I am kicking off the interview series with an interview with Suw Charman of the Open Rights Group.
Tom Hughes-Croucher: Hi Suw, thanks for talking to me. Would you like to introduce yourself?
Suw Charman: Hi Tom. I usually let other people introduce me, but as you ask… I’m a social software consultant, and one of the co-founders of the Open Rights Group. Until recently I was also the Executive Director, but I’ve moved to a position on the Board now that we have recruited a full-time ED.
THC: Whats the elevator pitch for the Open Right Group? Why should a member of the public care about what ORG does?
SC: ORG is an advocacy group campaigning on digital rights issues in the UK – that is, any issue where your human, civil or consumer rights are damaged by the abuse of technology. Since we started, we’ve campaigned against the Data Retention Directive, the extension of copyright on sound recordings, and digital rights management (DRM). We’re currently campainging on the Government’s ill-conceived e-voting pilots that are being held during the local elections on 3 May.
Why should anyone care about what ORG does? Well, these issues affect all of us – not just in an ideological or theoretical way, but in very real and tangiable ways. Copyright extension would have stopped us
being able to remix the fantastic music from the 50s that’s currently
coming into the public domain. DRM stops us from moving music between
different music players or from a CD to our MP3 player. And e-voting,
if it goes wrong, could result in your vote not being counted.
THC: You have an event going on soon what is that about?
SC: ORG is financed primarily by our supporters – people who feel that our work is important and who donate £5 or £10 per month to keep us going. There is lots of work to be done, and if more people support us then we can do more. We are hoping that people will bring potential new supporters to our Support ORG (and Party!) event on Wednesday so that we can convince them to sign up.
It’s really important that ORG has a good, solid group of supporters
who donate a little each month not only because helps us to reliably
plan our budget, but it also gives us credibility with the politicians
we talk to. Each donation is much more than just money – it’s also a
vote of confidence and a voice in agreement with our campaigns. That
ORG represents real people, not corporations or other vested
interests, is essential to our present and future success.
THC: What does ORG do with donations from contributors? What kinds of things does that money go towards?
SC: Supporters’ donations pay for the day-to-day running of ORG and towards funding some of our campaigns (some others are grant-funded). One of ORG‘s main roles is to talk to the media about digital rights issues – every time a journalist wants to understand one of our issues or get a quote, ORG is there to present our point of view and introduce journalists to right people in our network of experts.
The media runs 24/7 so ORG must always be available. We have two paid members of staff who deal with the media, write responses to public consulations, meet with politicians, attend conferences and organise all of the minutiae that keeps ORG going. We’d like to recruit more staff in due course – the more people we have working at ORG, the more issues we’ll be able to take on.
THC: Finally, what can people do to get involved if they don’t want to donate? Are there things people who aren’t living in London can do?
SC: Buy a raffle ticket! We have gathered some great schwag, donated by luminaries such as Lawrence Lessig and our patron, Neil Gaiman.
People can get involved by donating time too – we have a number of volunteers who help us to gather information on the wiki, write consultation papers, keep the website going, or code new web applications for us. There are lots of things that people can do, but we particularly need graphic designers to help us with such things as t-shirt designs. We have volunteers meetings fairly regularly, but you don’t have to live in London to volunteer your time.
People can also write about ORG on their blog and help us spread the
word about what we do. There are badges that people can use on their
site, to indicate their support, but even just a simple blog post will
help us to reach new people and introduce them to our work.
Finally, it’s really important that people get involved with our
campaigns. Some of the things you can do take almost no time at all,
like signing a petition, but if you have a bit more time you might
like to write to your MP, or come to one of our events. There’s always
something that you can do to help – just keep an eye on the blog or
the discussion list, or feel free to get in touch with us if you’re
interestd in volunteering (michael AT openrightsgroup DOT ORG).
Thanks again to Suw for speaking to me and all the great work they are doing at the Open Rights Group.