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November 09, 2007 | Becky Hogge

iPlayer: Open Rights Group on Groklaw

My interview with Sean Daly at Groklaw went online this morning:

Q: Now, let's talk about DRM for a moment. It seems that the current situation the BBC finds itself in with the iPlayer is largely due to the choice to use DRM. My understanding is that without DRM, the rights holders of third-party producers of television programs which are leased to the BBC would withold their programs from online distribution. What do you think is the solution to this? Should those programs just be taken offline?

Becky Hogge: OK, so you're right to identify the problem; in fact you've got it in a nutshell. The BBC is having to negotiate with the people who own the rights in the programs that it broadcasts, because the BBC doesn't own all those rights. For a start, it's bound to use 25% of its commissioning budget to commission programs from independent producers, or "indies" as they're called in the industry. And those indies, most of them, keep the rights, and, like you say, lease them to the BBC for broadcast in a certain window.

Equally, some of the BBC content that the BBC produces itself has got all sorts of complicated rights issues associated with it. That's when the actors, and the cameramen, and all the people that go into it don't necessarily sign over all the rights to the BBC in perpetuity. So this is a really, really difficult problem for the BBC. But at the Open Rights Group, we think that the BBC needs to be tackling this problem head on. Because if it doesn't, it's going to keep having to use digital rights management. And digital rights management is slowly but surely going to eke away the way it can fulfill its public service remit.

This isn't just about a small group of Linux users who can't access iPlayer and are getting stroppy about it. Using DRM is going to push the BBC into more and more of a commercial environment. And what's more, DRM is always going to lead to the kind of platform neutrality issues that the BBC is experiencing now. If you think about it, Apple iTunes, which uses the Apple DRM, is already being accused of distorting the market by regulatory bodies inside the EU. And the BBC is always going to face these issues. Now, what it could do is it could start now to think creatively about how it's going to negotiate with indies and other rights holders in the future.

Read the interview in full here. This morning, I've been at the BBC Future Media and Technology building in White City, recording a podcast for BBC Backstage together with some of the technical team behind iPlayer and Mark Taylor from the Open Source Consortium. I'll post a link to that as soon as it's up.

Update: Here's the BBC Backstage podcast.

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November 01, 2007 | William Heath

ORG appoints new directors

We're delighted to announce three new appointments to the Open Rights board of directors.

Our recruitment process sought significant Board level experience including specific skills in areas such as law and finance. The new Directors possess both of these in spades: David Harris is a practicing IP / IT barrister, Dan McQuillan was Amnesty's web guru and Vijay Sodiwala brings substantial board level technology, media and telecommunications business experience. These appointments will nicely complement the existing range of skills and experience on our board.

Please have a read of their brief biographies, and the existing members, on our Board and Advisory Council page.

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October 31, 2007 | Michael Holloway

Supporters Update - October 2007

Here - for your enjoyment - is this month's Supporters Update.

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October 30, 2007 | Becky Hogge

Parents (and everyone else too): have your say in the Byron Review

The Byron Review is an independent review of the risks to children from exposure to potentially harmful or inappropriate material on the internet and in video games. ORG are preparing to submit a response and we're going to meet Tanya Byron, the clinical psychologist and star of BBC's House of Tiny Tearaways who's heading the review, at the beginning of next week. The deadline for ORG to submit a response is 30 November, and we need your help.

Questions for parents The call for evidence includes questions about the approaches parents are taking to making sure their children stay safe online or make the most out of video games. We'd like to gather the views and experiences of parents out there. Here are some examples of questions we need you to help us answer:

In what ways do parents seek to manage perceived risks of video gaming and how do they feel about their ability to do so?

What, if anything, needs to be changed in order to help children, young people and parents manage the potential or actual risks of going online and what are the pros and cons of different approaches?

You can read and respond to all the questions here.

Questions for everyone Also, there are some really open-ended questions for everyone, like "What are the benefits of video games for society?" or "What are the opportunities presented by the internet for children and young people?". ORG needs you to help answer these questions.

How to get involved The Review document is up on our interactive consultation tool, ready for your comments. Please take a look and add your views. There's also a wiki page for collecting resources.

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October 29, 2007 | Michael Holloway

Government wants to be open

The results of the Freedom of Information (FoI) consultation are now public. Contrary to initial proposals, and in line with ORG's position, FoI regulations will not be modified to discourage applications. Equally encouraging are three newly announced inquiries, all touted to 'make Government more open'.

As you may remember from our collaborative drafting process, proposals would have blocked many of the more politically sensitive FoI requests on the grounds of cost. Along with the majority of other respondents, we argued that penny pinching was contrary to the spirit of the legislation. Due in part at least to this public pressure the Government have been forced to listen, and cool off on these proposals.

