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May 30, 2008 | Becky Hogge

ORG has new threads

You might notice a few changes to the website today. We've been busy shuffling things around, trying to help it serve the thousands of different people (35,000 this month) who visit the site. This includes adding a dedicated press page linked to from the main menu, and developing a set of pages which attempt to explain to newcomers why particular issues get us going. We've also added pages for people who want to get more involved with ORG and it's day-to-day activities, and updated the sidebar with links to our Flickr photo pool, our Upcoming feed and the ORG shop.

Thanks to Ben for the inspiration, to Mike, Sheila, Richard, Ryan, Lemon, Adam and Chris for making it happen, thanks to Michael for nagging everyone until it did, and thanks to Harry, Suw and Rachel for early feedback. We'll probably have missed something, so if you spot any bugs or broken links, please drop a comment below or email info [AT] openrightsgroup [DOT] org to let us know.

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May 19, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Changes to Open Rights Group Board

The ORG board, which oversees ORG's staff and operations, is changing. Currently, the board consists of Louise Ferguson, William Heath, James Cronin, Suw Charman, Danny O'Brien, Rufus Pollock, Ben Laurie, Vijay Sodiwala, David Harris and Dan McQuillan.

Louise Ferguson steps down as chair. Louise has chaired the ORG Board since inception, providing exemplary service during the demanding period of setting up a sustainable new supporter-driven organisation. She continues to serve as a Board member.

Suw Charman, one of ORG's founders and its first Executive Director, is leaving to concentrate on other projects. Suw was instrumental during the early months, working with the other founders to turn the ORG pledge into a reality. Her contributions both as Executive Director and, later, as a Board member led the organisation to many notable successes. We wish her the best of luck in her new endeavours (not least her new blog, http://kitsandmortar.com/).

ORG will announce a new chair to serve for a one-year term from September 2008. ORG intends to appoint its next new Board members in autumn 2008. These posts will be openly advertised shortly. From June to September 2008 William Heath takes over as acting chair.

As Danny O'Brien, ORG's co-founder says, "The Open Rights Group was defined, and continues to be defined, by Suw and Louise's amazing and tireless contributions over the last three years. We're incredibly indebted to them both."

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May 19, 2008 | Glyn Wintle

Scottish Affairs Committee recommendation on e-Counting

The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee has released its report on the experience of the Scottish elections and unsurprisingly they are worried about e-counting. Last year ORG sent observers to the Scottish elections and observed many problems including the SNP nearly failing to win because of an Excel spreadsheet. The Scottish Affairs Committee official report agrees with many of ORG's findings, saying the following about e-counting:

There has been a severe loss of confidence in e-counting. The experience of its use in the Scottish Parliament and local government elections revealed a fundamental lack of transparency. The checks and balances of a manual system must be retained. Candidates and observers must have access to ballot papers in order to ensure that procedures are followed correctly and that recounts can be asked for. Until these problems are resolved, we do not support the use of e-counting for future elections.

Read the Scottish Affairs Committee's full report.

This year, ORG deployed just under thirty volunteer election monitors to observe the effects of e-counting on the London elections. We will publish an official report of our findings in June.

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May 08, 2008 | Becky Hogge

BBC removes Doctor Who fan's knitting patterns from the Web

An Ood, knitted by Mazz Update#2: The BBC have agreed to meet with Mazz and turn her knitted designs into, at the very least, a limited edition of exclusive promotional products. Apparently the production team love her works and can't wait to get their own. Although we're pleased with this outcome, intellectual property law is still in urgent need of reform and similar situations will continue to arise until this is addressed. The Government have agreed to look at the question and popular outcry over this story shows the urgency of the matter.

Update: Thanks to this article published by The Times today, the ORG phones have been buzzing all morning. BBC Worldwide have released a statement (copied in the comments below) and Mazz has updated her homepage to reflect what's been going on. If you appreciate the work ORG does to raise the profile of digital rights issues like this one, please consider becoming an Open Rights Group supporter.

 


 

The Open Rights Group often receive calls from UK citizens who have found themselves on the wrong end of online copyright disputes. Because we're not a legal advice service, very often we cannot offer them any help. We're working on a way to change this situation - watch this space for an announcement in the Autumn. In the meantime we tend to pass these queries onto our informal law-discuss list for further analysis.

This week, Andres Guadamuz, who sits on the list, has published details of a very interesting dispute between the BBC and a knitting enthusiast and Doctor Who fan who goes by the screen name of Mazzmatazz. Mazz has been posting knitting patterns to help other people re-create characters from the cult series using only two sticks and ball of wool. Impressive? The BBC, producers of the series, didn't think so. They sent Mazz a letter, which states:

"We note that you are supplying DR WHO items, and using trade marks and copyright owned by BBC. You have not been given permission to use the DR WHO brand and we ask that you remove from your site any designs connected with DR WHO. Please reply acknowledging receipt of this email, and confirm that you will remove the DR WHO items as requested."

