June 06, 2008 | Daniel

OfCom Chief Exec on next generation broadband... and network neutrality?

Broadband Internet access is great, isn't it? Sure, it's greater in some areas than others, but in general cable and ADSL have made possible the age of streaming content we now inhabit. And yet... it could always be faster. Especially as low-res sites like Youtube give way to hi-res apps like iPlayer, some providers have forecast that online traffic will meet its physical capacity within the next few years.

Government has taken notice of the problem, but not perhaps in a way that favours users. On Tuesday morning, Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards appeared on Radio 4's Today in part to address the introduction of next-generation broadband in Britain. To gain the added infrastructure necessary for this switch-over, Mr. Richards said:

"Are we doing everything that we can to set out a clear regulatory framework, to ensure that there are returns where companies take risks? Yes, I think we are doing that as well."
Will this have implications for network neutrality? He cited Virgin Media as the vanguard of fibre investors — that company's views on net neutrality are as unpalatable as they are unprintable on our front page.

Ofcom occupies a unique position in this field, because it has the power to guide the debate on what the next paradigm in Internet access will look like. Clearly, 2008 will be an important moment in this debate, and ORG is doing what we can to remind Ofcom that it is just as much its duty to "further the interests of citizens" as to ensure Virgin a healthy return. You can see our current work on the issue on our wiki, and we invite you to contribute to the project.

A transcript of the relevant portion of the Mr. Richards' interview also appears on the wiki. The interview came ahead of Ofcom's release of a new voluntary code of conduct for ISPs advertising broadband speeds.

[Read more]

June 03, 2008 | Michael Holloway

Floreat ORG: new staff members

The ORG office has expanded with two new additions to our staff. Gavin Hill joins as part-time Policy Officer and Dan Ray will be interning with us for the next two months. Welcome along, guys. New team members significantly increase our capacity to campaign for digital rights both by releasing existing resources and bringing new expertise and energy to our work.

Our new role of Policy Officer was created thanks to a generous grant from the Open Society Institute. The role's focus is to coordinate opposition to copyright term extension and the "three strikes" agenda at the European level. Gavin is a seasoned digital rights campaigner who developed and managed the UK arm of the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure's strategic resistance to European software patents. He has also worked for the National Union of Students and the Open Schools Alliance. You can reach Gavin on gavin at openrightsgroup dot org.

And our new intern, Dan Ray, is on summer vacation from his postgraduate work at Harvard Law School. He majored for his undergraduate degree in Political Science and spent a summer studying British history at Oxford University. Dan's duties will be varied and his main output will be managing the collaborative drafting of a briefing pack on network neutrality. If you've got any pointers for that project, then please leave your remarks and links on Dan's working page on orgwiki. You can reach Dan on daniel at openrightsgroup dot org.

[Read more]

May 30, 2008 | Michael Holloway

Supporter update - May 2008

Another busy month here at ORG HQ, not least with the knitting frenzy and ElectionWatch '08. Click the link below for your monthly digest of Open Rights' activities. And if you have any advice on format or content, would be interested to hear it in the comments.

Supporter update - May 2008

[Read more]

May 30, 2008 | Becky Hogge

ORG has new threads

You might notice a few changes to the website today. We've been busy shuffling things around, trying to help it serve the thousands of different people (35,000 this month) who visit the site. This includes adding a dedicated press page linked to from the main menu, and developing a set of pages which attempt to explain to newcomers why particular issues get us going. We've also added pages for people who want to get more involved with ORG and it's day-to-day activities, and updated the sidebar with links to our Flickr photo pool, our Upcoming feed and the ORG shop.

Thanks to Ben for the inspiration, to Mike, Sheila, Richard, Ryan, Lemon, Adam and Chris for making it happen, thanks to Michael for nagging everyone until it did, and thanks to Harry, Suw and Rachel for early feedback. We'll probably have missed something, so if you spot any bugs or broken links, please drop a comment below or email info [AT] openrightsgroup [DOT] org to let us know.

[Read more] (6 comments)

May 19, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Changes to Open Rights Group Board

The ORG board, which oversees ORG's staff and operations, is changing. Currently, the board consists of Louise Ferguson, William Heath, James Cronin, Suw Charman, Danny O'Brien, Rufus Pollock, Ben Laurie, Vijay Sodiwala, David Harris and Dan McQuillan.

Louise Ferguson steps down as chair. Louise has chaired the ORG Board since inception, providing exemplary service during the demanding period of setting up a sustainable new supporter-driven organisation. She continues to serve as a Board member.

Suw Charman, one of ORG's founders and its first Executive Director, is leaving to concentrate on other projects. Suw was instrumental during the early months, working with the other founders to turn the ORG pledge into a reality. Her contributions both as Executive Director and, later, as a Board member led the organisation to many notable successes. We wish her the best of luck in her new endeavours (not least her new blog,

ORG will announce a new chair to serve for a one-year term from September 2008. ORG intends to appoint its next new Board members in autumn 2008. These posts will be openly advertised shortly. From June to September 2008 William Heath takes over as acting chair.

As Danny O'Brien, ORG's co-founder says, "The Open Rights Group was defined, and continues to be defined, by Suw and Louise's amazing and tireless contributions over the last three years. We're incredibly indebted to them both."

