January 04, 2006 | Suw Charman Anderson

James Boyle on the Database Directive

James Boyle writes in the FT about the EU's empirical evaluation of whether the Database Directive, which gave intellectual property rights over the creation of database, is actually helping stimulate the industry.

Using a methodology similar to the one I described in an earlier column on the subject, the Commission found that

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January 03, 2006 | Suw Charman Anderson

Radio Five Live's Up All Night - the year in review

Went into BBC Television Centre last night to record a review of 2005 with Neil McIntosh, Tim Worstall, Chris Vallance and Kevin Anderson. Managed to get a plug in for the Open Rights Group, and you can listen to the show online for the next week (til Mon 9 Jan; our bit starts around 26:50). I'll try to get an MP3 again if I can. It was slightly odd doing a review of the year because I couldn't remember much of it. Talk about the recency effect - most of the year before December was a bit of a blur really. I spent ten minutes or so before the session began flipping through Tim's book, 2005 Blogged: Dispatches from the Blogosphere, trying to swat up on what actually happened. As it turned out, I didn't really need to worry and it was fun to try and make predictions (or, in my case, fervently held hopes) for 2006. Still I made one point that I would like to think more about, and maybe get a bit more evidence for: 'political blogging' is usually seen as attempting to influence the electorate regarding voting when in fact, I think that activist blogging is a strand of political blogging that going to be more influential in the long run. If political blogs is talking about political issues, activist blogs are trying to get people to do something about those issues. Is that too fine a line to draw? Or are activist blogs really different to (and potentially more influential than) straight political blogs?

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January 03, 2006 | Suw Charman Anderson

APIG DRM Inquiry white paper

The white paper that we prepared before Christmas for the All Party Parliamentary Internet Group's public inquiry into digital rights management is now up on the ORG wiki. You might also like to read Kevin Marks' submission. If you submitted a paper, please let me know so that we can link to it, or feel free to put it on the ORG wiki.

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January 02, 2006 | Suw Charman Anderson

Gardening the ORG wiki

Spent a bit of time today working on the ORG wiki, so if you have a bit of time to add more information to it, that'd be superb. In particular, I've added a resources page and an issues page, both of which could do with expansion.

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December 20, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

The ORG website - we need a designer!

We had one of those moments last week when we realised that, because almost everyone involved in ORG has bucketfuls of experience of designing and launching websites (indeed, I started working as a web designer/developer in '98, and I can do this shit with my hands tied behind my back), the one thing that had escaped our attention was, in fact, the website. I'd been meaning to sit down and have a 'proper think about it' at some point, but got carried away with the new challenges of setting up an NGO instead and somehow 'never quiet got round to it'. It's funny how that works. You'd think that, given our collective expertise, we'd be all over the website like a rash, but instead it got put to one side as we grappled with the new, unfamiliar - and I'd say significantly harder - problems. Having realised that we really need to sort this website out, though, we have grabbed a hold of it by the jugular and are giving it a good shake. We've got a Wordpress/PHP/Perl developer guru who's happy to look after that side of things, but now we need a shithot designer to make everything look nice. We are looking for:

A dab hand with CSS to design the ORG blog (both static pages and blog posts in Wordpress), wiki (MediaWiki unless you have a better idea) and supporters' website. You will need to be able to work on this project immediately, alongside a project manager and our aforementioned developer on a pro bono basis.
If you would like to help out and have time to devote to this project, please send us an email with examples of your work. We also need a logo. I always consider logo design to be a somewhat specialised discipline. I used to be a reasonable web designer, but my logo design skills... well, let's just say they suck, and leave it at that. If logo design is your bag, then we would love to hear from you. The brief for the logo is pretty simple, really:
The logo should have a long form, which includes the words 'Open Rights Group' and a short form, using the acronym ORG. It should be suitable for website, web kites, headed notepaper, business cards, t-shirts and stickers (including small ones). The logo should simple, distinctive and easily recognisable. Colours should be professional, with a slight hint of 'in yer face'-ness - no pink or corporate blue. The font should be clean and unfussy.
Please do email us to talk about it further if you'd like to be involved with the logo design. If you're really observant, you'll have noticed incremental improvements in the blog already. We're going to continue that, so please do bear with us whilst we sort everything else out and try to drag ourselves up out of beta.

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December 19, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

What next for data retention?

If you've been following the data retention directive's progress through the EU, you'll have heard long since that the directive was voted in by 378 in favour to 197 against and 30 abstentions - which totals 605 of the 732 MEPs who make up the European Parliament. Spy Blog has a great breakdown of exactly which UK MEPs voted, and how, which is well worth taking a look at. If you contacted your MEP about this issue and they voted in favour, why not drop them another line and politely ask them why? If they voted against, then maybe a nice email thanking them for trying to protect your civil liberties might be an idea. It's very easy to criticise when people do things we don't like, but how often do we compliment them when they do stuff we agree with? I don't think anyone who was involved in campaigning against this directive was surprised at the final outcome, although I'll admit to a bit of disappointment. Deep down, I'd hoped that the MEPs would listen to reason instead of toeing the party line. Once the festive season is over, I'm going to be having conversations with organisations such as Privacy International and Digital Rights Ireland to see what our next steps are, particularly with regard to the European Convention on Human Rights and other legal challenges (notably by Ireland). We'll also consider how to further this debate within the UK's own democratic framework. Meantime, as always, keep up-to-date with Data Retention Is No Solution.

