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Last Updated: Friday, 28 July 2006, 13:25 GMT 14:25 UK
Group battles for digital rights
By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website

Computer and user
Digital rights is a developing battle in the UK
An organisation committed to fighting for people's digital rights in the UK is celebrating its first birthday.

The Open Rights Group (Org) was founded last year on the back of an online pledge from 1,000 people to fund the group with 5 a month each.

To date 650 people have honoured that promise, enough to create part-time roles for two staff members.

"Information should be in the hands of people and not governments and business," said Org's Michael Holloway.

In July last year an online pledge on website Pledgebank asked users to sign up to 5 a month with the aim of setting up a digital rights lobbying group. The Open Rights Group launched soon after.

Raised awareness

"It was awareness of the lack of any kind of central body doing it in this country," said Mr Holloway, explaining the need for such a body.

"In the states they are further along. We model ourselves on the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"They have been able to make a real impact on media and in people's minds as to what abuses there are of our digital rights."

We are gathering information, documenting examples of abuses
Michael Holloway, Open Rights Group
Mr Holloway, Org's Operations Manager, said the group and its supporters were fighting a "guerrilla war" against organisations and governments who were systematically eroding people's rights in the digital age.

"Hard fought civil and human rights are being lost as we move into the digital world," said Mr Holloway.

"We are trying to define digital rights - it is difficult to pin down. It will only become clear as more digital rights abuses emerge and the technologies emerge."

The group is currently campaigning on issues such as net neutrality, censorship, internet privacy and the RFID tags increasingly being used to identify things and people.

Copying battle

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Mr Holloway said one of the biggest and most high-profile of abuses was the use of digital rights management (DRM), which is used to try to prevent copying of music and video.

"When a record company sells you a download they don't let you do all that you might do with that object," he said.

Consumers should be free to copy that music, manipulate it and be creative with that music, he said.

Record companies and the film industry argue that DRM protects content from being copied and gives assurances to rights holders that they will receive monies for music and video bought online.

Mr Holloway said: "In the future more and more information will be transmitted digitally, electronically and we need to be in control of that information.

"It's not okay that government and big business or any particular group has control over the flow of information. It has to be in the hands of the people."

Altered space

Social network MySpace and video service YouTube have both been criticised recently for asking users to sign up to terms and conditions which grant them complete control over any content posted on the sites.

MySpace altered those terms after musician Billy Bragg pulled his music from the site, complaining about the terms.

"We are gathering information, documenting examples of abuses and bringing together resources on the net so wider interest groups can be made aware of these problems," said Mr Holloway.

Despite the small size of the body, Mr Holloway said the group could have influence over governments, consumers and institutions.

"People who are more motivated, who feel the issues and know something must be done can campaign more powerfully even against highly resourced groups like the music industry," he said.

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