March 20, 2006 | Suw Charman Anderson

Neil Gaiman gets cease-and-desisted

Neil Gaiman, Patron of the Open Rights Group, got a rather clueless 'cease and desist' letter today:

A mysterious communication arrived via my agent. It's a letter purporting to be from a lawyer which, as far as I can tell, seems to be ordering me to take down a link to a website, without actually ever giving the actual URL of the website I am meant to have linked to. The letter also seems to be suggesting that I own or control or have something to do with a website ( that I manifestly don't, as the simplest websearch or WHOIS check would tell you. In addition it talks about me infringing the trademark and copyright, by linking, of a mostly forgotten movie.
Neil's scanned the letter so you can read it in full and appreciate the astonishing professionalism shown by lawyers Branfman & Associates, (Warning! Site plays cheesy music!), who say they "focus on transactions and litigation pertaining to intellectual property", although obviously not all that well. Meantime, Cory points out on BoingBoing the exact flaws in their accusation:
Crazy, confused "lawyers" from the San Diego firm of Branfman and Associates claiming to represent the creators of the "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" movies have sent a threatening letter to Neil Gaiman, claiming that he linked to their site (he didn't) and that doing so is illegal (it isn't).
And Neil figures out the playground-level logic behind it:
[...] they have probably decided that because the people at put my photo, holding a demonic tomato, up on their site, that I own it. What an astonishingly small amount of research they must do before firing off these bizarre letters.
Ironically, Branfman & Associates are located at 12750 High Bluff Drive, which is about all this letter amounts to. Also covered by MetaFilter.

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March 15, 2006 | Suw Charman Anderson

Take part in the Gowers Review of intellectual property

If you'd like to take part in the Gowers Review of intellectual property in the UK, then the easiest way to do so is to leave a comment on the new Open Rights Group Gowers Review blog, where we've sliced the Call for Evidence into bite-sized chunks, each of which you can comment on. Ideally, we'd like to hear your first-hand experiences of dealing with intellectual property, whether that's copyright, patents, orphaned works, or any other aspect. If you have a story to tell about IP, this is your opportunity. You'll also notice that there are two extra fields in the comment form, asking for your company and job title. These are both optional, but if you can speak on a professional footing, then that helps to provide important context for the Review submission. Thanks to MySociety for giving us the WordPress theme from their Power Inquiry site.

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March 14, 2006 | Suw Charman Anderson