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December 09, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

Slowly the pieces of the jigsaw fall into place

I spent an hour today talking to people at the Radiator Film Festival about digital rights and putting together an activist group, referencing directly my own personal experiences organising the Open Rights Group. I found myself repeatedly saying "This is how we did it, but I wouldn't recommend that you do it like this." In a separate conversation with a fellow activist earlier in the week, I found myself in the slightly weird position of having someone else give me the advice I would have been giving them if they were me. There was much vigourous head nodding, much "Oh, I totally agree!", and much feeling that I had really missed some very obvious opportunities to do things better. Both experiences made me realise that I've been so caught up in trying to get ORG sorted that I've not been telling everyone what we're doing, so this is both my update post, and me putting my hand up and admitting that I've not been as transparent as I'd like to have been. It's not out of any conspiracy, it's just that it's easy to get caught up in your to do list and forget that sometimes, the most important things to do aren't on the list. It's too easy not to see the wood for the trees. Supporting ORG We're still trying to get the supporters sign-up process sorted so that you can join ORG and the database will automatically provide you with either a standing order form, or tie you into the PayPal site if you want to donate that way. We had initially hoped that this would be done by the Digital Rights in the UK event, but we only got it half-done and finishing it off has taken us much longer than we'd anticipated. We're working on it, though, and if the Perl gods smile upon us it will be done soon. The wiki At the Digital Rights in the UK event, I promised to set up a wiki. I finally managed to do this just the other day, although I then promptly managed to break the damn thing half an hour later. It's now fixed and, although logo-less, it's there for you to use. The only thing up there at the moment is a link to the Flickr set of the photos taken by Lloyd Davis of the conversations captured on index card on the night. The general idea is that you can help transcribe and organise the information in those images, and add to it on the wiki. We'll be contributing stuff ourselves to the wiki as time goes on, but it's open for you to use as you want. If you have information on current or upcoming digital rights issues that you want to share - or any other relevant stuff, for that matter - then feel free to publish it there. The mailing list We have also set up an open mailing list called ORG-discuss which is for general discussion of digital rights issues, ORG, and related stuff. Join, take part, and let's get things moving. If you are interested in volunteering for ORG, then that's where we'll be sending our requests for help. The blog and website We know the blog is fugly, and we're fixing it. I will also be writing a lot more content for it over the coming weeks, so there'll be information about how to support us, who we are, what we're doing, our legal status, and all that stuff that may not be thrillingly interesting but which should be public. Still lots to do We still have an awful lot to do to make ORG into the kind of group which is going to be useful and effective, although I think we have already made quite a bit of progress in that direction. We got quite a few column inches on data retention and are starting to build up good relationships with other groups. It may not be startlingly dramatic progress, but it's important nonetheless. One of the points that I made during my talk at Radiator was that we really did all this arse-about-face in some ways, by starting the pledge before we knew exactly what we wanted to achieve or how we were going to do it. It's felt a lot like we've spent the last five months catching up with where people thought we were in July and I think that might be at the root of some of the frustration that people have felt. It's not that nothing has been happening, it's just that we've been so busy trying to get things moving that we've not been as transparent as we could have been, and thus it's looked like we're sitting about doing nothing. This has been a problem all through the process, and all I can do is just say that we'll try very hard to do better. Indeed, it is through this teething process that we most need your support. We are giving the first 1000 people to donate special status, that of 'Founding 1000'. (Sort of like The 4400, but without the special psychic powers.) What this means in the short term is that you get a warm, rosy glow of satisfaction. In the long term, we'll provide special goodies for you and try to find whatever other perks we can as we go along. But by becoming one of the Founding 1000 are supporting us with something much more important than money - your giving us your trust too, saying that you believe we will do the right thing by you. It will take us time to finalise the infrastructure that will make ORG survive beyond the first incumbents, and everyone involved is taking a long term view to make sure that ORG is not just a flash in the pan. During that period we may fluff things up occasionally, but when we do we'll hold our hands up, admit it, and then try to do better. Finally, thank you to everyone who has either offered or help and expertise thus far. We certainly would not have achieved as much as we have in such a short time without you.

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December 09, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

Fighting data retention

Word coming out of the EU Parliament is not good for data retention. It seems that the deals have been struck, agreements reached, and ranks closed. The Council's proposal is being voted on by MEPs on 13 December. One hope is an amendment by Swedish MEP Charlotte Cedershiold which will reinstate reimbursement of costs to the industry. This will, at least, help protect you from large rises in your telephone/internet bills. It will also go against the Council's wishes, which means that if it gains support they will almost certainly demand a second reading in the European Parliament to get exactly the wording they wish. MEPs travel to Strasbourg on Monday; Friday is their last day in Brussels, and your last chance to contact them via WriteToThem. If you've been in communication with your MEP previously, and you have their telephone contact details, call them instead of writing and remind them of your interest. Tell them:

  • Data retention is a sweeping proposal, with ramification for the telecommunications industry, internet users and providers, and civil liberties. It should not be rushed through in one reading to suit the current Presidency.
  • At the very least, consumers should not have to bear the brunt of costs, and Cedershiold's amendment should be supported.
  • Urge your MEP to consider all the communications he or she has received on this topic, and vote with his or her conscience, not with what the major party blocs have decided.

To keep up to date with what's happening, visit the Data Retention is No Solution wiki.

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