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January 29, 2007 | Jason Kitcat

May 2007 e-Voting Pilots Announced

Finally, two months behind schedule, the Government has announced which local authorities will be running e-voting pilots. The programme is small compared to 2003, when 14 authorities trialled remote e-voting. This year there will be only 5, with a further 6 authorities testing e-counting. We hear that many authorities weren't keen to risk e-voting in their areas, which in itself is good news.

The Government has released no information about the types of technologies or the suppliers that will be used in May 2007. This makes it difficult for us to fully assess the risks these pilots will pose to elections in those areas. In the meantime, to learn more, please do come along to our free e-voting events starting 6th February with a screening of the superb Hacking Democracy.

Also, as if by magic, we can reveal our brand new ORG e-voting microsite - dive in!

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January 29, 2007 | Glyn Wintle

Biometric data collection in schools

Greg Mulholland MP has tabled an Early Day Motion. It calls for government to address the concerns of parents over collection of biometric data in schools. Please write to your MP requesting that they add their name to this motion.

That this House is alarmed at the growing practice of schools collecting and storing the biometric details of children as young as three; notes that up to 3,500 schools use biometric software to record the data of approximately three quarters of a million children; shares parents' concerns that children's data, often including photographs and fingerprints, is stored on unregulated data collection systems and potentially insecure school computer networks and could therefore potentially be misused; notes that collecting the data from children under 12 without parental consent directly contravenes the Data Protection Act; believes that no child should have biometric information taken without the express written permission of their parents; further believes that no child should be excluded from school activities where this permission is not forthcoming; welcomes the decision by the Department for Education and Skills to update guidance to local authorities and schools; and calls on the Government to conduct a full and open consultation with stakeholders, including parents and children, on this issue as part of their redrafting process.

Biometric data collection in schools - Greg Mulholland - Early Day Motion 686

For more information see Leave Them Kids Alone and plus we have some more general advice on how to write a letter to your MP.

Our last request for you to write to your MPs over an Early Day Motion on open source software in schools resulted in 124 Signatures from MPs, a great result, lets see if we can do even better this time.

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January 22, 2007 | Suw Charman Anderson

It's that time of year again

Can you believe it's been a year since we started accepting donations? Time flies when you're campaigning! Nevertheless, a full twelve months have passed, which means that if you donated a full year's subscription last January or February and helped get ORG on its feet, the time has now come for you to decide whether what we've achieved this year deserves another donation.

The best possible way to support ORG financially is to set up a monthly standing order, for £5 or £10 per month. Having a regular monthly income allows us to plan our campaigns more easily as we can reliably predict how much money we will have to spend. Equally importantly, standing orders cost us nothing. Every time you donate via PayPal, they take a cut - for each £5 you donate we receive about £4.63, and if you donate £60 we receive £57.76. This isn't much for one transaction, but it adds up - so far, we have paid over £2400 in PayPal fees. If you pay by standing order we will receive all of your donation.

To change from PayPal to standing order, you will need to log into PayPal, locate your subscription and cancel it (see instructions below - it's not all that intuitive!). You will then need to download our standing order form, fill it in, and send it to us, or you can use our bank details on this form to set it up using your own online banking. Please use your original reference number, which will be the first six letters of your surname plus a number. If you cannot find this information (it will be listed as a reference on your PayPal subscription details page), then email us and we'll tell you.

If you signed up to donate annually via PayPal last year, please be aware that you set up a repeating payment, which means that £60 will automatically be deducted from your PayPal account upon the anniversary of your first donation. PayPal won't ask you if you want to continue your subscription, nor do we have the opportunity to accept/decline the payment, or check that it's made with your approval - PayPal will just process the payment automatically. If you can't afford to pay £60 all in one go, please do cancel your annual subscription and set up a monthly one instead.

We really do appreciate the support that you've shown us over the last year - it led directly to ORG's very considerable success in 2006. Being funded by you as private individuals says a lot to the politicians and policy makers we work with and who we are trying to influence. It says that you care enough about these issues to fund ORG. So keep it up - your support is essential to our success in 2007!

