March 17, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Musicians, fans and online copyright - free event this Wednesday!

Last weekend, international divisions over how to deal with those who illicitly share copyrighted material online began to appear. It was announced on Saturday that Japanese internet service providers (ISPs) have agreed to cut off the internet connection of anyone who illegally downloads files, in plans that mirror France's Olivennes Bill. Meanwhile Sweden's Minister of Justice and Minister of Culture have rejected similar plans to disconnect filesharers, stating in an article for the Svenska Dagbladet daily that such an approach is not practical in modern society where Internet access is a prerequisite for so much else. Instead, Sweden will favour a process where rightsholders must prosecute suspected filesharers in court.

The UK government will consult UK citizens on their plans to tackle illicit filesharing this Spring. If you need to brush up on the arguments ahead of time, there are still a few places left at Musicians, fans and online copyright. This event, which takes place on Wednesday, will gather representatives from the recording industry, ISPs and consumer welfare groups together with academic and legal experts to discuss whether ISPs should monitor customers to try and spot copyright infringement, and disconnect downloaders. It promises to be a lively and informed afternoon, so do come along if you can. The event is being held from 1400 at the London School of Economics. It is free to attend, but you must register here.

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March 14, 2008 | Michael Holloway

Public sector information: officially better when shared

Following up on the stunning Power of Information Review (PoIR), comes the snappily-titled Models of Public Sector Information Provision via Trading Funds. This new research, published yesterday, looks at the way public sector bodies charge for commercial and non-commercial reuse of non-personal public sector information. It was commissioned after PoIR recommendations made by Messrs Steinberg (Director of mySociety) and Mayo (Director of the NCC), and was performed by a crack squad of Cambridge University academics, including Rufus Pollock (ORG Director). In all honesty we have not yet read all of the 100+ pages of dense economic theory, but this great piece of news jumps out:

" most cases, a marginal cost regime would be welfare improving – that is, the benefits to society of moving to a marginal cost regime outweighed the costs."

Amongst others, the Free our Data campaign has pushed Government to review its policy on restrictive licensing for public sector information provision. This new evidence adds great weight to their case that, rather than selling data for profit, trading funds should only charge data re-users the marginal cost of production. In practice, this means Government should give away data to boost private-sector enterprises because it will, as a direct result, bolster the public purse through increased taxation.

This new research should kick-start reform of the Crown Copyright regime and more liberal access to the data-treasure-troves collated by the Met Office, DVLA, Companies House and the Land Registry.

And if you get excited by material that's free to access, reuse or re-distribute, then please come down to tomorrow's OKCon, for a day of seminars and workshops around the theme of 'Applications, Tools and Services'. The event runs 10.30 - 18.30, Saturday 15 March 2008, at the LSE. For full details and to sign up, click through to the Open Knowledge Foundation.

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March 12, 2008 | Becky Hogge

The Phorm storm

Update: An interim Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) has now been published by Phorm. You can read it here [pdf]. The PIA, produced by 80/20 Thinking Ltd, predicts the media and public backlash against Phorm, and leaves several questions unanswered, including "Can an external attacker gain access to the required information to re-link [an] individual [with their] unique identifier?". This document, which is dated 10 February 2008, anticipates the publication of a full PIA "in March 2008". As yet none has been forthcoming.

Over the last few weeks, the story that BT, Virgin and TalkTalk are signed up to trial a new technology called Phorm, which tracks users' online surfing habits in order to target ads at them, has caused a storm all over the internet.

Here’s what we've been told about the workings of Phorm so far. Phorm assigns a user’s browser a unique identifying number, which, it is claimed, nobody can associate with your IP address, not even your ISP. It then uses information about your surfing habits, gathered by searching the URLs you request and the websites you visit for key words, to assign that unique number to various "channels" (for example "golf", "travel" or "handbags"). When you visit a website which has a "Phorm please put an ad in here" tag, Phorm serves an ad from a channel where your unique number appears.

Phorm says that it does not write data about the content you are viewing to disc in "the production system", getting rid of it as soon as the operation to assign your unique number to a channel is complete. In a separate system (used for "research and debugging") that data is stored for 14 days, then deleted.

Despite some significant investigative work, in particular from The Register and the Political Penguin blog, several technical questions remain unanswered. The confusion is compounded by a Privacy Impact Assessment of Phorm that was conducted by 80/20 Thinking Ltd, whose core staff includes the director of Privacy International, Simon Davies. Davies has gone on record stating that "Phorm does advance the whole sector of protecting personal information by two to three steps". Yet despite the focus on Davies’ involvement, the privacy impact assessment conducted by 80/20 is yet to be published.

On top of this, question marks are beginning to appear over Phorm’s compliance with the law. Can ISPs’ employment of Phorm comply with the Data Protection Act? Is intercepting traffic in this manner an offence under section 1 of RIPA (the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act)? The Information Commissioner has issued a statement (pdf) saying his office is making inquiries – but is this enough?

A petition asking the Government “to stop ISPs from breaching customers’ privacy via advertising technologies” has now collected over 2,500 signatures. Phorm could, as Simon Davies has claimed, represent an advance in online privacy. But because it is being applied to target ads at us, based on activity we have not asked and may not want to be tracked – the websites we visit – it is not surprising that people are shouting “keep your mitts off my bits!”.

