Willie Rennie and Greens’ Patrick Harvie support launch of Open Rights Group Scotland

WR  at ORG Scotland LaunchScottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie and Greens’ co-convener Patrick Harvie both attended the launch of Open Rights Group Scotland yesterday. Immediately after First Minister’s Questions, they gathered in a smoke-filled Garden lobby (the cafe was having an indoor barbecue to celebrate the start of the Summer holidays) to talk to journalists and pose for photographs.

As the SNP Government ramps up its plans for a National ID database that’s more powerful and intrusive than anything Labour ever came up with, and as Edinburgh plans to integrate all its CCTV systems, there is a lot for the digital rights organisation to do.

Willie Rennie said:

The way in which we work, socialise, buy products and use services has changed dramatically since the digital revolution.

But government and politicians have responded at a snail’s pace and have failed to ensure the rights of citizens, consumers, journalists, businesses and children are protected online.

I am delighted to be part of the launch of Open Rights Group Scotland. It will help drive digital rights up the agenda in Scotland so that we can build a fairer society which enshrines civil liberties in every part of our lives.

I asked Willie and Pol Clementsmith, ORG’s Scotland Officer, how they would win the arguments on this among young people who are so used to leaving a massive digital footprint that it may not worry them.

Pol Clementsmith told me that ORG runs Digital Self Defence classes where they teach young people about protecting their privacy online.

For Willie, individual choice was the key:

The crucial thing in all those circumstances is the individual decides whereas the government decides on behalf of the individual when it’s the government schemes and I think that’s unacceptable. I think the Government should look south of the border to the scheme that’s been identified down there which is fragmented but crucially individuals own their own data so there’s digital rights at the heart of those proposals.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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6 Comments

  • I profoundly disagree with the ORG on many digital rights issues, I personally don’t think it’s liberal at all, or if it is it’s with someone else’s work/copyright. Sad for Lib Dems to rely on a tiny external fringe organisation for such important issues. 🙂

  • Alex Macfie 29th Jun '15 - 8:31am

    Copyright is not an absolute property right, it’s a temporary state-granted legal privilege. It originated as a tool of censorship. The natural state of things is arguably no copyright at all. But copyright is useful as a mechanism for encouraging creativity, and therefore has a proper place in a well-functioning free market. However, rightsholder interests have in the past few decades become way to big for their boots, essentially turning into a giant vested interest. Rightsholder interests recently managed to get into an opinion of a European Parliamentary committee on EU copyright law a clause that would abolish freedom of panorama, namely the right to take and distribute photos of public buildings without having to get a licence from the building designers. It is difficult to see how requiring photos of public buildings to be “licenced” serves the public good or encourages creativity.
    To be fair, this European document does say some good things, like enshrining fair use in EU law and (most importantly) that DRM should not be allowed to trump that. The legacy entertainment industry have tried in the past to ban many technologies that became integral part of our society (VCRs, MP3 players, twin-tape decks) and now it is illegal to tinker with one’s own playing equipment to do things that are perfectly legal but that the legacy companies don’t like us doing, such as playing out-of-region DVDs. And they have for a number of years been lobbying for the right to disconnect people from the internet without trial based on accusations of infringement. I think I would much rather the Lib Dems listened to a “tiny external fringe organisation” (but one that is fighting for the rights of individuals over corporate interests) than the big legacy rightsholder interests that the two big parties (Tories especially) most listen to.

  • I’ve made my living partially from copyright since I left school (with few qualifications) 20 years ago. I, like many rights holders I know live on a council estate, I don’t recognise your caricature at all. Whilst most of my friends went and worked for ASDA or B&Q, copyright has given me and many others from disadvantaged backgrounds an opportunity to break free from the constraints of a lifetime of corporate ownership. This opportunity is dieing, and the alternative to working for yourself is usually working for a big company; the industries are growing, but the makeup of their ownership is shifting towards bigger and bigger companies. Normal people can’t get paid for their article, song, photo, app, etc, so only big companies can afford to operate in those markets. We used to have thousands of indie records labels, soon we’ll just have Apple, we used to have indie video stores everywhere – now just Google, Apple & Netflix. You’re fighting the case for the worlds biggest businesses, even though it’s crushing the rights of the individual and social mobility.

