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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November 28, 2006 | Glyn Wintle

Open Source Motion Filed in House of Commons

John Pugh MP has tabled an Early Day Motion number 179 in the House of Commons entitled Software in Education. Please write to your MP requesting that they add their name to this motion.

That this House congratulates the Open University and other schools, colleges and universities for utilising free and open source software to deliver cost-effective educational benefit not just for their own institutions but also the wider community; and expresses concern that Becta and the Department for Education and Skills, through the use of outdated purchasing frameworks, are effectively denying schools the option of benefiting from both free and open source and the value and experience small and medium ICT companies could bring to the schools market.

Software in schools - John Pugh - Early Day Motion 179

The Open Schools Alliance have detailed information and advice on what to put in your letter.

UPDATE, 1 Dec 06: The EDM has now been signed by 39 MPs from all the main parties, which is above average for any Early Day Motion. The aim for the next two weeks is to get nearer the 100 signatures mark (of the 380 EDMs tabled by MPs since the Queen's Speech, only 6 have over 100 signatures). If you haven't written to your MP, please do so!

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November 17, 2006 | Suw Charman Anderson

Number 10 Petitions site launches

Back when I was in Brussels for EuroOSCON, the open source conference, Tom Steinberg asked me to think of a petition that I would like to see on a new petition site that mySociety was building for 10 Downing Street. I had a bit of a think, and came up with this one:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to create a new exception to copyright law that gives individuals the right to create a private copy of copyrighted materials for their own personal use, including back-ups, archiving and shifting format.
It was a bit of a rush job, but I think it summed up what I wanted to say, and very much fit in with the thinking I was doing at the time about Release The Music. The petition site launched on 14 November, and to start with my petition was the most popular, then it slipped into second place, and now it's fourth on the site with 1030 signatories (compared to the hunting petition which has 5437). You have until 26 December 2006 to sign up, so please do pop along and add your name to the list. The chaps over at mySociety deserve applause for their hard work - it seems like the first 48 hours after the site went live were a lot of hard work as they ironed out wrinkles in the system. The site has been far more popular than I think anyone anticipated, with nearly 500 petitions suggested within the first few days, although I'll be interested to see how usage levels off when press interest dies down. However, I can see that this will be a tool that ORG will be using regularly as we step up our campaigning. And talking of petitions, if you haven't already signed the petition against term extension on sound recordings, please do. We have 230 names already, but we'd like at least a few thousand more!

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November 17, 2006 | Suw Charman Anderson

New hi-tech passports cracked

Great piece in The Guardian about how Adam Laurie and No2ID's Phil Booth cracked the new hi-tech passport RIFD chips. If you weren't worried about these new passports before, you should be:

Within minutes of applying the three passports to the reader, the information from all of them has been copied and the holders' images appear on the screen of Laurie's laptop. The passports belong to Booth, and to Laurie's son, Max, and my partner, who have all given their permission. Booth is staggered. He has undercut Laurie by finding an RFID reader for £174, which also works. "This is simply not supposed to happen," Booth says. "This could provide a bonanza for counterfeiters because drawing the information from the chip, complete with the digital signature it contains, could result in a passport being passed off as the real article. You could make a perfect clone of the passport."

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November 15, 2006 | Michael Holloway

Release the Music - audio recording now available

Thanks to everyone who made it along on Monday night. For those who could not attend, and also for reference purposes, you can now download the audio recording - in either MP3 or Ogg Vorbis format - from the link below. Its split into 2 sections, 1 covers the lecture from Jonathan Zittrain, and the other covers the panel discussion.

We hope to make an audio-visual record available within a week or so.

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