Gowers Review Seminar notes

On 2nd March, the Open Rights Group was invited to attend a seminar on the Gowers Review. The review, lead by Andrew Gowers and commissioned by the Treasury, is an extensive examination of intellectual property in the UK. We have been asked to submit written evidence and the seminar was the first step in that process. I was there along with Rufus Pollock and we took as detailed a set of notes as possible. The text of Andrew Gowers speech has been provided by the Review office. Overall, I think we heard pretty much what we expected to hear, particularly from the Patents panel. Industry was represented very well, alternative voices less so, but it was heartening to see Jill Johnstone from the National Consumer Council on the Copyright panel, putting forward the view of everyday people, and also Anthony Lilley from Magic Lantern who definitely has his head screwed on right. Introduction and opening address from Andrew Gowers Firstly, thank you to the SMF and to Microsoft for organizing this morning's event. It is wonderful to see such a range of intellectual property experts. I'm not going to talk for too long as we have two excellent panels of speakers who I'm as keen as you are to hear speak. I want to briefly outline why I am standing here; what it is that the Review will be looking at and what we hope to achieve, and finally to discuss our call for evidence. As you will know, the Chancellor has asked me to lead an independent review of the intellectual property framework and to assess how this framework operates amidst the challenges of globalisation and technological change. To most audiences, at this point one might have to make a preamble explaining what IP is and why it matters. But that is hardly necessary today - for many of you, your businesses rely on IP. And indeed, our economy is increasingly driven by your knowledge-based industries. The creative industries alone accounted for 7.8 per cent of Gross Value Added in the UK in 2003 and grew by an average of 6 per cent per annum between 1997 and 2003 - twice as fast as the rest of the economy. IP has been in the news almost constantly, whether it be for Peer to Peer file sharing, RIM's Blackberry, or most recently, whether Dan Brown plagiarised parts of the Da Vinci Code from an older best selling book. The sheer size of the economic contribution that IP makes, together with the complexity of these legal arguments demonstrates not only the intricacy of the IP system, but also the economic importance of knowledge and creativity. In short, an effective system of intellectual property rights is vital to UK competitiveness and productivity. The UK can be proud of the successes of the knowledge economy; from the discovery of the double helix, or the invention of radar to the Beatles records, or even the Arctic Monkeys, the UK has a history of cutting edge innovation and creativity. This knowledge does not simply create value for our economy. Knowledge has unusual properties that distinguish it from traditional goods - from physical property. To use economists' terminology it is a 'public good'. IP not only provides the private incentive to create new works, but because the award of IP requires creators to disclose the full nature of the creation or innovation, IP facilitates the public accumulation of knowledge. Books written now enrich our public domain decades, even centuries ahead. Our intellectual property regime must be fit for the 21st Century; it must balance the needs of industries and artists to innovate and create, and the needs of rights holders to protect their inventions. It is was not the intended role for IPRs to prevent access to materials that are of no commercial value or to deprive inventors of information that will enable them to create commercial products. Instead, IP policy must protect the value of the knowledge that resides within goods and services whilst also recognising the value of the public domain. The state plays a vital role in awarding IPRs, and consequently has a responsibility to enable businesses and consumers to use, license and exchange IP efficiently and proportionately. And the state is well aware of this responsibility. It has set up the Creative Industries Forum and the National IP Crime Strategy, and has asked me to take an independent look at the IP system. I believe that this Review will be a unique opportunity to go back to the intellectual roots of intellectual property, but not as an academic exercise. We have an opportunity to rigorously analyse the operations of the UK system; an opportunity to provide practical recommendations that enable consumers and businesses to make the most of intellectual property. I recognise that there are a number of issues which are of particular interest to many of you grappling with the complex IP system. Incremental reform has created an overlapping patchwork of legislation, making it difficult to navigate the system. Some of this complexity is necessary and inevitable, but some may not be. Survey after survey suggests that the knowledge among many businesses, and particularly among SME's, of how to use the IP system to their advantage is low. The Review will consider the IP system in the round, to try to ensure that complexity, is minimised wherever possible. Two enormous trends in particular have raised tensions in the current IP system - globalisation, and digitisation. Your businesses have greater opportunities to maximise the value of their IP abroad, yet are simultaneously subject to foreign competition in domestic markets. Digitisation has radically lowered the cost of duplication, but also of distribution. Moreover, the increasing ease of copying text, music and video across digital networks has threatened traditional business models in several of the most successful sectors of British industry. Part of the response has been the development of technical methods to make unauthorised copying more difficult, such as 'Digital Rights Management' tools. Clearly the way these tools are used is in its infancy, but when used judiciously they have a valid and significant role to play in the distribution of digital content. These trends of digitisation and globalisation have ultimately changed the way that knowledge is created and transacted. The process of innovation has become ever more 'networked', particularly in high-tech sectors: a new invention typically involves more IP, and more firms collaborating to produce the end product, than 30 years ago. Indeed, as Charlie Leadbetter has observed, it is no longer just firms who are responsible for innovation - consumers themselves increasingly play a part in developing innovative goods and services. In the creative industries, whilst there has always been a rich vein of works that have been inspired by previous artists - for example, Shakespeare took his best plots from Holinshed, now we perhaps live in what has been termed the age of "cut and paste"; for example, Madonna's recent number one hit "Hung up" sampled an Abba song - "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme" - and indeed the whole genre of hip-hop is indebted to sampling. Whilst there is truth in Newton's dictum that we benefit from standing on the shoulders of giants, the intellectual property system must acknowledge the integrity of creative endeavour and enable artists and inventors to profit from the works that they create. The length of copyright is one element of that balancing act, and the review shall be examining whether 50 years is the appropriate term for copyright in sound recordings. It has been suggested that there has been a rise in the number of companies that sit 'defensively' on patents with no intention of productively utilising the knowledge, waiting to litigate against infringers. The recent RIM/Blackberry action is a case in point. The phenomenon known as 'patent thickets'; (whereby new entrants in the market find it impossible to research without infringing a complex matrix of patents) has also been a recent innovation in the way that IP is used. Whilst there may be an element of subjectivity in individual cases, both phenomena are perhaps bad news for firms that find themselves at the end of a costly lawsuit, but more also broadly, it may impact on innovation more widely, as other firms and individuals avoid potentially valuable research avenues in order to insure against the threat of litigation. This brings me on to the issue of the costs of holding and challenging intellectual property rights. Securing patent protection in the UK, US and across key European countries typically costs

