ORG Day!

It seems very hard to believe, but it’s over two years since the Open Rights Group was started by myself, Danny O’Brien, Ian Brown, Rufus Pollock, Stef Magdalinski, and Cory Doctorow at OpenTech, on 23 July 2005. We rapidly brought Louise Ferguson, James Cronin, William Heath and Ben Laurie on board (and onto the Board), gathered a fabulous group of keen thinkers and technology experts onto our Advisory Council, and recruited Neil Gaiman as our Patron. Then, after many months of behind the scenes work, ORG took its first tentative steps out into the big wide world.

Today, ORG has published its first annual report (although I’ll leave you to make the joke about how ‘annual’ doesn’t normally mean ‘after 28 months’!). This is a really big landmark – this is a sign of how well ORG has matured from a wobbly-knee’d start-up to a real, responsible and well-governed organisation. Indeed, the Report of Activities follows hot on the heels of our recent recruitment of three new Board members, Vijay Sodiwala, Dan McQuillan, and David Harris, each of whom brings new skills to the table. ORG truly is growing up, and as one of the people to have been there from the beginning, I’m really proud of what we have achieved and am honoured to have played a small part in that success.

It’s amazing, how much we’ve done over the last 28 months. We cut our teeth on the Data Retention Directive, managing to get some much needed press attention for a directive that was marched through the European legislature with alarming speed. We’ve helped the UK Podcasters Association defend their rights. We’ve lobbied hard to have the term of copyright on sound recordings protected, as part of a wider project to respond to the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property. We’ve helped the All Party Parliamentary Internet Group (APIG, now APComms) understand why we are against DRM. We’ve been one of the first organisations in the UK to observe the use of e-voting and e-counting in England and Scotland, touring our report around the party conferences.

We’ve done consultations, white papers, MPs briefings, press interviews and briefings, radio interviews, TV news slots, events, meetings, conferences, and blogs posts galore. The ORG wiki has become a valuable repository of information on a wide variety of digital rights issues, written mainly by some amazingly knowledgeable volunteers who have given up hours of their time to make sure that the wiki is up to date, accurate and free of spam.

I hope you don’t think that I’m bigging ORG up too much – I’m just genuinely amazed at how much we have achieved in such a short time and with so few resources. But of course, it doesn’t stop here. There is so much more work to do on e-voting, as the government has failed to take on board the severity of the problems identified not just by ORG, but also the Electoral Commission. We are also working hard on the Creative Business in the Digital Era project, examining new and developing business models that involve giving away creative works for free (and also, sometimes, the rights to that work). And there’s a lot more to come – the list of issues we want to tackle just keeps getting longer.

So far, we’ve been funded by our supporters, who’ve dipped into their own pockets and donated a little of their hard-earned cash each month, and through grants from organisations such as the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust and the London Development Agency. Grants are important – they allow us to focus our efforts on campaigning. But the support from you, the public, is most important of all. Your money doesn’t just provide ORG with a dependable income, it also adds your voice to ours, ensuring that we are taken seriously by the MPs, Lords and policy makers that we seek to influence.

Originally, over one thousand people pledged financial support to ORG, but many did not keep their promise and we’ve never managed to recruit our full Founding 1000. Now, more than ever, is a good time for you to donate to ORG or, if you already are a supporter, to persuade a friend to donate. The Josteph Rowntree Reform Trust is offering us a grant, £10,000 of which is in the form of matched funds, meaning that we won’t get that money if we can’t raise an equal amount ourselves. JRRT will count both one-off donations and the full year’s value of a subscription, whether you pay monthly or annually.

The best way to support ORG is with a monthly donation via standing order. Whilst you can also donate via PayPal, that’s far from ideal, because not only do they charge a fee, but if your credit or debit card expires your subscription is automatically cancelled by PayPal. We have lost a lot of supporters like this, so a standing order really is the best way to go. You can set one up by sending us a standing order form, or using your own online banking (our bank details are on the form).

Danny O’Brien put it well:

So, here’s the most amazing thing. ORG doesn’t do that on a thousand people’s fivers at all. ORG does it on less.

To get our ballpark income, ORG would have had to have converted every single one of the pledge-signers. I think we got around 50%.

So to celebrate two years, I encourage everyone to try and push the membership up to the promised one thousand. No, two thousand.

If you’re an ORG supporter, pressgang two of your friends to join. Find that online pal who is even more fanatical than you in pursuit of digital rights. Tell the blowhards on Digg or Slashdot it’s time to put their pounds where their posts are. Heck, buy one in your mum or niece’s name for Christmas: it’s their Internet too. And check whether your own membership has lapsed (It happens – *blush* mine expired earlier this year, and I missed the memo – I’m back in the black now). Just click here.

Think what ORG can do in the next two years. Think what we can do with 2000 members. Think what we can do with 20,000.

Most of all, think what will happen if we don’t do something.

But giving money is not the only thing you can do. We need to spread the ORG word, so if you have a blog, please write even just a small post about ORG today. If you’re on Twitter, Jaiku, Seesmic, or any other social messaging service, please write or talk about ORG today. If you’re on IM or Skype, change your status to something suitably supportive. If you’re on Facebook, change your status and join our Facebook group. If you’re on Upcoming, there’s a group there too.

There’s so much you can do to spread the world – please be generous with your time and words.

Finally, there are so many people without whom ORG simply wouldn’t be the success it is: our current supporters and our cadre of committed volunteers. I can’t name them all, but they all deserve thanks and a big round of applause.

Support ORG. Help us keep your bits safe.

(Cross-posted from Chocolate and Vodka.)