Until we know exactly how Phorm works – and across whose networks our data will flow – speculation about the privacy implications of Phorm will only continue. The ISPs involved with Phorm, as well as the company itself, should take their lead from the Government, who last week published the controversial and critical Crosby Review of ID cards after much delay. They should publish 80/20’s impact assessment and full details of how Phorm will work now and let us see for ourselves the real privacy implications of Phorm.

Some resources:












  • 80/20 Privacy Impact Assessment of Phorm - forthcoming?




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March 07, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Term extension Private Members Bill stopped in tracks

Thanks to everyone who wrote to their MPs over the last few weeks to ask them to object to Pete Wishart's Private Members Bill to extend copyright term.

I'm pleased to report that an honourable member did indeed object to the Bill when it came round. He is as yet unidentified (although Hansard will hopefully reveal all over the weekend). You can spot him on the far left of the screen, sitting in the front row of the Labour benches at exactly 04:56:57 in this video of the day's proceedings in the Commons. Look closely - is that your elected representative standing up for your rights?

Because there was no time debate the Bill, the second reading will happen again next Friday. So there's still time to write to your MP and ask him or her to represent you on this issue. And if you haven't already, please do sign our petition against copyright term extension in Europe.

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February 29, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Open Rights Group and EFF launch Europe-wide anti-term extension petition

Sound Copyright banner
I'm pleased to announce today the launch of a Europe-wide campaign against the extension of copyright term. Thanks to ORG volunteers, and some very nice people I met at FOSDEM, the new campaign site - - is available in English, French and German.

Please visit the site, and sign the petition.

The recording industry has been lobbying for copyright term extension in sound recordings for many years. In the UK, the Government commissioned an independent study to examine whether term extension was a good idea for the UK creative economy. The review found that all the evidence pointed against extending term, and based on this, the UK government rejected the recording industry's call for an extension.

Now the recording industry has taken its fight to Europe, and it looks like they're winning - Commissioner Charlie McCreevy announced in February that he intends to extend the copyright term in sound recordings from 50 to 95 years. This is surprising, since the Commissioner's own Internal Market Directorate have also published evidence that shows that the arguments in favour of extending term lacked substance, especially compared to the reasons for maintaining the status quo.

If you care about this issue, please sign our petition, which states simply:

The following individuals state their opposition to a copyright term extension for sound recordings.

We ask the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers to ensure that policy in this area reflects all concerned stakeholders, including consumer and public interest organisations, and not just the commercial rights-holders who advocate for extended copyright term.

It's time for European citizens to get their voices heard in this debate. Back in 2006, over 1,000 people signed ORG's petition asking the UK government to reject term extension - and it worked. We want ten times that many to sign this new Europe-wide petition. So please, tell as many people as you can about our campaign to stop copyright term extension in Europe. We'll use your support to lobby individual Commissioners, and to ensure that this misguided policy is rejected.

Together, we will stop copyright term extension.

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February 29, 2008 | Michael Holloway

Supporters update - February 2008

Please follow the link below to read the latest supporters update, which details our activities in the month of February, including great press activity and a list of upcoming events.

Supporters update - February 2008

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February 21, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Fighting copyright term extension: the Home Front

European Commissioner Charlie McCreevy may have surprised us with his rogue call for copyright term extension from Brussels last week, but there are battles to be fought closer to home, too.

On 7 March, a Private Member's Bill proposed by Pete Wishart MP will have its second reading in the House of Commons. It is vital that you write to your MP now to ask him or her to attend the Commons on 7 March and stand up and object to this Bill. If you don't the Bill is likely to pass through to committee stage without debate.

What can you say to persuade your MP to show up to the Commons on a Friday? Perhaps you might point out that all the economic evidence points against term extension. Or that every other UK citizen is expected to contribute to their pension out of income earned in their working life. Or that retrospectively extending copyright term won't encourage Elvis Presley to record any more new tracks. Or that if governments continue to draft intellectual property legislation on behalf of special interest groups, it will only further erode the respect that ordinary citizens have for the letter of the law.

However you choose to pitch it, you should find the ORG briefing pack on copyright term extension useful. And remember to specifically ask your MP to oppose this Bill on 7 March in the House of Commons. Writing to your MP doesn't take long, and we've developed a handy guide to help you get the results you want.

And as for the European front, expect news very soon of how you can get your voice heard as an EU citizen. Together, we can stop copyright term extension, but only if we take action!

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February 19, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Tell them what you think...

Here at ORG we spend a lot of our time responding to Government consultations. In the past month alone we have submitted to Government consultations on both Freedom of Information (click for PDF) and Data Sharing (click for PDF). One of the frustrating things about the consultations process is that each Government department has its own individual consultation site, which makes it hard to find the ones we're interested in.

A few months ago, Harry, who is also one of our excellent volunteers, came up with the idea of collecting them all into one place. We thought this was very clever. In fact, it's something we mentioned in our response to the so-called "consultation on consultations".

Harry has been beavering away and has now launched, which can give you a dose of RSS goodness (among other things) each time new consultations are published. Enjoy!

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  • ORG Glasgow: A discussion of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
  • ORG Aberdeen: March Cryptonoise event
  • ORG North East: Take control of your online life
  • ORG Cambridge: Monthly March Meetup