Saturday, 19 November 2005

Copyfighters London, 13 November 2005: your digital rights; the Open Rights Group

I've blogged before about the London Copyfighters August 2005 and Copyfighters May 2005 meetings. I don't think the meets have an official remit as such, other than to have a nice chatty boozy lunch and then sound off about copyright at Speakers' Corner - more seriously, to raise awareness about intellectual property issues (yes I'm using the umbrella term again, though Richard Stallman doesn't like it!) - that IP matters affect all of us in our everyday lives, particularly in this Internet age, and the importance of us all taking action to make sure a fair balance is struck between the rights of those who create content and those who enjoy it.

Last Sunday's was the final London Copyfighters Drunken Brunch and Talking Shop of 2005, and seemed the best attended one I've been to so far (I had to miss the last couple). I arrived late so didn't get to talk much with many people but the usual suspects were there such as Cory Doctorow of the EFF, Suw Charman, Rufus Pollock and Becky Hogge.

For the first time I met Kevin Anderson, Lubna Azhar and Envoy. As I've been reading SF since I was 8 when I discovered a tattered copy of Jack Williamson's Legion of Space at the back of a dusty old cupboard at home and then pounced on Asimov's Caves of Steel in a local library, it was an unexpected delight for me to meet, all too briefly, SF luminaries Pat Cadigan (the doyenne of cyberpunk), and writer and critic Roz Kaveney.

The Speakers' Corner speeches were superb. They seem to get better and better, with more and more people speaking, coping deftly (Suw in particular) with the hecklers, including one who I gather has been a regular thorn in the Copyfighters' side for quite a few meetings (you know how some people insist on expressing very loudly strong opinions on things about which they know, and wish to know, nothing?).

The focus of most of the speakers this time was primarily on the iniquities of digital rights management (DRM) (including a very funny speech using a great toaster analogy…) and how some of Sony's CDs will without your knowledge install unwanted "rootkit" software on your computer - they've stopped shipping them now but some may still be on the shelves, see the EFF's list of CDs if you want to know which CDs they were, such as some Celine Dion (the list isn't necessarily complete though).

Kevin spoke eloquently on blogging in Egypt and freedom of speech (his interview with an Egyptian blogger Amr Gharbeia for Five Live about the arrest of Abdolkarim, who was just released from detention for his controversial writings about recent riots in Alexandria and tensions between Coptic Christian and Muslims, and on the Egyptian blogosphere, will air on Tuesday night 22 November. Kevin subsequently mentioned an event in Tunis at the World Summit on the Information Society, “Expression under Repression").

I made my Speakers' Corner debut. I feel more comfortable singing than speaking in public so, taking up a half-serious suggestion previously made by Cory, I managed an ode to Creative Commons via a quavery rendition of Puccini's famous but mercifully short aria "O Mio Babbino Caro" - but with rather different words, of course. So as not to detract from the seriousness of the issues raised at Speakers Corner, I say no more about that in this post! A separate post, perhaps... [Edited 19 November: done it! The lyrics are in this post.]

Your digital rights, and the Open Rights Group

Back to more important things. Suw has started the Open Rights Group, which aims
  • "to raise awareness in the media of digital rights abuses
  • to provide a media clearinghouse, connecting journalists with experts and activists
  • to preserve and extend traditional civil liberties in the digital world
  • to collaborate with other digital rights and related organisations
  • to nurture a community of campaigning volunteers, from grassroots activists to technical and legal experts ".
For more see this Guardian article. If you care about your digital rights, want to do your bit and can afford it, do consider signing up to the pledge. I've pledged my own fiver a month (I'm actually going to give Suw the 60 quid in cash yearly). It's well worth it, I think - but then I've always felt strongly about user or consumer issues and consumer rights, particularly in relation to new technology.

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