CBDE special guests announced

A little unashamed pimping… 😉

Over the last few months I’ve working hard on the Creative Business in the Digital Era research project (hence my quietude here), which is examining the way in which businesses are using open intellectual property (IP) as a central pillar of their business model.

The project culminates in three free seminars in central London during March – a full day on 17th March, and two evening seminars on 18th/19th (with roughly the same content in each) – during which we’ll talk about what we’ve discovered about open IP businesses, and talk to people who are actually giving stuff away whilst also making money from it. We’ve managed to recruit three fabulous guest speakers:

Monday 17 March
Tom Reynolds, blogger, ambulance technician and author of Blood, Sweat and Tea, published under Creative Commons licence and in paper by The Friday Project.
John Buckman, entrepreneur, musician and founder of CC music label Magnatune.

Tuesday 18 March (evening)
– Tom Reynolds graces our presence again.

Wednesday 19 March (evening)
David Bausola, the creative mind behind interactive online comedy Where are the Jonses?

The seminar is aimed at people within the creative industry – e.g. music, publishing, film, TV, radio, visual arts, photography – and from any size of company, whether they are freelances or a C-level exec. The course materials are all being prepped out in the open, under CC licence.

As mentioned, the seminar is free to attend – if you are interested, all you need to do is to fill in our application form.

If you’re interested yourself, please do apply! If you have a blog, podcast or Twitter account and would like to mention our seminar, please do. And if you know of anyone who might be interested in coming, feel free to tell them about it.

Our deadline for applications is 15th February, so apply now!

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.)

Supporting the Open Rights Group

I don’t normally write about the work of the Open Rights Group here because it seems a little off topic, but we have a really important fundraising event coming up on 11 April in London that I’d like to give a wee bit of bloggy love to. This is cross-posted from Chocolate and Vodka.

It’s just over a week til the Open Rights Group‘s Support ORG (and Party!) event, at which there will be public domain DJs, free culture goodie bags and the chance to win some really cool schwag. Our special guest speaker is the wonderful Danny O’Brien, who is always fantastic value for money and well worth coming along to see. So, if that sounds like fun, come along – it’s free! Well… it’s sort of free – we just ask that you bring someone who might like to become a new ORG supporter.

If you can’t make it, then you can still support ORG by buying a raffle ticket for just £2.50 (link to PayPal is at the bottom of that page). Prizes up for grabs include:

Many thanks to everyone who has donated! Buy your tickets on the night, or online via PayPal. At £2.50 each, they’re a snip!

Oh… and also, please blog about this as widely as you can. ORG has a busy year ahead and we really need to spread the word – your blog post is as valuable a way of showing support for the work that ORG does as buying a raffle ticket or becoming a supporter.

ORG event: Release The Music, 13 Nov 06

From the ORG blog:

Should the term of copyright protection on sound recordings stay at 50 years or be extended?

This question has been hanging in the air for the last couple of years, with the music industry lobbying government for an extension on the grounds that the royalties they earn from old recordings are essential to bringing new acts to the stage and supporting ageing musicians. They believe that copyright term on sound recordings should be the same length as the copyright in the composition, which currently stands at life plus 70 years.

On the other hand, copyright reformers argue that term should remain the same in order to protect the public domain and to free the huge number of old recordings which are no longer commercially viable and therefore not being released by the record labels. They also argue that there is a greater economic benefit to allowing works to pass into the public domain after 50 years so that new works can be made from them and new businesses that specialise in niche markets can flourish.

This question of term extension, along with many others, is now being considered by Andrew Gowers in his Review of Intellectual Property which was commissioned by the Treasury and is due to report before the end of the year.

The Open Rights Group believes that term extension is such an important issue that it deserves focused and rigourous discussion, so we’ve invited people from number of backgrounds to give us their thoughts and opinions.

We would be delighted if you could join us – the event is free to all, but places are limited so book now!

6.00pm – Registration.
6.30pm – Keynote by Professor Jonathan Zittrain, Chair in Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford University.
7.30pm – Panel Discussion, moderated by John Howkins, RSA & Adelphi Charter; guests include Caroline Wilson, University of Southampton, Faculty of Law; others TBC.
8.30pm – DJ set by The Chaps, playing a pre-1955 public domain set.
10.00pm – Close.

