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October 17, 2007 | Michael Holloway

Support ORG (and look good doing it)

With Open Rights Group slowly but surely becoming a cultural icon, marked most recently by our logo's appearance on Channel 4's 'The IT Crowd', now is the perfect time to donate to digital liberties. As always, the best way is to join up as a supporter and commit to a monthly donation.

One other way to express support is buying an ORG T-Shirt, on sale from our shop at openrightsgroup.spreadshirt.net. We have a few different logo styles for you fellas to choose from, in both tasteful black and white options. There's also a couple of designs especially for our female followers. Perhaps most exciting of all is the ORG-branded mug. The £20 price-tag includes a £5 donation to your favourite evidence-based agitators.

Drop us a line if you'd like to help us expand our range of merchandise. We're especially keen to hear ideas for slogans and visual designs to help communicate any of our issues.

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October 16, 2007 | Becky Hogge

BBC U-turn: Full iPlayer service may never be available to Mac and Linux Users

Yesterday, the BBC announced that a cross-platform "streamed" version of its on-demand service the iPlayer would be available by the end of the year. According to this report from BBC News Online:

"At the end of the year users of Windows, Mac or Linux machines will be able to watch streamed versions of their favourite TV programmes inside a web browser, as well as share the video with friends and embed programmes on their own websites, sites such as Facebook and blogs."

If the idea sounds vaguely familiar, that's because back in March, when the BBC Trust put the iPlayer out for consultation, the Open Rights Group gently suggested that streaming was a far better short term solution to on-demand services than DRM-restricted market-distorting technologies that would serve to widen the digital divide. We observed that:

"Such an approach is cheaper, lower risk, more inclusive (it works for example in libraries) and more flexible than the current BBC proposal. It may not appeal to consultants looking to make huge profits at public expense however, precisely because it is simple, clean and low-risk.

"It does not, of itself, address the desire for users to obtain content in DRM-free downloadable form for any platform, but it provides a basis until the BBC is able to identify more open solutions for the download of content, preferably ones which do not depend upon DRM... The Open Rights Group considers it is quite possible that, as already is clearly happening in the music world, the use of DRM will soon be abandoned by the market itself."

You can read our full submission to the BBC Trust here. But enough of the I-told-you-so-s. Is yesterday's move good news for licence fee payers who do not use Windows? Well, not really. Although they will now be given online access to content their licence fee has helped pay for, there are still fundamental inequities between users on different platforms, and this still leaves the BBC deforming the market in favour of Microsoft DRM and Windows. People on Macs, Linux, PDAs and other handheld devices are still losing out on all the features that make the downloadable iPlayer different from, say, the kind of streaming that the BBC has done for years with the RadioPlayer.

And that's not all. Ashley Highfield, director of Future Media and Technology at the BBC has now indicated that the full, downloadable iPlayer may never be made available to those who do not use the latest versions of Windows. When the iPlayer launched in June, Highfield was quoted as saying:

"I am fundamentally committed to universality, to getting the BBC iPlayer to everyone in the UK who pays their licence fee."

But yesterday, he admitted:

"We need to look long and hard at whether we build a download service for Mac and Linux. It comes down to cost per person and reach at the end of the day."

The BBC could avoid all this mess if it eschewed DRM and instead employed standard formats. The Open Rights Group believes that the BBC cannot be truly public service in the 21st century until it gives the British public access to the programmes that they have paid for without DRM or restriction. This is not a technology problem, but cuts to the heart of what the BBC is for and how it makes and commissions programming. ORG challenges the BBC and the BBC Trust to re-examine the BBC's commissioning and rights frameworks with the goal of creating public service content, owned by the public and available to all.


Update: The BBC Trust have hit back at the Future Media and Technology team, reiterating their condition that the entire service must be platform neutral and adding "we would expect BBC management to come back to us if they are planning any changes to iPlayer." Read the full report here.

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October 11, 2007 | Becky Hogge

UK Government accused of breaching state aid rules in software procurement

On Tuesday, John Pugh MP led an adjournment debate on IT software procurement, where he accused the UK government of excluding Linux and Mac Users from government services such as the Department of Work and Pensions online benefits system.

"The Government are spending public money, and in doing so, it is difficult to see how they are not also breaching state aid rules and providing illegal state aid. If someone cannot access benefits online without using a Windows-based computer, as is currently the case, I do not see how the Government can be doing anything other than involving themselves in illegal state aid."

Angela Eagle MP, speaking on behalf of the Treasury, neatly side-stepped Pugh's accusations, stating that "the Government must... provide software that is relevant to the computers that most people in the UK have" and that avoiding market distortion was "up to the people contracting". The debate is reminiscent of concerns about the BBC's Microsoft-only iPlayer raised by the Open Source Consortium, the Free Software Foundation, the Open Rights Group and many others over the Summer.