Fearing legal action, Mazz has now removed the knitting patterns from the Web.

 

As part of our response to OfCom's public service broadcasting review, we'll be making arguments similar to those we made last Summer during the iPlayer/DRM debate. That is, that in the future, organisations like the BBC with a public service remit should have a role in stimulating the creative economy in the UK, by allowing budding creators to remix its content. Even if this is only allowed to happen in a non-commercial context, the BBC could seed a new generation of creators and remixers, just as it nurtured a generation of computer games developers in the 1980s with its computer literacy project, centred around the iconic BBC micro.

This approach doesn't mean giving all the BBC's content away for free, although in some situations that might be appropriate. But it does mean being more flexible in the approach the BBC takes to controlling who gets to use its content and how. The approach the BBC have taken with Mazz's knitting patterns demonstrate a distinct lack of flexibility. It is quite possible that through transforming the characters in Doctor Who into knitting patterns, Mazz may have infringed upon the BBC's copyright. But it's hard to see how Mazz's non-commercial knitting patterns actually damage the commercial interests of the BBC.

The situation also touches on the growing need for UK copyright law to allow transformative use of works. In 2006, the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property asked the UK Intellectual Property Office to propose amendments to the European Copyright Directive that allowed for creative, transformative or derivative works. In ORG's recent submission to the UK IPO, we urged the UK IPO to take this recommendation forward. For a compelling legal analysis of the issues that Mazz's sitaution touches upon, including the tricky area of transformative use of works, visit Andres's blog, Technollama.

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May 06, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Thanks to all ORG Election Observers!

An ORG election observer A huge thanks to everyone who devoted their day to democracy last week, and joined the Open Rights Group Election Watch 2008. Over the next month, we'll be compiling a report of what we saw at the elections, and specifically at the electronic count of 7 million ballot papers in Alexandra Palace, ExCel and Olympia on 2 May.

Writing the report will involve collating the findings of our nearly 30-strong team of volunteer observers, each of whom was officially accredited by the Electoral Commission. We'll also be undertaking detailed analysis of rejected ballot figures, and sifting through reports commissioned by London Elects from KPMG and Deloitte on the software and hardware used at the electronic count, and on London Elect's business continuity processes. We expect to publish our final report in mid-June. Watch this space!

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April 30, 2008 | Michael Holloway

Supporter update - April 2008

Its that time again and this month we have news on our vacancy for a campaigner, electionwatch '08 and the usual round-up of press and activities.

Click to read the April 2008 supporter update

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April 25, 2008 | Becky Hogge

ORG is hiring!

Thanks to a generous grant from the Open Society Institute, we're seeking to expand our campaigning team. We're looking for an experienced and committed digital rights campaigner to amplify our work on issues around copyright reform and copyright infringement, taking the concerns of ORG and its supporters to Europe and beyond.

The right candidate will be a self-starter, someone who can set their own goals, delegate and prioritise and who has the ability to initiate and successfully execute projects. It's an exciting opportunity to be part of a small, committed team working to protect civil liberties and consumer rights in the digital age.

If you're interested in applying, please read this job description for further details about the position. CVs and covering letters should be sent in .pdf format to michael [AT] openrightsgroup.org by midnight on Sunday 11 May. Interviews will take place in central London in the period 14-16 May.

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April 23, 2008 | Becky Hogge

FIPR calls on Home Office to withdraw misleading advice on Phorm

The Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) has today sent the Home Office in-depth legal analysis [pdf] of the Phorm behavioural advertising system. The analysis has been produced by FIPR's General Counsel (and ORG Advisory Council member) Nicholas Bohm, and complements the technical analysis produced by Richard Clayton earlier this month [pdf]. The analysis shows that Phorm's systems involve interception of communications contrary to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, fraud, contrary to the Fraud Act, and therefore unlawful processing of personal data, contrary to the Data Protection Act. It states that individual directors and managers of the Internet Service Providers involved could be criminally liable for these offences, if roll out of Phorm goes ahead.

FIPR want the Home Office to withdraw informal advice they issued in February, which FIPR say wrongly concluded the system is lawful, creating "an obstacle to the just enforcement of the law". At the public meeting attended by Phorm and their critics last week, Simon Davies of 80/20 Thinking Ltd identified the legality of Phorm under RIPA as a legitimate issue, but urged participants not to get bogged down in a question which, in the end, can only be decided in a court of law. Hopefully, FIPR's legal analysis will bring UK citizens one step closer to an answer to the question "Is Phorm legal?". As Richard Clayton observes:

"The Home Office's superficial analysis said that the system would be lawful. Given their batting average at the High Court, relying upon their opinion was always unwise - this new paper spells out the errors they have made, and makes it essential that their report is withdrawn."

 

Previous posts on Phorm:

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