Monday 13 November 2006

Conway Hall
25 Red Lion Square
London, WC1
United Kingdom

Nearest tube:

If you sign up, but find you are not able to come, please do let us know so we can release your seat to someone else.

SHiFT: Dannie Jost – Patents and software

Legislation was invented in the 18th century, and it’s not able to cope with the 21st century. Worked for the patent office so has a background.

Software should not be patented at all, it should be exempted at all times.

No one in the audience has a patent.
Lots of people have coded.
No one has ever applied for a patent.

Code is language, like literature, mathematic, and belongs to the domain of culture. Code is not a machine, it’s abstract, an intellectual endeavour. Usually code get packaged and is called software. It’s not physical yet it’s made physical.

Intellectual property:

– literature
– scientific
– art
– music

design 5 x 5
Patents 20 + 5
trademarks 10 yrs x X
trade secret – only good way to protect code

Why do you need to know about software patents?

1. Software is patentable in the US
2. Software is not patentable in ‘EP-land’, i.e. ‘European Patent’-land, Swiss are part of the European Patent Convention, also includes Moldavia. (Community patent does not exist yet, but it is a project.)

What is a patent?
“a title issued by a governmental entity that entitles the owner to a geographically and time limited monopoly.”

It’s a deal you do with the government. They let you have a monopoly for a limited time for a specific geographical area and your part of the deal is to disclose your invention, you publish the details.

Different types of knowledge: public domain and proprietary knowledge.

Wipo tells you what you can patent. Picks words very, very carefully – very legal domain. Have to be as exact as possible, terminology is important.

What are patentable inventions?
– new
– industrial application
– involve and inventive step, which must not be obvious to the people who know the field concerned.

Exclusions to the European Patent Convention
i.e. stuff you can’t patent
– discoveries, scientific theories and mathematical methods
– aesthetic creations
– schemes, rules and methods for performing mental acts, playing games or doing business, and programs for computers

This is just for European patents.

Patent paths. How do you get a patent?
– apply
– examination
– grant
– admin

Can file for a patent locally, or in WIPO in Geneva.

Three different groups that regulated. World patents done by PCT, in Geneva, can pick which countries you want to patent in, e.g. China, Portugal, US.

So there are software patents in Europe although they are not allowed, because through the PCT route you can get American specifications turned into European patents. This is why even if you are fully open source, fully free software, and if you are a developer or programmer and are serious about writing an application or starting a business which your intellectual capital is code, you better be aware of what is out there in terms of software patents. This is not about just filing a patent, but being aware of what is out there.

Very expensive. Not friendly to individuals, freelancers or even SMEs. Cost of the EP patent that is one of the driving forces pushing the Community Patent.

Software patents, therefore
– exist
– are enforceable
– part of the public domain

How do you find this stuff?
– open source
– publications
– expired patent applications

Sates of the art
– all publications in any language available up to the filing date.

So if you wrote your algorithm on a napkin and left it in a restaurant, that’s in the public domain. So patent then not valid as ‘novelty’ is destroyed. (Novelty can only be destroyed, it can’t be proven.)

Lots of patent databases.
Several prior art wikis.
Can also use search or metasearch like Clusty.

Defending digital rights in the UK

I’ve had a few meetings with Danny O’Brien from the Electronic Frontier Foundation over the last few weeks, talking about the possibility of starting some sort of EFF-like organisation in the UK and generally volunteering myself to assist. At the moment, the digital rights activist community in the UK is somewhat fragmented and I believe that there’s a real need to provide to the organisations that exist some tools with which to share knowledge and encourage collaboration, and to draw new people into the various related debates.

We started the debate today with the Where’s the British EFF? panel discussion at OpenTech, and a straw poll of the audience at the end showed that there is support for such an organisation. After the session was over, Danny set up a pledge drive on Pledgebank, in order to raise some money to get things moving.

“I will create a standing order of 5 pounds per month to support an organisation that will campaign for digital rights in the UK but only if 1000 other people will too.”

