The State of the Open Rights Group

I’ve been a paying supporter of the Open Rights Group — with a brief PayPal-induced hiatus — since it was founded in December 2005. I’m sad to note that I’ve just stopped my monthly membership payments, and I’d like to expand a little on why.

Firstly, some of the reasons which aren’t behind this decision: I’m not quitting because the Digital Economy Bill was passed — with Labour’s three-line whip and the Tories apparently whipping to abstain it was arguably inevitable regardless of the amount of campaigning. I’m not quitting because I agree with the inflammatory Mr. Orlowski’s rant on the Register, although it’s certainly good for a chuckle. And I’m certainly not quitting because I think digital rights are dead in the UK.

The reason I am quitting is that the ORG really doesn’t seem like an organisation I can identify with any more. At the moment if you hit up their home page you’re greeted with a picture of a giant middle finger entitled “What parliament thinks of your right to internet access”. Cute, maybe, but it’s not clever and it’s been greeted by many of my (young, tech-savvy) friends with a similar amount of disdain. At any rate, politics doesn’t operate by telling people to go fuck themselves (at least not so overtly).

I also think the ORG should, before everything else, be trying to help its members to make a well-reasoned point about legislation it opposes. None of the clear, plain-language explanation I’ve seen on the Digital Economy Bill and the complex tangle of amendments it generated has been from the ORG. One of the key rules about writing to your MP is that it’s much better to make a point in your own words. I’ve been surprised at the number of people who wrote to their MPs about the Digital Economy Bill but still didn’t understand the key points, and I fear that it might have given a slight impression that we were a desperate group of copyright infringers.

Lastly, I’m absolutely not a fan of the ORG’s shouty, spammy emails:
ORG Emails

All in all the ORG today feels like a condescending, unprofessional organisation, and that’s exactly the opposite of what it needs to be to convince people that it’s a worthy cause.

Letter to my MP about filesharing disconnection

This is the letter I’ve sent to my MP, Emily Thornberry, about the government’s current plans to disconnect file-sharers. You should write to your MP too. It’s important.

I’ve put it up here because sometimes it’s nice to have something to base your letter on when contacting your MP. That said, please don’t copy and paste this, MPs want to hear that you’re a real person and not some mindless sheep. So write your own damn letter. This is mine.

Dear Mrs. Thornberry,

I’m writing to you to express my concern about the new Digital Britain proposals to disconnect internet users who are accused of violating copyright.

These plans amount to taking disproportionate action against internet users for a crime they have not been found guilty of committing. Internet access is a vital utility, and disconnecting users due to alleged copyright violation would also cut off access to many other services, contrary to the government’s plans for universal access to broadband.

The recording industry is backing these heavy-handed tactics in preference to making their licensing rates more reasonable for small music streaming and download businesses. I believe the only viable way to effectively reduce music copyright infringement is to make music available on demand as a service. Services such as Spotify are doing this, but they are struggling to negotiate sensible rates from the music industry.

I’d appreciate it if you indicated your support for Tom Watson’s Early Day Motion 1997 which concerns these file-sharing plans.

Yours sincerely,

Russell Garrett