[Read more] (3 comments)

May 19, 2008 | Glyn Wintle

Scottish Affairs Committee recommendation on e-Counting

The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee has released its report on the experience of the Scottish elections and unsurprisingly they are worried about e-counting. Last year ORG sent observers to the Scottish elections and observed many problems including the SNP nearly failing to win because of an Excel spreadsheet. The Scottish Affairs Committee official report agrees with many of ORG's findings, saying the following about e-counting:

There has been a severe loss of confidence in e-counting. The experience of its use in the Scottish Parliament and local government elections revealed a fundamental lack of transparency. The checks and balances of a manual system must be retained. Candidates and observers must have access to ballot papers in order to ensure that procedures are followed correctly and that recounts can be asked for. Until these problems are resolved, we do not support the use of e-counting for future elections.

Read the Scottish Affairs Committee's full report.

This year, ORG deployed just under thirty volunteer election monitors to observe the effects of e-counting on the London elections. We will publish an official report of our findings in June.

[Read more]

May 08, 2008 | Becky Hogge

BBC removes Doctor Who fan's knitting patterns from the Web

An Ood, knitted by Mazz Update#2: The BBC have agreed to meet with Mazz and turn her knitted designs into, at the very least, a limited edition of exclusive promotional products. Apparently the production team love her works and can't wait to get their own. Although we're pleased with this outcome, intellectual property law is still in urgent need of reform and similar situations will continue to arise until this is addressed. The Government have agreed to look at the question and popular outcry over this story shows the urgency of the matter.

Update: Thanks to this article published by The Times today, the ORG phones have been buzzing all morning. BBC Worldwide have released a statement (copied in the comments below) and Mazz has updated her homepage to reflect what's been going on. If you appreciate the work ORG does to raise the profile of digital rights issues like this one, please consider becoming an Open Rights Group supporter.



The Open Rights Group often receive calls from UK citizens who have found themselves on the wrong end of online copyright disputes. Because we're not a legal advice service, very often we cannot offer them any help. We're working on a way to change this situation - watch this space for an announcement in the Autumn. In the meantime we tend to pass these queries onto our informal law-discuss list for further analysis.

This week, Andres Guadamuz, who sits on the list, has published details of a very interesting dispute between the BBC and a knitting enthusiast and Doctor Who fan who goes by the screen name of Mazzmatazz. Mazz has been posting knitting patterns to help other people re-create characters from the cult series using only two sticks and ball of wool. Impressive? The BBC, producers of the series, didn't think so. They sent Mazz a letter, which states:

"We note that you are supplying DR WHO items, and using trade marks and copyright owned by BBC. You have not been given permission to use the DR WHO brand and we ask that you remove from your site any designs connected with DR WHO. Please reply acknowledging receipt of this email, and confirm that you will remove the DR WHO items as requested."

Fearing legal action, Mazz has now removed the knitting patterns from the Web.


As part of our response to OfCom's public service broadcasting review, we'll be making arguments similar to those we made last Summer during the iPlayer/DRM debate. That is, that in the future, organisations like the BBC with a public service remit should have a role in stimulating the creative economy in the UK, by allowing budding creators to remix its content. Even if this is only allowed to happen in a non-commercial context, the BBC could seed a new generation of creators and remixers, just as it nurtured a generation of computer games developers in the 1980s with its computer literacy project, centred around the iconic BBC micro.

This approach doesn't mean giving all the BBC's content away for free, although in some situations that might be appropriate. But it does mean being more flexible in the approach the BBC takes to controlling who gets to use its content and how. The approach the BBC have taken with Mazz's knitting patterns demonstrate a distinct lack of flexibility. It is quite possible that through transforming the characters in Doctor Who into knitting patterns, Mazz may have infringed upon the BBC's copyright. But it's hard to see how Mazz's non-commercial knitting patterns actually damage the commercial interests of the BBC.

The situation also touches on the growing need for UK copyright law to allow transformative use of works. In 2006, the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property asked the UK Intellectual Property Office to propose amendments to the European Copyright Directive that allowed for creative, transformative or derivative works. In ORG's recent submission to the UK IPO, we urged the UK IPO to take this recommendation forward. For a compelling legal analysis of the issues that Mazz's sitaution touches upon, including the tricky area of transformative use of works, visit Andres's blog, Technollama.

[Read more] (70 comments)

May 06, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Thanks to all ORG Election Observers!

An ORG election observer A huge thanks to everyone who devoted their day to democracy last week, and joined the Open Rights Group Election Watch 2008. Over the next month, we'll be compiling a report of what we saw at the elections, and specifically at the electronic count of 7 million ballot papers in Alexandra Palace, ExCel and Olympia on 2 May.

Writing the report will involve collating the findings of our nearly 30-strong team of volunteer observers, each of whom was officially accredited by the Electoral Commission. We'll also be undertaking detailed analysis of rejected ballot figures, and sifting through reports commissioned by London Elects from KPMG and Deloitte on the software and hardware used at the electronic count, and on London Elect's business continuity processes. We expect to publish our final report in mid-June. Watch this space!

[Read more] (3 comments)