December 06, 2007 | Becky Hogge

Happy birthday Gowers - but where are our reforms?

A year ago today, the Gowers Review was released to the public. The Government accepted all of the 54 recommendations it made, and experts welcomed the balanced approach it took to intellectual property law in the digital age, since it matched greater flexibility with tougher measures on enforcement (although at the time, we flagged its failure to distinguish between large-scale commercial counterfeiting, and small-scale non-commercial acts carried out by individuals, now a live issue with current IPRED 2 negotiations). But one year on, things don't look quite so rosy.

I interviewed Andrew Gowers a few hours after the release of the Review. He said that enforcement and flexibility were "two sides of the same coin". The Review states:

"Copyright in the UK presently suffers from a marked lack of public legitimacy. It is perceived to be overly restrictive, with little guilt or sanction associated with infringement."

Gowers's suite of recommendations attempted to redress this situation by re-instating the balance in copyright law. So how has Government performed in implementing Gowers's recommendations?

In April this year, changes to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act came into force that allowed Trading Standards to enter premises and seize goods and documents they believe to be involved in copyright infringement. These changes were backed by £5m in new funding for Trading Standards. There is little question that this contributed to the arrests of webmasters at TV-links and Oink later in the year.

In May, the UK Intellectual Property Office (UK IPO) quietly delayed its consultations on changes to the law that would allow a private copying exception, an exception for researchers, for libraries and educators, and for those creating works of parody or pastiche out of copyrighted works.

In November, at an event hosted by the Social Market Foundation, the recording industry revealed plans to cooperate with ISPs and launch a "3 steps and you're terminated" regime that would cut off the internet connections associated with people believed to be sharing copyrighted works unlawfully. This industry cooperation is recommendation 39 of the Gowers Review, and it looks to be on schedule.

A call to the UK IPO yesterday confirmed that consultations on the exceptions to copyright law have been further delayed, and will now not be seen until the New Year. These are consultations, the first baby step in implementation, and it's unlikely that any actual legal amendments will be seen until 2009 at the earliest.

What's more, when the Open Rights Group met with culture minister Margaret Hodge and senior officers from DCMS and the UK IPO in October, it was revealed that actions to implement recommendation 11, that copyright should be amended at the European level to create an exception for transformative works, had not even been timetabled.

If enforcement and flexibility are two sides of the same coin, then one year on it looks like the toss has definitely gone to enforcement. This means that Government is in effect making the situation worse: concentrating on strengthening enforcement measures while failing to address the inherent inflexibility of copyright law that Gowers identified as a key factor in the general public's disrespect for the law.

It's up to all of us who submitted evidence to Gowers in 2006 to keep the pressure up on Government to make good on their promise to reform copyright for the digital age.

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December 04, 2007 | Michael Holloway

Christmas Party 2007

BBC Backstage is once again kindly sharing its gert big Christmas bash with Open Rights Group. And this one's shaping up to even bigger and better than last year. For those who didn't make it, here's some picture of 2006's full-to-bursting party.

So this time around, on Saturday 15 December, we're taking over a 4-floor pub in the City of London. Amongst other treats there will be music, cake, party bags, werewolf and - for one night only - we're delighted to announce the return of Copyfighters, featuring the magical Cory Doctorow. You should fully expect mayhem, drunken fandango and herds of Santas.

There are 100 tickets reserved for ORGites and due to expected demand you must register on eventwax (which only requires your name, email address and "org" as the promo code). Please use the 'Open Rights Group' ticket option so we don't snaffle the backstagers' allocation.

Where? Ye Olde Cock Tavern, 22 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1AA When? 19.30 - 02:00, Saturday 15 December 2007 Tickets: via Eventwax - click here to register Any questions? Phone +44 (0)20 7096 1079 or email info at openrightsgroup dot org.

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December 02, 2007 | Michael Holloway

"3 steps and you're terminated"

Last week's Social Market Foundation event - 'Intellectual Property Rights and Consumer Rights' - despite the title's implied concern for balance, showed disregard for consumers and promoted rights holders' interests. The minister responsible for UK-IPO spoke of the need for balance in reforming Britain intellectual property regulation but Government's actions do not yet evidence this commitment. The BPI's trail for a UK version of France's '3 strikes' approach to p2p infringement also gave cause for concern.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills', Lord Triesman, broad-ranging speech (link to PDF download) took in the usual policy concerns of technological developments, new business models, traffic in infringing content and consumer awareness of IPR. However, a year on from the Gowers Review recommendations for flexible copyright regulation, including a 'format-shifting' exception to legalise the near-universal practice of transferring CD recordings to mp3 players, seem no closer despite the rapid allocation of funding to 'anti-piracy' enforcement. Ian Brown, billed as the event's agent provocateur, slammed the speech for its anti-competition and anti-consumer stance. For a more balanced approach to these issues, Ian's slides are available for download.

In the panel discussion that followed, Richard Mollett flagged moves towards a voluntary agreement between the BPI and ISPs to reduce copyright-infringing traffic, similar to France's '3 strikes' model. He expects an initial warning from the ISP that infringing traffic is associated with a particular account will halt 75% of infringers. If suspicious activity continues then account suspension is the next step, before the final sanction of account termination. Even assuming there will be adequate appeal procedures, although no assurances were given, this mechanism will harm consumer interests unless systems for identifying protected content operate perfectly. Regardless, and fortunately this point was recognised by all parties to the discussion, cutting off internet access is very much the 'nuclear option'. The proportionality of this approach still requires broader public discussion given internet access may soon become a basic need, comparable to utilities like water and electricity.

