Open Rights Group holds first conference in London

Sunday, July 25, 2010

London — The Open Rights Group, a pressure group pursuing reform of intellectual property law in the United Kingdom, held its first “ORGCon” yesterday at City University London. Approximately 100 delegates took part in six hours of panel discussions and workshops on a wide range of topics in intellectual property, discussing such subjects as “How To Talk To Your MP” and “ACTA: A Shady Business”, in what ORG billed as a “crash course in digital rights” designed to inspire campaigning on intellectual property issues.

Cory Doctorow, a fiction author and digital rights activist, led the keynote panel discussion “Thriving in the Real Digital Economy”, which opened the conference. Doctorow called for a “reframing” of the digital rights slogan “information wants to be free”. “The most important thing” about digital rights, he noted, “has nothing to do with art. We are refitting the information network with lots of control.” Digital rights management (DRM) technologies, Doctorow warns, build in limitations on how consumers exchange information and “abuse the market”. John Buckman of Magnatune followed up Doctorow’s comments, noting that DRM is “unsustainable” but that the public needed to “pressure companies into” open-source solutions.

A keynote speech by James Boyle compared the current age to the age just before application of the theories of Adam Smith and other early capitalist economists began breaking down the entrenched monopolies of mercantilism. Boyle called on the audience to come up with a “jaw droppingly simple” idea for a reformed copyright system; he gave his speech in front of a projection of the twitterfall as audience members commented on his words.

Boyle, like most of the conference, took a pro-reform but anti-piracy position, saying “It is a tragedy that an entire generation has lost the notion that breaking the law is wrong”. While several members of the Pirate Party UK, wearing matching t-shirts, attended the conference and held a fringe meeting during the last session, none spoke in the keynote sessions either as panelists or in the discussions.

Among the many workshops which comprised the last three hours of the day, Open Rights Group held a session on student groups and committed itself to establishing Open Rights Group Youth societies at universities across the United Kingdom. Young activists, such as Wikipedian Jdforrester, also dominated the “Your Shout” session in which any and all delegates could give three-minute speeches on any intellectual property subject which interested them.

The organisation hopes to host a second ORGCon in 2011.

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