Changing from PayPal annual subscription to a monthly standing order 1. Log into PayPal 2. Go to your account overview page 3. Click on 'details' for one of your PayPal payments to ORG to bring up the Transaction Details page. At the top of the Transaction Details page you will see:

Subscription Payment Sent (ID No.XYZ) In reference to:XYZ
Where 'XYZ' are long reference numbers. You will also see your ORG reference number which is made up of the first six letters of your name and then a number - please make a note of this.

4. Click on the link after 'In reference to' and this will give you the subscription details. 5. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click 'Cancel Subscription'. 6. Confirm. 7. Download the standing order form. 8. Complete the standing order form, using your ORG reference number. 9. Send it back to us at the address on the form. 10. OR use the details to set up a standing order using your own bank's online banking website. 11. After a month or so, double check with your bank to ensure that they have correctly set up the standing order - it is not unheard of for banks to make mistakes!

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January 16, 2007 | Michael Holloway

Taking the lid off e-voting

While the Department for Constitutional Affairs have left us in the dark with no news at all about the e-voting pilots due for May 2007, The Open Rights Group and FIPR have been hard at work. Elections are a cornerstone of our democracy so we're going to take the lid off the e-voting black box with an unprecedented week of unique free events. All are very welcome but spaces are limited.

Our headline event, "Electronic Voting: A challenge to democracy?" features a distinguished set of speakers with considerable practical and academic knowledge of electronic voting systems around the world. Their experiences will make for fascinating listening, we're looking forward to stimulating debate and questions from the audience.

Our workshop for activists will be the first time Europeans will have gathered together to formally discuss and organise around the challenge that e-voting presents our democracies. It will be a very exciting starting point for future collaboration.

We're also extremely proud to be able to present a special screening of "Hacking Democracy", a film which manages to make the problems e-voting poses completely accessible to a non-technical audience. It's a powerful film so we're sure that the audience will have plenty to discuss with the co-directors and MPs forming a panel at the end of the screening.

Electronic Voting: A challenge to democracy? (8th February)

Governments around the world are conducting elections using electronic voting machines, websites and even text messages. What benefits and problems have they have found? What attracts governments to evoting?

Come and hear noted experts from Europe and the US talk about the experiences so far, including e-voting machines hacked to play chess in the Netherlands and US problems that may have led to thousands of votes going missing in 2006's congressional elections. Confirmed speakers include:

Margaret McGaley (Ireland) Colm MacCarthaigh (Ireland) Anne-Marie Oostveen (The Netherlands) Dr Rebecca Mercuri (USA) Rop Gonggrijp (The Netherlands) will present a very short demonstration of how Dutch machines were hacked using a live voting machine.

This event will take place 6-8pm on February 8th at University College London. Reserve your free place and find out more here.

European Electronic Voting Activism Workshop - Sharing & Learning across Europe (8th February)

Governments around the world are increasingly drawn towards e-voting, despite the significant problems that have arisen in a number of elections. This workshop, chaired by Jason Kitcat, will bring together e-voting experts from around Europe and the US to share knowledge, ideas and experiences - frequently what happens in one country is repeated in another.

The workshop will include:

* Short country status reports from e-voting experts * A longer report from The Netherlands including an extended demonstration of hacking a Nedap machine by Rop Gonggrijp * Discussion of EFVE & EDRI (existing European umbrella organisations) * Development of an action plan on how to develop European co-operation

This event will take place 2-5pm on February 8th at University College London. Reserve your free place and find out more at here.

Screening: "Hacking Democracy" (6th February) HBO's screening of Hacking Democracy days before the 2006 US mid-term elections blew up a storm of activism around the many failings with electronic voting. The film's portrayal of supplier dishonesty and undetectable system hacks has sent shockwaves through the US political system.

We will be giving a rare UK screening of this film followed by a panel discussion with the film's co-directors Simon Ardizzone and Russell Michaels along with MPs from each of the major parties.

The screening will be at University College London, 6th February, starting around 7pm. Reserve your free place and find out more here.

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January 15, 2007 | Suw Charman Anderson

Welcome to Becky Hogge!

It doesn't seem like a month since we appointed Becky Hogge to the position of Executive Director, but time has flown by and today Becky begins to take over the reins from me. We'll work together for the next month to ensure a smooth handover and then it'll be down to Becky to continue to develop ORG's campaigns and membership.