In the very same announcement, Michael Wills MP also spoke of 3 separate moves toward a new culture of 'openness' in Government. First, they will review the '30-year-rule', which is the period after which government records become historical and are handed over to the The National Archives. Of more interest to ORG, is a review of 'the way we share and protect personal information in the public and private sector', to be led by representatives of the Information Commissioner's Office and the Wellcome Trust. Last but certainly not least, is a consultation on extending the application of FoI regulations to include 'a range of organisations that perform public functions' i.e. private contractors doing government works. Watch this space for regular updates on each of these issues.

The last one is particularly interesting. ORG would have used these kind of powers in our recent e-voting campaign, when some of our FoI applications were turned down on the grounds of commercial confidentiality because the materials were held by private firms.

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October 24, 2007 | Jason Kitcat

Gould Review on Scottish Elections Published

The Electoral Commission and the separate review by Ron Gould that the Commission instituted have published their reports on the Scottish elections of May 2007

The Gould Review in particular identifies a number of important issues, many of which ORG addressed in our own report on the elections published this June.

  • The Review identified 'fragmented and antiquated' legislation which made it difficult for elections to be properly run as responsibilities were split between too many bodies. The Review makes a number of good recommendations including appointing a Chief Returning Officer for Scotland and removing administrative responsibilities from the Electoral Commission to help clarify its role.
  • The Review finds that combining the Scottish parliamentary and local government elections was problematic and should not be repeated.
  • The Review agrees with ORG's finding that combining the two parliamentary ballot papers onto one sheet was the primary reason for the high level of rejected ballots. The Review argues that ministers appeared to want to combine the ballots from very early on whilst going through the motions of consultation and analysis. The Review recommends that in future two ballot sheets are used. Interestingly these findings are based on analysis of actual rejected ballots. From this the Review suggests, and ORG agrees, that anonymised rejected ballot images should be made available for analysis in all future elections.
  • The Review recommends that in future registered party names are used on ballot papers before any descriptions, if they are to be allowed. The ordering of these names would be by a public lottery. This confirms ORG's view that the use of 'Alex Salmond for First Minister' at the top of the regional ballot was confusing for voters in May 2007.
  • That electronic counting added complexity and contributed to ballot design problems was acknowledged by the Review. These were compounded by many late changes and decisions by ministers which were often poorly communicated to stakeholders.
  • The Review comments that while lead supplier DRS did put emphasis on delivering a reliable system, some problems encountered on election night were missed because final testing did not use the same configuration and data as used on the night.

While the Review makes a number of positive, but minor, recommendations regarding electronic counting, it unfortunately fails to address the security and technical issues encountered by ORG observers. It seems that once again a lack of technical expertise has led an elections report team to focus on other matters at the expense of important issues regarding the security, accuracy and auditability of e-voting and e-counting systems. Whilst building trust in e-counting systems is mooted, the obvious method of using sample manual recounts to check the accuracy of electronic counts is not once mentioned.

While ORG remains unaware of any plans to introduce e-voting in Scotland, the Review states that:

"We strongly recommend against introducing electronic voting for the 2011 elections, until the electronic counting problems that were evidenced during the 2007 elections are resolved."

We welcome this caution but it raises questions about moves that Gould may be aware of that we aren't!

The Review overall concludes that there was too much emphasis on completing counts quickly and this, along with managerial failings and politically-motivated decisions by ministers led to 'voters [being] overlooked as the most important stakeholders to be considered at every stage of the election.' ORG welcomes the Review's repeated emphasis on conducting accurate and high-quality counts over speedy counts. However it's notable that the Review lacks the kind of strong language which will encourage rapid action on the problems noted. The Review notes that:

"... we have had no intention of -- and, in fact, have scrupulously sought to avoid -- assigning blame to individuals and institutions or questions the legitimacy of the 3 May 2007 elections results."

Given this perspective it's difficult to see how the Review could have come to any strong conclusions that would force political action. By avoiding the question of the results' legitimacy the Gould Review has abdicated itself from an important responsibility. ORG expressed doubts over the results, as did others, and yet the Review we've all been made to wait for dodges the issue.

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October 24, 2007 | Glyn Wintle

Microsoft accepts EC competition ruling on interoperability info: analysis

It's taken a while to pick apart Neelie Kross's announcement that Microsoft have accepted the conditions of the European Commission's 2004 ruling on abuse of market position. The European Commissioner for Competition Policy stated at a press conference on Monday that:

"Put together, these changes in Microsoft's business practices, in particular towards open source software developers, will profoundly affect the software industry. The repercussions of these changes will start now and will continue for years to come."

