The British EFF

It's dark and it's raining, I've managed to evade my pursuers for long enough to duck into an alley just so I can catch my breath. The party I'd come from seemed a lifetime ago.

It's my own fault that they are after me, one of the microphones caught me at it. I can remember the days when the CCTV cameras only had loudspeakers, the controllers could tell you to pick up the litter that you'd just thrown on the floor. It was hailed as a great breakthrough, a way to stop the rot of anti-social behaviour. We'd asked for it ourselves, more and more cameras to make us feel safer.

But how could you tell the threatening behaviour from visual cues alone? How could you tell if someone was making a racist remark, or planning to bomb a tube station? So they came up with the idea that if you put boom microphones on the cameras you could listen in on what people were talking about. Again, this was welcomed by the public, “It'll stop terrorism”, they said, “It'll make it harder to live as an illegal immigrant”.

So the people agreed.

Obviously we weren't arresting terrorists, and what police force has the resources to check anyone not speaking English as a possible illegal immigrant, so the system was overly expensive and hardly used for the purposes that it had been built for. The government wanted their money back.

I suppose that it was only a matter of time before one of the largest lobbying groups went to the government with an idea to help fund the system. It was pretty simple really, unlike the attempts to get voice or facial recognition working this was a proven technology. It was a technology lots of us had been using back in the day.

Music recognition.

Music recognition is a way in which we found out what music was playing in the bar, on the radio or over the end credits of a movie. You'd hold your phone up to the loudspeaker and after some clever 'musical DNA jiggery-pokery' it'd return with the name of the song.

It's a really clever idea especially if, like me, you'd always be tuning into the radio halfway through a song.

So the record companies lobbied to have the technology wired up to the cctv microphones – they would then be able to collect fees for the 'unauthorised broadcast or performance of copyrighted music'.

So if you hummed a copyrighted tune in front of one of these cameras it would recognise this music and flag you up on a map for the Copyright Police to come and get you. The Copyright Police were employed by the big record companies to make sure that you weren't some sort of commie-pinko copyright infringer. They were allowed to hire these 'copycops' after they were given the power to stop and search your iPod for any tracks you couldn't account for. They loved ACTA, it opened the door for all sorts of nastyness and did away with the need for a judge, or a jury of your peers.

As I say, it was my own fault. I'd been to a party and had forgotten to have my memory of the songs wiped. This meant that I had an illegal copy of the song roaming around my head, and when I'd inadvertently (and perhaps drunkenly) sung a snatch of it on the walk home I'd just confirmed myself as a pirate. I was stealing money from the grandchildren of the original artists.

As I say, the facial recognition systems are still buggy as hell, so if I managed to make it home I might be safe, I'd heard some horror stories of the Copycops wiping songs from your mind and taking half your childhood memories with it by 'accident'.

I knew I should never have joined in singing 'Happy Birthday' to my girlfriend at the party.

OK, so the snatch of fiction above is a bit far-fetched, but not by that much. Check out the links in the story if you don't believe me, if the political or economic will is there much of this story could become reality.

So who do we have fighting against our digital rights being curtailed? Who is it that wants you to not be seen as a thief and a criminal? Let's face it, if you have ever put one of your CDs on your MP3 player, or ripped one of your own DVDs to your laptop, then you have broken the law. If you have downloaded an illegal MP3 then you've broken the law, and it is estimated that 80% of internet users have done this.

This isn't getting into the sillier things that the record companies are trying to do.

Who is fighting for the ability to audit elections and put a stop on expensive and easily fiddled e-voting?

In 2005 I was in the room to give my pledge of £5 a month to form what would become ORG. It's £5 that I gladly spend to know that my voice is being heard.

But it's time for ORG to grow. Those of you who visit my site as opposed to those who read my RSS feed may have noticed the ORG 'Thermometer of DOOM' that has appeared on the side of this blog. We are looking to increase those £5 a month to 1,500 subscribers.

As someone who is involved in the group I'd like to ask people to put their hands into their pockets and pledge £5 a month in an effort to make sure that a future like the one described above doesn't come into effect.

If you don't believe me, take a look at their website, all their campaigns are there, what they are fighting for and the already impressive success stories that they have already caused to happen.

Here is a bribe, and one that has been taken up by other bloggers – if I can get 10 people to sign up to ORG, I will promise to write a blogpost everyday for the next 30 days.

Please. Go here and join up. for the cost of a pint and a half a month you can have dedicated and passionate people fighting on your behalf against the groups who would have you sued into bankruptcy for taping something off the telly.

If you don't believe me, hear the people themselves


Disclaimer – If three people sign up because of me I'll get a T-Shirt, if I get the most new signers by November 19th I win an eeePC. That isn't why I'm doing this, it's because I strongly believe in the cause. (Of course, if you want to mention that you came to the site via me I wouldn't be upset…)

17 thoughts on “The British EFF”

  1. I wanna know when your dystopian science-fiction novel is coming out! 😉 I know it's only a short snippet, and based on a commom trope, but I really like that little scene. I'd definitely read more of that 🙂

  2. Actually, no. I'm not really enamoured with the idea of giving a digital rights advocacy group my gender, name, home address and email (all required fields to sign up!).That seems rather counter what they're out to do.

    Sure, I could fill it out with nonsense values, but making those fields required just shows they have no clue about the importance of privacy and anonymity. They do not need that information to take a paypal repeat transaction. Count me out again, at least until they get their house in order.

  3. You know, that's a really good point – I'll raise it with them. Thanks.(I guess it's because I personally know them that I trust them).

  4. Dunno – I'm torn between magical-realism and SF…Also it's a lot more of a time-sink than blogging because I'd have to *edit* and *draft* as opposed to just typing a stream of consciousness account of something.

    (which, of course, that fiction bit was as I was just trying to make things a bit more interesting than 'support ORG')

  5. Thing is, I'm so damn TORN. I really, really support their goals. But that signup page… *whimper*.So, after thinking about it, I'm getting a membership anyway, but if they address that signup page issue, I'll get another. That way, I'm still an opinionated bastard, but at least I've put my money where my mouth is.

  6. Hey TomJust a thought, if ORG is funded on donations alone, why are they not registered as a charity? There is a big lump of Gift Aid cash going begging there surely….?

    Then again, don't know much about such things, I have an accountant for a reason…lol

  7. Signed up! been following ORG for a while but it was your post that made me actually jump in to action.and Mr Biscuts they cant be a charity as they have a political basis, its against the charity laws!

  8. I've just spoken with Becky and she thanks you for bringing it up.They'll be rewording the page and making it clear that those fields *aren't* 'required' even though the form says it is.

    Also formally saying what they do with the information.

  9. As Pcwizme says, the are laws about such things.Basically they investigated becoming a charity, but if you are a charity then you can't also be a political lobbying group.

    Which is why they are a 'not for profit'.

  10. Absolutely agree with you there! So when's the career change from Ambulance man to sci-fi writer coming Tom?!

  11. Update on that – got a lovely response to my snotty letter to them.I've asked for permission to post it to my blog, but basically it just said what Raynolds said above: they'll update the page, and clarify that anonymous is fine 🙂 Perfect answer, and very fast response.

    Which means I'm gonna have to buy that second membership for my wife, after all. Me and my big mouth!

    8 to go… (7 with Pcwizme, below!) We can do it!

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