I remember when we started ORG in July 2004, my aim was to build an organisation that could flourish once I had moved on. At the time, I thought it might take five years or so before that would happen, but here we are - 18 months in - with our first full-time proper member of staff. It's both surprising and exciting to have reached this point so soon. And with Gowers under our belt, I can foresee more phenomenal growth ahead of us in 2007.

For me, the best thing is that we now have someone around to do a lot of the things that I had planned to do, but never had time to do. I think there'll be quite a lot of progress over the next few months, as projects started months ago finally come to fruition. Plus, of course, I'm looking forward to having more time to blog here - something that's been sorely lacking!

So, please join me in welcoming Becky to ORG. She's a superb asset, and I'm chuffed as a small horse to be working with her!

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December 14, 2006 | Suw Charman Anderson

Becky Hogge to be new ORG Executive Director

I'm delighted to announce that Becky Hogge is going to be taking over from me as ORG's new full-time Executive Director on 15 January 2007. We had some great applicants for the post, but Becky shone as someone who will be able to bring ORG many new successes over the coming months and years. Becky joins us from Open Democracy, where she worked first as Managing Editor, then as Technology Director. She's been writing campaigning journalism on digital rights for several years, and she has a lot of experience in bootstrapping young organisations, particularly in the not-for-profit world. We've already done some work with Becky, who drafted the Release The Music briefing pack, so I look forward to more great things from her! I will be moving to a position on the ORG Board, from where I hope to do a lot more blogging and policy writing, and can help Becky steer ORG through what are some really complicated waters. The last year and a half has been an astonishing success - I don't think any of us thought that ORG would have as much influence now as it has shown in the past weeks with the Gowers Review, and I am very proud of what we have achieved. I couldn't possibly have done it without help from ORG's Board and Advisory Council, and of course, Michael Holloway our Operations Manager, and the various volunteers who help keep ORG going. You all know who you are, and you know how grateful I am for your help. I hope you will show Becky the same kindness and support that you have given me. It's not without some sadness that I prepare to leave the position of Executive Director. ORG feels like my baby. But I know that Becky is going to do an excellent job, and I'm genuinely excited to be working with her. I know she's going to share my vision for ORG's future, and that she'll bring her own ideas and opinions to the table to make sure that we keep up our pioneering work. After all, we've already scored an unprecedented victory over term extension, and I'm sure that there'll be a lot more work to do to secure that. Becky is going to be our first full-time member of staff, so it's more important than ever that we all continue our donations - a fiver a month is all we ask. And Becky will ensure that we continue to get a great return on our donation!

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December 12, 2006 | Suw Charman Anderson

I see dead people

On the 7th December, the day after the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property was released, the PPL took out a full page ad in the Financial Times which included 4,500 names of musicians who have "banded together" to "demand" term extension on sound recordings. We're delighted to bring you, currently chopped into four bits, a scan of the ad.

The text of the ad, omitting the names, is:

Fair play for musicians.

We call upon the UK Government to support the extension of copyright in sound recordings.

On behalf of over 3,500 record companies and 40,000 performers.

Unfortunately, and as pointed out by Larry Lessig, at least two of the people listed are dead. Freddie Garrity died on 19th May 2006 (or 20th, depend on whether you believe Wikipedia or the media), so one supposes that he might possibly have signed such a petition before his death and his name is included as a supporter on those grounds. But Lonnie Donegan died on 3rd Nov 2002 (or 4th). That's four years before this petition, and three years before the announcement of the Gowers Review, so it's really very disingenuous of the music industry to include his name.

The Gowers Review team stated clearly in their report that they have taken an "evidence-based approach to its policy analysis and has supplemented internal analysis by commissioning external experts to examine the economic impact of changes to the length of copyright term on sound recordings". They then made the recommendation (recommendation no. 3) that "The European Commission should retain the length of protection on sound recordings and performers' rights at 50 years".

Unequivocal support for the position taken by ORG in our Release The Music campaign, then.

I guess this leaves the music industry with two tactics:

1. Try to convince MPs that because they can get 4,500 people (including two corpses) to sign a petition and can afford to take out a big ad in the FT that this therefore trumps economic analyses from people who actually know what they're talking about. I guarantee that if ORG had the same resources to throw at this, we could easily whip up 4,500 people who are against term extension. We've already got 803, so if you haven't signed up, do go ahead. But really, all this proves is who has the biggest petition promotion machinery.