    You delivered a fair illustration of some my problems with the ORG – it’s a very middle class view of copyright, are you a member Alex? There are 3k members of the ORG, there are >1.7 million people working in the creative industries and we’re worth £79bn a year. You may be happy about the ideas of 3 thousand people trumping the rights of 1.7 million (not including dependencies) but it’ll never win votes, if it could the Pirate Party will already of absorbed them. You’ve staked out a position that disempowers the individual and makes us slaves to tech companies like Google, Yahoo, Apple, Netflix and Microsoft.

  • Alex Macfie 30th Jun '15 - 8:45pm

    @ChrisB: I’m not arguing against copyright (although you are, I think wilfully, misinterpreting my arguments as being against copyright), I’m arguing against the way it has been turned into a cudgel used by the big entertainment giants to squash any innovation that interferes with their specific business model.
    You think that “indie video stores” are disappearing. Well so has Blockbuster. And big retailers like HMV are also struggling. This is nothing to do with copyright, and everything to do with the fact that people are now consuming media in a different way from before, often preferring streaming or downloading of files to physical media.
    It’s a bit rich (no pun intended) to accuse me of arguing for the interests of “the world’s biggest businesses” when some of the world’s biggest businesses, the big record labels and movie studios, are the ones resisting any attempt to reform copyright law and in some ways are trying to make it even more intrusive. I have mentioned the attempts to ban the VCR and the MP3 player. Is that what you would have wanted? do you honestly think it would have been in society’s interest for those technologies to be outlawed? The latest move is to try to ban VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), on the grounds that they are used to get round geo-restrictions on the delivery of streamed content (mainly movies). And unfortunately, some lawmakers are listening, and actually think that felony interference with a business model is something that they should be legislating against. The reality is that the Internet has made a global marketplace. Why shouldn’t people connect to the version of Netflix, or whatever, that delivers the content they want at a price they want to pay? That is global free-market competition. But the media companies that supply content to Netflix want to protect their business model, which is based on market segmentation. It is difficult to see why this is reasonable, certainly difficult to see how it protects the interests of creative people.

  • Alex Macfie 30th Jun '15 - 8:46pm

    And don’t think the record labels and movie studios who lobby for extreme copyright law have the interests of the ordinary artists like you at heart. Have you heard of Hollywood accounting? You know, the practice by which the movie studios turn Box Office hits into balance-sheet losses in order to avoid paying royalties to actors. And while I do not approve of one internet radio station trying to avoid paying artists royalties for free streaming, the fact is that established record labels have been guilty of the same sort of sharp practice for decades. You seem to be supporting the copyright status quo promoted by the legacy media companies in order to protect the tiny scraps they give you from their feast.
    Google and Netflix, and even Apple, are all relatively new companies in a very dynamic market. The current major players in the tech/Internet sector are mostly not the same as the ones 15 or even 10 years ago. I strongly suspect it will be a different set of companies dominating the tech sector 10 years from now. By contrast, the same giants have been dominating Big Content for the past 50 or more years. These, not the Internet companies, represent the establishment that is trying to protect its position and is arrogant enough to think that it should be entitled to government help to do so. If you think they will protect your interests, you’ve been sold a pup.

  • Alex Macfie 1st Jul '15 - 7:04am

    Yes I am a member of ORG. I was one of those who responded to the crowdfunding initiative that set it up back in 2005.
    The idea that you can compare the number of people who work for a broadly defined sector of the economy with membership of a grassroots lobby group is laughable, as is the idea that they all have the same interest in public policy. People are both producers and consumers of creative content (sometimes at the same time), and the rights of both are important; the question is where to strike the balance. My point is that copyright law as it stands is too much biased in favour of “producer” interests, yet not in a way that necessarily benefits ordinary creators.
    Also risible is your reference to Microsoft, whose lobbyists consistently support a maximalist position on copyright. It is the main member of the Business Software Alliance, which is notorious for its heavy-handed approach to software licencing by businesses. It is also one of the leading proponents of software patents, which may have something to do with protecting its near-monopoly on operating system software from open-source alternatives such as Linux. People in favour of balanced copyright (and balanced IP law in general) do not consider Microsoft to be a friend.

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