Also during the debate (well-spotted, Glyn!) it looked like Andrew Miller MP might have raised the spectre of Microsoft's failed OOXML standard, when he asked:

"Would it not help in the quest for openness if the British Standards Institution were to follow the lead in other parts of the world and make open source XML (sic) one of the standards to be applied throughout the world? It would mean that people working outside the Microsoft sphere could have access to the code, and it would help the world in future-proofing big projects such as the British Library archives."

You can read a full transcript of the debate here.

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October 09, 2007 | Becky Hogge

Today: Westminster Hall debate on government software procurement

John Pugh MP will today lead a Westminster Hall debate on government software procurement. The Liberal Democrat MP for Southport (and veteran speaker at ORG's e-voting events) is a well known advocate of free and open source software. Yesterday, he released the results of a survey he had conducted which showed that many local authorities had no real idea how much money is being spent on IT within their schools. From the Open Schools Alliance press release:

"The survey also found that while almost 50% of Local Authorities are using some form of open source software within their schools there is no apparent systematic strategy to get best value from such procurement. Only 3 of the respondents, Cumbria, East Yorkshire and Lancashire, offer an open source solution as a standard learning platform throughout their area."

You can watch the debate live from Westminster Hall - it starts at 12.30.

The Open Schools Alliance are hosting an event called "Success in Education" to look at issues surrounding the use of Free and Open Source software in education in Liverpool later this month.

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October 04, 2007 | Michael Holloway

ORG @ Conservatives conference 2007

ORG  at Conservative party conference

Our e-Voting campaign tour reached its triumphant climax this week in Blackpool. Jonathan Djanogly MP, the Shadow Solicitor General who was hugely complimentary about our work, joined Jason and the Electoral Commission on our panel to discuss the ills of electronic elections.

As in Brighton with the Lib Dems and in Bournemouth with Labour, the vast majority of delegates we spoke to and who attended our event agreed with our approach to the issue. Questions from the floor revealed concerns with accessibility, future developments in cryptography and also the lack of trust in the existing, paper-based system. Some attendees even took our printed materials back to their local parties to help spread the word.

The audio recording is available for download in both ogg vorbis and mp3 format. Or, listen below via the embedded media player. There's also a few more photos on flickr.

Thanks again to the JRRT, which funded this campaign; to Jason for leading our work on this issue; to William for expertly chairing the conference sessions and to the election observers who worked so hard to put together our elections report. ORG is already looking forward to the 2008 conference season!

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September 28, 2007 | Michael Holloway

ORG @ Labour Party conference 2007

The "should we trust electronic elections" bandwagon rolled onwards through Bournemouth and the Labour conference this week. Our aim was to both recruit more supporters and inform the party faithful that e-voting and e-counting are unsuitable for use in our democratic elections.

Our panel - chaired by William Heath - comprised of Alun Michael MP, Andrew Scallan (Electoral Commission) and ORG's e-voting supremo Jason Kitcat. As in Brighton, many in the audience shared our mistrust of electronic elections after difficult, personal experiences. Unlike Brighton, one attendee seemed very much in favour of holding future polls in a superstores.

We have both ogg vorbis and mp3 recordings of the hour-long debate. Listen in particular for Alun Michael praising ORG again and again for the fine work that went into our elections report! Thanks again to all the volunteer observers and Jason who led that effort. You can also listen here through our media player:

Next week we're at the Conservative conference (Monday, Tuesday), as well as the 'Future of Web Apps' (Wednesday, Thursday) and then the University of London Freshers Fair (Friday).

(Apologies: both our cameras experienced technical problems so sadly photos are in short supply. Also, my machine mysteriously chose to stop itself recording, although fortunately only a minute or two before close.)

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September 28, 2007 | Michael Holloway

Supporters Update - September 2007

Here's this month's update, including tales from 'Conference' and much more besides. ORG Supporters Update - September 2007

If you're an org-supporter who wants Supporter Updates in their inbox, but don't currently receive, let us know.

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September 28, 2007 | Michael Holloway

Supporter meetup in Blackpool this Monday, 1 October

If you live local to Blackpool, please come along for a drink and meet the ORG team this Monday evening. We’ll be in town for our fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference - part of the “Should we trust electronic elections” roadshow - and are really keen to meet ORG supporters in the area and find out about your digital rights concerns.

We’re meeting at 19.00, Monday 1 October at The Saddle Inn, 286 Whitegate Drive, Blackpool FY3 9PH. So if you’re a local activist or want to become more engaged with digital rights issues, come down for a chat.

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