2. Rubbish the report and those who oppose term extension, labelling us as "academics and 'thinkers'". Oh yes, damn you thinkers, you keep coming up with rational arguments that the PPL and BPI can't actually undermine!

I suppose there is a third tactic: keep on spouting the same ol' rubbish, more loudly and more annoyingly, until MPs give in. Well, ORG's here to provide some balance to the debate, so we'll just keep pointing at that same ol' pesky evidence that proves the record industry wrong.

Meantime, if you see any dead people in that ad, please let us know!

UPDATE: List of dead or possibly dead people:

1. Freddie Garrity, d. 19 May 2006 2. Lonnie Donegan, d. 3 Nov 2002 3. James Shand, aka Jimmy Shand, d. 23 Dec 2000 4. Richard Harris, d. 2002, but could be a different one 5. Richard Berry, d. 23 Jan 1997, but could be a different one 6. Nat Gonella, d. 6 Aug 1998, but signed as "N Wilson for Nat Gonella", and will probably argue "it's what he would have wanted"

If you want to complain to the Advertising Standards Authority about this ad, you can use their convenient online form.

UPDATE 2: So, just out of curiosity Wendy Grossman and I started looking in a bit more detail at this ad, and discovered some interesting names, many of which are not British. I'm not sure how British you have to be in order to deserve some sort of say in the UK copyright debate, but a few of these names are somewhat surprising:

1. Cher - American 2. Suzi Quatro - American (in the ad she's listed as Suzi Quattro) 3. George Lucas - American (is this really the George Lucas?) 4. Martha Argerich - Argentinean 5. Laurie Lewis - American 6. Leslie Howard - Australian (guess there could be another British one) 7. Belinda Carlisle - American 8. John Williams - the famous one is American, but there are others and it's a common name... but as the famous one composed the music for Star Wars and we appear to have a Mr Lucas on the petition, maybe it is him!

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December 06, 2006 | Glyn Wintle

Gowers Review

The Gowers Review, commissioned by the government to look at intellectual property law in the United Kingdom, published its final report today. It was commissioned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown MP so it is expected that the report will hold a lot of weight and that its recommendations will be followed. We are delighted to see an evidence-based approach to reviewing Intellectual Property, and welcome many of the recommendations he makes, some of which we actively lobbied for. The report is 142 pages long so if you don't have time to read it all, here are some points of interest. (This expands on our earlier press release).

No extension of copyright term

The music industry lobbied hard to extend the term of copyright for audio recordings. As regular readers will know, we lobbied hard against this happening, and we would like to thank every one who helped us on this as the report recommends that the term of copyright protection for sound recordings remain at 50 years. There is no doubt that this is the right decision - it is supported by all the evidence. But the Government must stand firm in the face of renewed industry attempts to marginalise the Gowers Review.

Matt Black, DJ and one half of Coldcut, said:

"The only people to benefit from term extension would be the giant traditional media groups - artists would actually benefit more from letting music enter the public domain. Extending copyright term for past works amounts to revising the deals made with artists without their consent. Who would sign a deal for a term of '50 years or however long we want to make it by lobbying to get the law changed'?

"The conclusion of the Gowers review that copyright term should not be extended is the correct one; we should not follow the lead of the US who have submitted to corporate demands by Big Media. Here we can recognise that music is a key part of our culture, (and, indeed, a key export), that recycling is a natural part of musical creativity and that not extending the existing copyright term will promote the creation of UK music."

Exceptions to copyright

Calls for additional exemptions to copyright law for "creative, transformative* or derivative works" and for "caricature, parody or pastiche" will be important to both artists and the public alike. We are pleased to hear that libraries will be supported in their preservation work and will be allowed to copy and reformat copyrighted material, including film and sound recordings. This is essential to the health of our cultural heritage and we are delighted that the Chancellor has recognised its importance.

A private copying exception

A recommendation that private users be allowed to copy music from a CD to their MP3 player. When ever I mention this is a conversation I normally get a wonderfully confused look followed by the comment "What, I thought that was legal." It still currently not legal in the UK, that is until this recommendation if followed and the law is amended.

Back in February when the Open Rights Group was presenting evidence to the All Party Internet Group, Ian Brown said

I am always astonished when I speak at events like this that it is only a small number of lawyers who know copyright law who even realise there is not a private copy exemption in British law. I am sure if you went home and talked to friends and family very few would realise they were breaking copyright law by making copies of their own CDs, for example.

