled to compensation. And the seller to a huge fine. Since you are both in the same country and this is not an internet problem, just get yourself a good lawyer and make a profit at the sellers expense. Serve him right.

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An historic example of violin mislabling:

19c English violin

A knowledgeable person pointed out the outline of a label

under this one. He suspects this is an old New England fiddle

made by a clock maker or mechanic circa early 19c.

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I would guess that unlike the e-bay crooks, this looks like a clear case for the "Trade Descriptions Act". Moreover if you have made contact and no action has been taken, then you will almost certainly be entitled to compensation. And the seller to a huge fine. Since you are both in the same country and this is not an internet problem, just get yourself a good lawyer and make a profit at the sellers expense. Serve him right.

Hi Roger, John is in New Zealand, the seller in England....about as far away as you can get while remaining in this planet :rolleyes:

Neil

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Although Roger might be mistaken regarding countries of presence for the respective parties, he is absolutely correct that Mr. Harte should seek legal advice from competent legal counsel. I can not stress this enough. It would be foolhardy to not consider all possible/available options, and the option to NOT pursue legal avenues remains after consultation.

I don't want to discourage discussion of broader issues or even this case, but just be aware you might also be inadvertently aiding your adversary when publicly discussing legal strategies for specific cases.

I can't say I'm familiar with judicial procedures of UK, but for cases such as this, courts generally don't require your physical presence to successfully prosecute. I've seen cases successfully prosecuted by plaintiffs representing themselves (pro se) over the phone (and other cases by video conference, skype, etc.). Make sure you ask you ask the attorneys if remote prosecution is possible.

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A couple of quick quotes:

"2.The member shall not attempt to confuse or mislead the customer or falsely describe any of the goods he/she offers for sale or seeks to purchase. He/she shall in all respects comply with the provisions of the Australian Trade Practices act and/or any State legislation of a similar nature."

Australian Antique Dealers Association, http://www.aaada.org...actice-dealers/

"(2) Any article offered for sale which is not an antique shall either be physically segregated from the antique stock of the Member or shall be clearly labelled as not being an antique.

(3) Any article offered for sale by a Member shall have a label either affixed to or placed immediately alongside it containing:

( a ) a clear and accurate description of the article; and

( b ) if applicable, a proper attribution of the article; and

( c ) the approximate date of manufacture of the article.

Where it is not practical to attach a label of sufficient size to contain this information a label indicating the stock book number will be acceptable."

British Antique Dealers Association, http://www.bada.org/...ndex.pl?id=2189

Tim

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I don’t know how a lawyer would see this but to my mind the description on the web site is not telling any untruths, “Violin labeled John B. Harte, New Zealand, A good handmade modern violin of unknown origin but labeled John B. Harte, Rutland Street, New Zealand, 1996.”

The bit I personally feel is extremely poor behavior is that once the seller was informed that the instrument is quite certainly not the work of John Harte (and clearly he openly admits that from his web site wording) and asked (if I understand correctly) to remove the label, he has declined to, and continues to advertise the details of that label.

I am guessing that he would just say it was there when he acquired the violin so why should he.

Its for this reason that I would like to see it universally accepted in our trade that we should remove undisputed fake labels stating the instrument to be the work of a contemporary maker whenever we come across them, I just can’t understand why or how anyone could argue against that.

I completely understand that a voluntary code can easily be ignored, but it would be relatively easy to see who was openly abiding, and in many cases who was clearly ignoring such a common sense system.

neil

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