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November 30, 2007 | Michael Holloway

Supporters Update - November 2007

This month's update contains the usual roundup of our activities and press plus info on ORG's christmas party.

Supporters Update - November 2007

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November 21, 2007 | Becky Hogge

HMRC fiasco: Government "not interested" in expert warnings

Professor Ross Anderson, UK computer security expert and Chair of the Foundation for Information Policy Research, appeared on Newsnight last night, to discuss the HMRC data loss fiasco. He labelled the fiasco "an accident waiting to happen", and calmly, methodically, indicted the Government for brushing aside the advice of security experts who have been warning them against the centralised, top-down approach they have been taking to electronic government.

I hope Professor Anderson will not object to my transcribing his words in full, and linking to the reports he mentioned and the government responses that have brushed aside expert concerns.

"But if we return to the matter in hand, I'm afraid that there is a policy issue here not an operational issue because the government has repeatedly, over the last few years brushed aside one lot of advice after another about the growing problems of privacy and safety with aggregating more and more data.

We wrote a report for the Information Commissioner in November last year pointing out that the proposed children's databases were both unsafe and illegal. That was brushed aside.

Lord Broers' House of Lords Science and Technology Committee reported earlier this year saying that the government needed to get its act together on personal internet security. A large part of that was Treasury responsibility, better regulation of online banking. That was brushed aside.

The Health Committee reported in September saying that people needed a right to opt out of the large central databases of personal medical information that the NHS is collecting. That was brushed aside.

Again and again and again these warnings have been made in different contexts by expert groups and the Government has not been interested."

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November 20, 2007 | Becky Hogge

HMRC loses confidential details of 15 25 million benefit recipients

The confidential details of 15 25 million child benefit claimants are reported to have been lost by HM Revenue and Customs. The BBC is reporting that HMRC's chairman, Paul Gray, has resigned.

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said he understood ministers had been aware of the problem for nine to 10 days.

Here in the ORG offices we are watching the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, make a statement on the matter to the House of Commons.

Update: The Chancellor has now made his statement to the House of Commons. It appears that the BBC under-reported the amount of people affected by this loss. Darling announced that a "password-protected" CD sent by unrecorded delivery contained details of 25 million individuals. That's just under half the population of the UK.

Details contained on the CD include:

  • Name;
  • Children's names;
  • Address;
  • Date of Birth;
  • National Insurance Number;
  • and, where relevant, bank details.

Darling used his statement to reassure citizens that banks had been informed and were taking measures to protect their accounts. The accounts of those whose details were lost had been flagged, said Darling, and were being monitored for irregular activity. He assured UK citizens that any innocent victim of fraud would be protected under the banking code.

According to Darling, the Information Commissioner will be investigating the data protection breaches that were presumably key in leading to this blunder.

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November 20, 2007 | Becky Hogge

Double your money with the Open Rights Group

If you've ever:

  • signed the Open Rights Group pledge;
  • said you'd support the Open Rights Group and haven't; or
  • supported ORG in the past and then stopped

...then it's likely you'll have received an email from me today, telling you about our Review of Activities and asking you to dig deep into your pockets to support ORG.

The good news is that if you support ORG now, the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd will match the amount you give to us. Which means everything that you give will be worth double to ORG. So get giving!

This arrangement is set to be in place for the next two years, or until the Open Rights Group has received £10,000 in new funds, whichever happens first. Thanks heartily to JRRT Ltd, and thanks especially to all the people who have already reacted to our emails, and are sending in funds.

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November 19, 2007 | Becky Hogge

Open Rights Group: Our first two years

Today I'm proud to be able to publish a review of the Open Rights Group's first two years of activity, including our first year's accounts. I hope that ORG supporters will enjoy reading how their contributions - financial, mental and physical - have collectively created an organisation that has had a demonstrable effect on UK digital rights issues. I also hope that ORG's story so far will encourage more people to join the swelling ranks of ORG supporters.

As ORG chair Louise Ferguson writes in her foreword to the Review:

"ORG benefits from all manner of support from the many people involved in this grassroots organisation. From the individuals who support us financially or in kind, to the scores of people who keep our lively email list buzzing and those who generously volunteer their time and expertise, there are hundreds of people who contribute to ORG's success. Our supporters and volunteers, who come from right across the political spectrum, drive our organisation, informing debates on a wide range of issues and providing amazing energy for projects and campaigns"

But today is not all about back-slapping. Now, more than ever, ORG needs your support. 2008 holds new challenges. Content industries, not satisfied with controlling your devices, are seeking to control your internet connection too. And next year will be a decisive one in the fight against the surveillance state, as political energy mounts around securing individual citizens' rights to privacy. ORG needs to be there, speaking up for your digital rights.

So if you're not yet supporting ORG, please start today.

If you're not sure whether you are supporting ORG, please email me or Michael (becky AT; or michael AT openrightsgroup DOT org) and we'll let you know. And if you are supporting ORG, please use today to spread the word about ORG to your friends and colleagues, and let them know why they should be too.

Finally, huge thanks to everyone who has made ORG's first two years such a success - we've tried to namecheck as many of you as possible, but I'm sure we've left some people out. Here's to building on our success, and to a bright future for our digital rights!

Update: The review is now available in html format.

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