— Danny O’Brien

Already we have 20 people signed up – just another 980 to go before 25 Dec 05. If you believe that we need to protect out digital rights here in the UK (and Europe) then please do make that pledge.

I’m really very excited about being a part of this. Over the last year I’ve got more and more involved in copyright and digital rights activism, and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to do more.

Education, opportunity or propaganda?

Doesn’t take much to read between the lines in MSN’s Thought Thieves short film competition, produced in conjunction with Film Education, an organisation I now propose we rename the Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Film.

Instead of producing films examining IP theft, I urge everyone to submit Creative Commons licensed entries, using Creative Commons licensed materials, that explore the way that the commons enriches our creative and artistic lives.

(Oh, and I know that would grossly contravene their T&Cs, but what the hell, we should do it anyway.)

Creative Commons make their decision

Larry Lessig has announced that Creative Commons have decided, after much deliberation, to end their relationship with BzzAgents.

[…] for all the extremely powerful reasons these discussions have mustered, we were wrong to use this tool [BzzAgents] to spread our message. This is not, again, because BzzAgent is evil. It is not because it shouldn’t be used to spread any message. It is not because understanding achieved through networks of humans is worse than the understanding produced through a survey. It is instead because this way of spreading our message weakens the power of our message.

Many people in the post to Larry’s first post commented on how they admired the Spread FireFox campaign, and CC have decided to take that baton up and create something similar for CC. To this end, they have launched a wiki to foster discussion, so there’s no excuse for not taking part.

I am glad that CC have come to this decision, not because of any need for my opinions to be validated or because I’ve been ‘proven right’, but because I truly believe that this is the right decision for CC. A strong, unmediated grass-roots movement is what CC needs – using BzzAgents would have muddied waters that must stay clear.

It also allows people to get involved under their own terms, not under someone else’s. If all someone wants to do is contribute to the wiki, then that is their prerogative. Equally, someone can hop in at the end of deliberations and just use the materials and information provided, without ever having to take part in their creation. It doesn’t matter whether all you do is have a CC button on your coat or whether you devote all your free time to the project. What matters is that now, you can participate in a way that’s good for you.

I left a comment on Larry’s blog in response to his post which contains a few more points, so I shall reproduce it here too.

Excellent news, Larry! I am delighted to see you and your colleagues at CC grasp the nettle and make this decision.

We all make mistakes, but the challenge is always to learn from them and to turn errors into wisdom. The silver lining in this furore for CC is that you have now embarked on a course of action which I believe will prove to be more effective, stronger, and will have more of a long-term benefit for all involved than the relationship with BzzAgents could ever have given you. I have no doubt that there is the enthusiasm out there to make a SpreadCC-style campaign work (although I am sure it will not be without its own hiccups).

Insofar as BzzAgents are concerned, I hope that Dave has learnt that careful consideration before responding to criticism is the way forward. I also hope that, despite how much of himself he puts into his business, he learns that *he is not his business* and criticism of one is not criticism of the other. That’s a hard lesson to learn, and as an entrepreneur, I know just how hard. I also hope that he will be able to see through the anger of some of the comments and be capable of pulling the truths to the fore, as I think there were some valuable points made which could help him improve his modus operandi.

As for me, I certainly have learnt something: I knew that Creative Commons was a cause I supported, but I hadn’t realised just how important it was to me until I thought that it was being threatened. I’ve been planning to volunteer for CC or the EFF for ages now, but haven’t because there never seems to be enough time. With the new wiki, I will be able to contribute a little bit on a regular ongoing basis (a form of support that I think is more important than giving up a chunk of time once in a blue moon).

So, here’s to the future of CC!

UPDATE: Dave Balter blogs about the decision too. I find his post to be very positive and encouraging, and it seems that he’s looked for the truth in the comments that have been made about BzzAgents’ modus operandi, and is working to adjust it so that it is more acceptable to more people. Whilst I agree that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, I do feel that BzzAgents could please more people more of the time, and I’m glad to see Dave working towards this. I am sure he will end up with a stronger company at the end of this process.