Yet it is not clear whether the news for open source is all that good.

Groklaw rightly points out that the €10,000 one-off fee for secret interoperability information "to be paid by companies that dispute the validity or relevance of Microsoft's patents" is out of reach of most of the open source community. And the options the European Commission lay out for open source developers implementing patented interoperability information are "design around these patents, challenge their validity or take a patent licence from Microsoft.", when, as Groklaw points out "The GPL can't take a license for a patent, period."

The FFII are one group not happy with the decision. In a statement issued yesterday, Benjamin Henrion, FFII representative in Brussels, accused the commission of misunderstanding the challenges faced by open source:

"The Commission does not understand how open source works. It naively accepted Redmond's assurances that they will play fair. It is a sham. They have planned for years to control the open source economy through software patents."

Business Week have a range of reactions from elsewhere in the software community, including the Free Software Foundation Europe and the European Committee for Interoperable Systems. As they put it, "The open-source software sector isn't popping open champagne bottles just yet."

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October 22, 2007 | Becky Hogge - the story so far...

Today, and following this report in the Guardian, the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) reported the arrest of the proprietor of

"A man aged 26 from Cheltenham was arrested on Thursday (18th October) in connection with offences relating to the facilitation of copyright infringement on the Internet. The arrest came during an operation by officers from Gloucestershire County Council Trading Standards Service working with investigators from the Federation Against Copyright Theft (‘FACT’) and Gloucestershire Police. The man has been released pending further enquiries.

"The site, TV Links (, was providing links to illegal film content that has been camcorded from within a cinema and then uploaded to the Internet. The site additionally provided links to TV shows that were also being illegally distributed." is a website containing a list of links to downloads of TV programmes and films, hosted on other websites. The site is no longer available, but the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine has preserved this copy from July 2007.

The involvement of local Trading Standards services in a copyright infringement case presumably follows from the new powers and resources granted Trading Standards in April this year, after Andrew Gowers recommended they be given the power to enforce copyright infringement laws in his 2006 review of intellectual property law.

Now seems an apt moment to reflect, therefore, on the progress of some of Gowers' other recommendations. While at least one of the report's enforcement recommendations has already made it into the light of day (and onto the streets of Gloucestershire), all of his recommendations around flexibility remain on the drawing board. A quick call to the UK Intellectual Property Office this morning confirms that consultation around implementing the recommendations for format-shifting (recommendation 8), library use (recommendation 10) and parody and pastiche (recommendation 12), originally expected in May, still has no firm date, but could happen "towards the end of November".

But back to enforcement. The Open Rights Group spoke with Gloucestershire police this afternoon, and their spokesperson confirmed that the man referred to in the FACT press release had been arrested under suspicion of a violation of Section 92 of the Trademarks Act ("Unauthorised use of trade mark, et c. in relation to goods"), which reads:

(1) A person commits an offence who with a view to gain for himself or another, or with intent to cause loss to another, and without the consent of the proprietor—

  • applies to goods or their packaging a sign identical to, or likely to be mistaken for, a registered trade mark
  • sells or lets for hire, offers or exposes for sale or hire or distributes goods which bear, or the packaging of which bears, such a sign, or
  • has in his possession, custody or control in the course of a business any such goods with a view to the doing of anything, by himself or another, which would be an offence under paragraph (b).

(2) A person commits an offence who with a view to gain for himself or another, or with intent to cause loss to another, and without the consent of the proprietor—

  • applies a sign identical to, or likely to be mistaken for, a registered trade mark to material intended to be used—

    • for labelling or packaging goods,
    • as a business paper in relation to goods, or
    • for advertising goods, or

  • uses in the course of a business material bearing such a sign for labelling or packaging goods, as a business paper in relation to goods, or for advertising goods, or
  • has in his possession, custody or control in the course of a business any such material with a view to the doing of anything, by himself or another, which would be an offence under paragraph (b).

Until the police have concluded their investigations, the exact connection between this piece of law and "the facilitation of copyright infringement" will be up for speculation. You can read some speculation here, here, here and here. We will keep on this story and keep you updated.

The Open Rights Group does not condone the download of copyright-infringing materials. However, sites like wouldn't exist (and according to Alexa's "daily reach" measure, receive more traffic than if there wasn't demand for the material, demand the industry is not meeting. Perhaps if industry released their content online in a timely manner, and for a reasonable price, it would profit from this lust for downloading. Indeed, as reported over at Techcrunch, today's news comes hot on the heels of an announcement of serious "seven-figure" funding for Tape it Off the Internet (, who plan to invest the cash in extending the service to other platforms, including TV download services from household-name broadcasters.

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