The Open Rights Group hit the ground running. From the beginning, we have successfully amplified the concerns of the digital rights community to the media and politicians. Although our successes started small, as we have grown so have they – at a phenomenal rate. We now have several major campaign successes under our belt.
Our first campaign was directed against the Data Retention Directive, so-called “anti-terror” legislation being rapidly marched through the European Parliament which would force telcos and ISPs to retain communications traffic data – i.e. information about internet and phone usage – and make it available to a wide range of government authorities. We joined an already-strong movement against Data Retention, co-ordinated by European Digital Rights (EDRi), a coalition of 28 groups from across Europe concerned with protecting privacy and civil rights in the information society, which argued that the sweeping retention of such data was equivalent to mass surveillance.
In November 2005, the then-newly-formed Creative and Media Business Alliance attempted to co-opt the directive, demanding that the EU allow the music industry to access internet traffic data in order that they might more easily prosecute illegal fire-sharers. The Open Rights Group protested at this function creep and our comments were widely reported.
In 2006, we continued fighting the excesses of the recording industry, focusing in January and February on the problems with DRM and the way that it was being used to limit the public’s rights under copyright law and limit reasonable use of legitimately purchased material, like music, books and movies. We prepared a written response to the Public Inquiry into Digital Rights Management run by the All Party Internet Group (APIG) and were called to give oral evidence at the Houses of Parliament. APIG’s final report reflected many of ORG’s concerns. Again, extensive media liaison meant many opportunities for ORG to balance out a debate which had previously been heavily biased in favour of the recording industry’s viewpoint and coverage of ORG’s view of the DRM issue was widespread.
ORG then turned its focus to the issue of copyright term extension – the proposal by the music industry that the term of copyright protection given to sound recordings should be extended from the current 50 years, to 75, 90 or life. There is no evidence that extending the term of copyright protection afforded to sound recordings would provide any economic benefits and a lot of evidence to the contrary. But because a handful of valuable recordings from the 1950s and 1960s, such as tracks by Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard and The Beatles, will start to move into the public domain over the next few years, the recording industry had been pushing to retain control by extending copyright.
Funded by a £5,000 grant from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd, we launched a website focusing on the specific issue of Term Extension: ReleaseTheMusic.org. We commissioned a background paper on the issue, organised briefings for MPs and their staff, organised a briefing for journalists and held a public debate. The public debate, which brought representatives of the recording industry and trade press who were in favour of an extension together with a lawyer and musician who were against it, was attended by over 100 people from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Our campaigning on copyright term extension was incredibly successful, not only from the point of view of extending the public debate on the issue and involving more people in the Government’s consultation process, but also because our evidence helped the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property conclude that extension to the term of copyright on sound recordings was not an economically sound proposition.
Whether copyright should be extended was justone question raised by the Gowers Review. The Open Rights Group provided an online arena for the public to comment on the Gowers Review Call for Evidence and researched and wrote a response which was submitted as evidence. The Gowers Review largely agreed with ORG’s position on the issues about which we gave evidence and made a number of recommendations regarding the development and reform of the UK’s intellectual property framework.
The Government accepted the Gowers Review in full and many of the recommendations are now being acted upon. ORG started one of the first petitions on the official Prime Minister’s e-petition site, reiterating the Review’s call for a new exception to copyright law that would provide a right to private copy for personal use. 3,300 signatures were gathered – an affirmation of the Government’s commitment to the private copying exception for format-shifting suggested in the Gowers Review. Many of the Review’s recommendations went beyond what
ORG had hoped for and it is an ongoing challenge for ORG to follow these recommendations as they go through the legislative process. In May 2007, the House of Commons’ Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport produced a poorly-informed report that recommended copyright term extension, despite the compelling evidence that such a move would harm consumers and bring no benefit to the majority of recording artists. ORG continued to campaign on the issue and, in July, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport responded to the Culture Committee, rejecting their recommendation and reiterating the Government’s support for the results of the Gowers Review.