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March 13, 2006 | Suw Charman Anderson

Next ORG event: Copyfighters' Drunken Brunch and Talking Shop, Sunday 19 March

For most of the last year, I've been going to Cory Doctorow's Copyfighters' Drunken Brunch and Talking Shop, a monthly (ish) gathering of copyright activists where we sit about and eat brunch, talk about copyright, and drink Mimosa (that's 'Buck's Fizz' if you're a Brit) before going over to Speaker's Corner to harangue the crowd.

Because of budgetary restrictions, it's been a quiet little affair, but that's all set to change this Sunday 19 March when Copyfighters' will open its doors to all. Cory has secured co-sponsorship from Electronic Frontier Foundation, ORG, the Foundation for Free Information Infrastructure and the Open Knowledge Forum Network, meaning that we can now supply as much Mimosa as required. (And trust me, Mimosa is required prior to any appearance at Speakers Corner.)

So, come along to the Copyfighters' Brunch on Sunday, March 19th, starting at 11am at Stanhope Centre (see below). This will be the last event at Stanhope, whose lease expires shortly thereafter.

However, Copyfighters' will go on! We at the Open Rights Group are going to continue to host the Copyfighters' brunches as picnics in Hyde Park starting in April, and are at this very moment looking for an indoor home for the events come the autumn.

See you there!

For your hCal needs:

March 02, 2006 | Suw Charman Anderson

Keep up to date with ORG

If you are interested in keeping up to date with ORG goings on, there are two mailing lists that you can join:

ORG-announce is a low volume announcement list where we will, from now on, announce our events, publish news, and generally let you know what is happening.

ORG-discuss is a medium volume discussion list where people interested in digital rights issues can talk about stuff, where I ask for volunteers when I need them, and where we organise things. Participation is not mandatory - feel free to lurk.

Sometimes materials will be cross-posted to both lists, but the really vital one will be ORG-announce.

If you are currently only on the list, then please sign up to ORG-announce as we won't go on using the pledge forever.

And finally, don't forget to donate! We're asking for just a fiver a month to help us keep the fight for digital rights going. That's the cost of just a couple of pints - and you get that back in free drink and nibbles at the monthly ORG event!

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March 02, 2006 | Suw Charman Anderson

Government and privacy in the digital age

The talk that I gave at Trinity College, Dublin, kindly hosted by Dr Eoin O'Dell as part of his Dublin Legal Workshop series and organised by Digital Rights Ireland, is now up online. You can watch the video of my talk and TJ McIntyre's - Director of DRI - response, followed by the question and answer session. In my talk, I take a general look at the government's attitudes to privacy, then discuss ID cards, data retention, the national vehicle tracking database and children's privacy. Thanks to Ole Tange who took the video.

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February 28, 2006 | Suw Charman Anderson

RSA/The Economist - The Internet's Golden Age is Over

I spoke last Thursday at the RSA/Economist's debate, The Internet's Golden Age is Over, arguing for the motion that it's basically doomed. Well, to put it in a more nuanced manner, I believe that the internet never really had a golden age, but if we don't act now, it never will. The three main threats are, I think, data retention, the end of net neutrality, and intermediary liability. If you want to hear me flesh out my arguments a bit more, then you can do so as the RSA has an MP3 of the evening available for download. I was joined on the side of the pessimistic by Professor John Naughton, and opposed by the optimistic Danny Meadows-Klue and Karen Thomson. The debate was ably chaired by The Economist's Tom Standage.

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February 28, 2006 | Suw Charman Anderson

Technolotics videocast

Whilst I was in Dublin last weekend, I did a videocast for Trinity College bloggers Technolotics. Thanks very much to Gareth Stack and Francis McGillicuddy for giving me the chance to talk about digital rights, copyright reform, privacy, data retention, automatic vehicle tracking and a bunch of other stuff. The 'cast is available in audio or video (avi or Google video, although you're best off downloading the video rather than trying to play it in your browser if you go for the avi).

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