Look into orphan works

The term ‘orphan work’ is used to describe a situation where the owner of a copyright work cannot be identified by someone else who wishes to use the work. Estimates suggest that only 2 per cent of all works that are protected by copyright are commercially available. In 1930, 10,027 books were published in the USA, but by 2001 all but 174 were out of print.77 The British Library estimates 40 per cent of all print works are orphan works.

Recommendation 13: Propose a provision for orphan works to the European Commission, amending Directive 2001/29/EC.

Gowers Report

No expansion of software patents

The Review supports the current position on pure software patents, business method patents and gene patents, highlighting the considerable costs and the negative effects that the USA has experienced where multiple owners each have a right to exclude others, and no-one in effect has the right to develop anything.

Recommendation 17: Maintain policy of not extending patent rights beyond their present limits within the areas of software, business methods and genes.

Gowers Report

The possibility of a labelling convention for DRM

This follows on from the All Party Internet Groups recommendations. The logic behind it is simple, let the market decide if it wants DRM or not, the market only works when the customers know what they are buying, so if there was a simple labelling system for DRM that informed the users that a product has DRM and what restrictions that DRM will enforce, customers can make informed decisions. This will be a very effective way of discouraging DRM. In the event that companies use DRM to create market power, damage users’ software or invade their privacy, the Review recommends that the Office of Fair Trading undertakes investigations.

Recommendation 16: DTI should investigate the possibility of providing consumer guidance on DRM systems through a labelling convention without imposing unnecessary regulatory burdens.

Gowers Report

Easier methods for complaints relating to DRM

DRM often prevents legitimate uses users from doing perfectly legal things. This often means that DRM breaks UK law. For example, the Royal National Institute for the Blind note that Adobe eBooks usually have ‘accessibility’ settings disabled. This prevents the visually impaired exercising their rights to make copies in accordance with the exceptions introduced by the Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Act 2002.85 Such exceptions ought to be respected by technology.

In theory any user could make a complaint but as there is no easy way to do so. The Review recommends that the procedures in place for circumventing DRM to allow copying for uses deemed legitimate under copyright exceptions ought to be made easier.

Recommendation 15: Make it easier for users to file notice of complaints procedures relating to Digital Rights Management tools by providing an accessible web interface on the Patent Office website by 2008.

Gowers Report

Stronger enforcement of IP law

This review is the most important critique of intellectual property in the UK of recent years, and we are delighted to see that the majority of its recommendations are sensible and constructive. We welcome the Chancellor's commitment to tackling counterfeiting and piracy. However, we are concerned that the report seems to make no distinction between large-scale commercial counterfeiting, and small-scale non-commercial acts carried out by individuals. Too often these vastly different acts are conflated by the music industry, and the drafters of any new intellectual property law must make the difference clear to both the courts and the rights holders.

We are concerned that without this clarification, this report will give a green light to the record industry to continue to pursue frivolous court cases. If the police become involved in infringement investigations, as recommended by the Gowers Review, there is a risk that their resources would be diverted from tackling serious crime by an over-enthusiastic music industry keen to prosecute grannies and children for file sharing.

We would urge the Chancellor and to commission an independent study into file sharing, as it is clear that much more research is needed in order to determine how file sharing should be treated legally. Impartial evidence must form the foundation for policy in this area, rather than biased and unreliable information provided by interested parties.

Fast track registration for trade marks

By allowing trademarks to be fast-tracked, Gowers is adopting a more web-like process of comment and review to take place. Taking this together with the recommendation for a Community Patent Review pilot, Gowers is moving some way towards a web-like model of knowledge creation.

Recommendation 25b: The Patent Office should conduct a pilot of Beth Noveck’s Community Patent Review in 2007 in the UK to determine whether this would have a positive impact on the quality of the patent stock.

Recommendation 25b: Introduce fast track registration for trade marks.

The Review proposes that a fast track system (in addition to the normal system) should be available to allow for trade marks to be examined and accepted within 10 days of the application being filed. Once the application is accepted it can be published and thereafter the 3-month opposition period would begin. This fast track system should be accompanied by a higher fee.

Gowers Report

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