Towards the end of 2006, we added electronic voting (e-voting) to the group of issues we were actively campaigning on. The Government had announced that 2007’s English local elections would include a number of trials of e-voting and e-counting. In Scotland, all votes in the May 2007 local and regional elections would be counted electronically. ORG is fundamentally opposed to e-voting, because electronic voting and counting are “black box” operations – there is no way to verify that the data that enters the system is correctly processed and that the results provided at the end are an accurate representation of voter intention.
In collaboration with the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR), ORG organised three events for e-voting activists during early February, comprising a workshop, a debate and a screening of HBO’s documentary Hacking Democracy. The events drew in activists from around Europe and served as a learning exercise for ORG’s subsequent campaign, funded in part by a generous grant of £23,950 from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd.
ORG co-opted Jason Kitcat, a long-standing e-voting campaigner, to its ranks. Kitcat worked closely with the Electoral Commission to negotiate official Election Observer status for ORG volunteers, allowing teams to attend polling stations and watch proceedings. In all, 25 people devoted a day to democracy, committing to observing as much of the election as they were allowed to witness, and reporting their findings back to ORG. ORG provided them with full instructions on how to carry out their Election Observer duties, what to look for and how to deal with any problems with the observation mission.
Reports from the observers were combined with the results of a number of Freedom of Information requests in a 60-page report. ORG declared that, given the problems its team had observed on election day, it could not declare confidence in the results for the areas monitored. The report recommended that no further e-voting or e-counting trials take place until a step change in reliability, integrity and transparency had occurred.
The report was launched at a well-attended Westminster event on 20 June 2007. Copies were given to MPs, civil servants and other stakeholders, including the Electoral Commission, who fed ORG’s findings in to their own statutory reports for Scotland and England. The findings of the report were raised in the House of Lords.
The Electoral Commission, in its official evaluation of the 3 May elections recommended that no further e-voting pilots take place until a robust and publicly scrutinised strategy has been established. Although the Commission’s report did not fully recognise the fundamental challenges posed by using computers in elections, it did recommend that security risks be taken much more seriously.
The Electoral Commission joined ORG on a tour around the Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative PartyAutumn conferences to raise awareness about the issues surrounding e-voting among grassroots party members. The events, entitled “Should We Trust Electronic Elections?”, went down well among the target audience and also served to raise ORG’s general profile.
During all this time, ORG has also focused on its less-public missions to work with other digital rights organisations. We have formed working relationships with organisations across the UK and Europe, as well as in the USA:
ORG has nurtured a vibrant grassroots digital rights community in the UK, giving people the opportunity to act on the issues that are important to them and assisting them when they need help making their voices heard. We have held numerous events, including two networking evenings, an ORG party and several visits to Hyde Park, where activists could choose to take the stand at Speakers’ Corner.
Our volunteers have come to form a central part of the work we do. They pitch in with the day-to-day running of the organisation – running our website and blog, maintaining our wiki of campaign resources, spreading the word about supporting ORG and lending their skills wherever they can. They have also helped us form ORG policy, through their contribution to the vibrant ORG-discuss mailing list – a list with over 260 members where news is shared, issues debated and technology discussed – and more recently, through their contributions to our consultation responses using our interactive consultation tool.
All information published by ORG on the site and contributed by volunteers to the wiki is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Licence, which means that it can be reused by anyone without the requirement to ask permissions, so long as they republish under the same licence and attribute ORG as the source. As well as amassing significant amounts of information on the special interests of Members of Parliament, we have developed a series of how-to guides for individuals and campaign organisations.
In addition to the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property and the APIG Public Inquiry into Digital Rights Management, ORG has submitted evidence to:
All of these documents were developed collaboratively on the ORG wiki. Records of these deliberations and the final submissions are available at http://www.openrightsgroup.org/orgwiki/index.php/Consultations.
ORG has now been accepted as a trusted media commentator. Our rapid success in putting across an informed, independent, technical viewpoint only goes to show how much this was lacking before our birth as an organisation. ORG’s views on issues as diverse as privacy, e-voting, DRM and personal security online have been sought, published and broadcast by major national and international media since the day we were founded. A selection of these publications follow – for a more comprehensive list, visit our archive of press coverage, maintained at http://www.openrightsgroup.org/orgwiki/index.php/ORG_Press_Coverage: