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About Becky Hogge

Becky Hogge is a writer and researcher. Between 2006 and 2008 she ran the Open Rights Group, a UK-based grassroots campaign to establish and protect our rights in the digital world. Between 2008 and 2013 she was a non-executive director of open data pioneers the Open Knowledge Foundation. She has just finished a major piece of research work commissioned by Omidyar Network “Open Data: Six stories about impact in the UK”. The full report, whose findings are reflected in this piece, is available here.


Articles by Becky Hogge

This week's editor

NSS, editor

Niki Seth-Smith is a freelance journalist and contributing editor to 50.50.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Now is the time to defend the public’s right to know

Britain has just attended the Open Government Partnership Summit in Mexico as the world leader on open data policy – a clear winner, now under threat. How come?

Networked activism meets the dominant culture of technocratic managerialism in Westminster

The first full-time executive director of the Open Rights Group (and one-time openDemocracy technology director) describes the clash of cultures she experienced as a citizen activist trying to influence digital policy. Expect centralising managerialism to continue to have all the wrong instincts on digital law. (Extracted from Barefoot into Cyberspace)

The freedom cloud

The tools that help Arab democracy protesters also extend the reach of three United States corporations. The power of Facebook, Google, and Twitter represents an appropriation of the hacker-utopian ideals of the early internet, says Becky Hogge. The challenge to those who still uphold these ideals is to recover a true freedom path.

The internet's fading promise

It seems like old news. Two years ago, for openDemocracy, I reported on the release of the Open Net Initiative (ONI)'s investigation into internet censorship in China (see "The great firewall of China", 20 May 2005). Back then, I was able to use the words of John Gilmore - "the internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it" - as a starting-point from which to watch in awe as his lore was slowly disproved. Today, everybody's at it, and the internet is starting to look more like a tool of control, not one of freedom.

Digging in

The corporate pressure on the successful user-generator news aggregator Digg highlights the flaws in the legal architecture governing next-generation media outlets, says Becky Hogge.

Campaigning in cyberspace

If politicians really want to reach voters via the internet, argues Becky Hogge, they need to exploit the best features of the new communications environment.

We are the web

Like language, the internet exists as a function of its users, who define and generate its structure. As the complex digital world evolves, however, some shared values are needed writes Becky Hogge.

'Data is the pollution of the information society'

How can free people grapple with growing threats to their privacy and liberty? A computer-security guru's view of the surveillance dystopia worries Becky Hogge.

A gain for the public domain

After a surprising breakthrough in negotiations, the scene is set for a full debate on intellectual-property rights and human development. Becky Hogge is encouraged, but the fight isn’t over yet.

Reporting Africa, blog by blog

A new collaboration between the citizen journalists of Global Voices and Reuters promises refreshing perspectives by and from Africa, says Becky Hogge.

One high, one low note for downloaders

As the music industry begins to move away from digital rights management, writes Becky Hogge, the European Union considers criminalising the infringement of intellectual property.

An Irish challenge to the EU's snooping law

The Data Retention Directive is incompatible with a democratic society, argues Becky Hogge, who backs Digital Rights Ireland's legal battle.

The future of intellectual property: Andrew Gowers interviewed

Andrew Gowers, commissioned by the British government to map the next generation's intellectual-property framework, explains his thinking to Becky Hogge – and leaves her feeling that the "copyfight" for a public domain of information has only just begun.

Let the IP debate begin !

An imminent British report on intellectual-property law will shape government policy on the balance between consumers and rightsholders. Becky Hogge sets the scene – and takes sides – in the debate to come.

Free software's Faustian moment

A recent deal between Microsoft and Novell has ignited the long-smouldering controversy about whether code can be owned. Is it the first step towards a two-tier software economy?

Flash! Web's creator doesn't fear for its future

After discussing reputation and the blogosphere, Tim Berners-Lee found his words turned upside down. Becky Hogge helps uncross the wires.

Information between old and new worlds

The defence of independent news and quality journalism is vital, but is it best served by recourse to law? Becky Hogge, unillusioned techno-utopian, considers the lessons of Google's multiple legal entanglements.

Consumer or citizen?

The marketisation of public choice is an infringement of freedom. At the heart of a fightback is the reclamation of language, says Becky Hogge.

Revolution at our fingertips

As the networked information revolution reaches a threshold for repression, Becky Hogge finds its future has already been written, and the battle lines are clear.

Anonymity on the net

The promotion of "darknets" is one response to corporate surveillance of personal data. But there is a better way to ensure privacy online, says Becky Hogge.

Whose space? Abuse and control in social networks

Social-networking websites are drawing fire as adults lure teenagers into real-world liaisons. Defending online communities, Becky Hogge argues for education not legislation.

Amnesty's China hit-list

An Amnesty International report on leading companies' complicity with China's internet censorship is the latest stage in a vital campaign, says Becky Hogge.

The Crown's copyright con

As the UK government abuses copyright law to stifle free speech and obstruct freedom of information, the case of Craig Murray reveals how the impulse of power to control dissent is crushing democratic rights anew.

'The Long Tail', Chris Anderson

Has the rise of "niche culture" brought about the demise of the smash hit blockbuster? Chris Anderson's seminal book explores a new era of cultural consumption and distribution.

What moves a movement?

How do you move a movement? The question lingers in my mind after three days here at the iSummit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, because behind the energy and excitement of the Creative Commoners gathered in their hundreds in Copacabana to share experiences of the free culture sphere, a niggling uncertainty persists.

Three days before the summit began, Creative Commons, the organisation behind the suite of legal licences revolutionising copyright on the net, announced they had teamed up with a company that many in the movement view with deep mistrust, Microsoft, to produce a tool embedded in Microsoft's Office suite allowing users to attach Creative Commons licences to files created in Word, Powerpoint and Excel. Although the collaboration was relatively small, the ideological significance, to some, seems great.

Becky Hogge is openDemocracy's Technology Director and Technology Commissioning Editor

Click here for a selection of Becky Hogge's articles from her "Virtual reality" column

Creative Commons licences allow authors to release their works "some rights reserved", selectively asserting the different rights that are established by copyright law, such as distribution, attribution and the right to produce derivative works, and releasing the rest to the "network of ends". Their inspiration is the Free Software or "copyleft" licence, the GNU General Public Licence, which is used in free and open source software and allows programmers to read, adapt and release new versions of a computer program's source code. Indeed, many of Creative Commons' thousands of supporters around the world came to that movement already supporters of free software.

By contrast, Microsoft's code is proprietary, meaning programmers have to take it or leave it. Most choose the latter, opting for the open source operating system Linux, which, thanks to the sheer numbers of talented coders who scrutinise it, is accepted as being more reliable by those with the technical literacy to employ it. Every movement needs an enemy, and for the free software movement that enemy is Microsoft.

Lawrence Lessig, whose involvement in the Creative Commons project over its four year history has been characterised as a cult of personality, announced he was "incredibly excited" by Creative Commons' collaboration with Microsoft. Gilberto Gil, Brazil's Minister of Culture and a major political figure behind the CC scheme, found it "thrilling". But unsurprisingly, others further down the information chain were less than delighted.

A movement has been chilled by less. The very spread of the Creative Commons movement, initiated by licences that are now in use in their hundreds of millions, makes its future unclear. Indeed its own momentum is what has brought Microsoft on board: Creative Commons could not pick and choose who uses its licences along ideological grounds even if it wanted to, they are tools made available to all. As the popularity of the licences grows, they are sure to be embraced by organisations that are less than attractive to the early adopters.

This article is part of a debate exploring global digital commons and culture. For more information on the commons movement, see the iCommons website.



Join the debate in the openDemocracy forums: "Do you remix?"

Creative Commons saw this trend coming more than a year ago, and have since been attempting to counter its negative effects on the free culture enthusiasts who form the core of the movement. To this end, they have established a new arm, the iCommons. Fronted first by Paula le Dieu, the former director of the BBC's Creative Commons-inspired Creative Archive, and now by Heather Ford, who helped bring Creative Commons to South Africa, the iCommons aims to incubate and connect projects that are working towards a global digital commons. Because it is less concerned with legal code that is available to all and more connected with common practice, the iCommons is the perfect altar at which free software and free culture pioneers may lay their aspirations for the movement. But will they?

For many, the message behind iCommons isn't clear. When this was put to Lawrence Lessig in the final session of the conference here in Rio last weekend, he was adamant it didn't need to be. Creative Commons does not tell you how you should be free, he countered, it provides you with tools, real things, which let you achieve the freedoms you believe in, and iCommons will be the same. But no matter what the Creative Commons board believes, their self-appointed advocates around the world were drawn to Creative Commons in part because of a perceived shared ideology. "We need trust and faith in each other", counters Lessig, "We need a recognition that we have a common purpose. Don't tell me that I need to tell you what that is, because we'll never agree, but we do have a common purpose."

Tools, then, not ideology, spurred the spread of the Creative Commons movement, to the extent that the Rio summit attracted delegations from Australia, China, Croatia, Senegal. But the iCommons' proposal for tools that "incubate" and "connect" projects gets too close to semantically bleached NGO doublespeak for the comfort of this writer. Creative Commons needs to invest as much time and money in iCommons as possible, to ensure that the tools and portals set to work on achieving these goals will be as intuitive, as inspirational and as downright cool as the licences were.

The web's hall of mirrors

From Wang Xiaofeng to Sandi Thom, writers and artists – and their commercial promoters – have learned how to pull new technology's strings. But the blogosphere is not so easily fooled, says Becky Hogge.

Open source ubuntu

Despite its world-saving image, open source software has not made much real revolution. But Becky Hogge finds hope in new software "for human beings", designed to bridge the digital divide.

The battle for net neutrality

A proposed new law in the United States reflects the desire of cable and telecommunications companies to turn the internet’s information-flows into a market. It shall not pass, says Becky Hogge.

Microsoft: closed windows and hidden vistas

While Microsoft faces tough questions about anti-competitive practices, the world outside is turning towards open development and more innovative technology, says Becky Hogge.

Internet hoaxes hit politics

In Japan and South Africa, faked emails have been wreaking havoc on political careers. Reader beware! Becky Hogge looks into the internet's hoaxing tradition.

Payday for the free internet

The open-content revolution is transforming business models, relationships and minds on its way to creating "Web 2.0". Becky Hogge is already there.

Internet freedom comes of age

As the corridors of power resound with debate about internet control, Becky Hogge champions the internet freedom movement fighting for the right to information, and the diversity of the web.

The year of free culture?

2006 is set to be the UK's year of intellectual property. Three separate reviews, two conducted by the British government, and one by a leading thinktank, will examine current patent and copyright law, and their findings will have direct implications for the democratic future of the information society.

How Britain approaches intellectual property reform in the information age will in turn influence the EU's approach, which has, up to now, and especially with regards to the patentability of software and business methods, made a refreshing contrast to the United States' protectionist approach to intellectual property (IP).

Although they are called intellectual property laws, patent and copyright laws are not strictly property laws at all. They are state-granted monopolies, with time limitations, over ideas and their expression respectively. Within a free market orthodoxy, what drives the state to grant these monopolies is the perception that they protect and promote a public good.

Much as the state protected developing rail and communications infrastructure in the twentieth century for the benefit of the public, so ideas and their expression gain a time-limited protection from competition. The time limit is twenty years in the case of patent law, and often over a century in the case of copyright. After this period, ideas are in a sense "deregulated", they are placed in the public domain, where anyone may disseminate and profit from them.

What has this got to do with technology or democracy? The dissemination of intellectual property, or access to knowledge, is one of the key pillars of democracy. As information courses ever more rapidly through the internet, barriers to access are gradually reduced.

But according to received knowledge at least, information, ideas and creative expression are unable to survive in a free market, especially in a free market that embraces the internet.

Once a piece of information has been disseminated, be it a thousand words of copy from a technology columnist or the recipe for a drug that prevents the onset of Aids in HIV sufferers, it becomes difficult for the creators of that information to recoup the resources they invested in it on the free market. The idea is that if we do not allow the creators of knowledge some way to profit from their works before they are copied by all and sundry, they will simply stop creating.

Intellectual property law therefore exists to balance the needs of creators of knowledge with the needs of the public at large to gain access to that knowledge. That balance is both a democratic and an economic imperative. The reason why Britain is embarking on its intellectual property review has less to do with democracy and more to do with Britain and the EU's future success in the global marketplace.

UK folklore has it that the country is becoming a nation of media studies graduates. Although this causes Middle England to grumble, especially when Middle England is trying to find a plumber, it is actually part of New Labour's commitment to the Lisbon Agenda, which pledges to turn the EU into "the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010".

Also by Becky Hogge, managing editor of openDemocracy:

"Democracy and dissent at the World Intellectual Property Organisation" (April 2005)

"The great firewall of China" (May 2005)

"Mozilla's 'magic pixie dust'" (with Hamza Khan-Cheema, September 2005)

Open source nation” (interview with Geoff Mulgan, September 2005)

"Why the WSIS? Democracy and cyberspace"
(November 2005)

"The online public finds its voice"
(November 2005)

"Global voices: blogging the world"
(December 2005)

"The abuse of "fair use"" (January 2006)

"Some grown-up questions for Google" (February 2006)

If you find this material valuable please consider supporting openDemocracy by sending us a donation so that we can continue our work for democratic dialogue

Britain isn't doing too badly so far: its creative economy is growing at twice the speed of the national economy as a whole. In November 2005, the department for culture, media and sport launched the Creative Economy Programme, a scheme designed to create the best framework for innovation in the UK, a framework that includes intellectual property law. In December, the chancellor Gordon Brown announced a review into intellectual property law headed by Andrew Gowers, former editor of the Financial Times.

If Britain is to come out top in the knowledge economy, it needs to understand new ways of managing intellectual property that have emerged with the information society, existing under the controversial umbrella term "free culture". One such development is the Gnu project's general public licence (or "copyleft"), which nurtures collaborative authorship of software within the open source movement. More recently, Lawrence Lessig's Creative Commons licences have shown how relaxing key areas of traditional copyright can democratise creativity in a new remix culture, facilitated by the wider availability of digital sound and moving image production tools. Within the scientific community, the open access publishing movement is exploring how best to disseminate scientific knowledge in the internet age. And new proposals to decouple research and development from production in the pharmaceutical industry, inspired by the success of the Sanger Institute in mapping the human genome, are gaining gradual support. Will the British government take note of these innovations in their reviews?

Announcing the Gowers review, the Treasury stated that intellectual property rights should provide "the optimal incentives for private industry and individuals to innovate and invest to create value, whilst preventing excessive inefficiencies and monopoly costs which can reduce competition and impede incremental innovation." Although mention of the "new digital environment" is made, this is only in the context of reassessing the "IP infringement framework" in respect of fair use, and doesn't bode well for the inclusion of new forms of IP management. The Gowers review will be evidence-based, and a call for submissions is expected any day now.

The problem here is that very little solid evidence exists to back up either the current framework of intellectual property rights, or any future changes to that framework which either embrace free culture or call for increased IP protection. Kay Withers, research fellow at UK thinktank the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr), conducted a literature review of existing evidence in her recently published paper, Intellectual Property and the Knowledge Economy, as part of the ippr's twelve month intellectual property project gathering diverse views on the topic. The document makes interesting reading, primarily for the fact that it details patchy and conflicting evidence of whether the intellectual property regime provides any quantifiable difference to innovation at all.

Because extant evidence of the effects of intellectual property laws on innovation is so bitty, it is likely that the vested interests of large media companies will find they have a disproportionately loud voice in the debate. Indeed, when the review was announced, the Treasury was explicit about its desire to review extending the term (ie the length) of copyright on sound recordings, a move the music industry has long been calling for. And at the launch of the ippr project, an executive from a major recording company operating in Britain admitted, to the general disbelief of the audience, that his company had made no contingency plans in terms of his overall business plan for the expiry under current legislation of copyright they owned on sound recordings. Is this a foolhardy level of confidence in the industry's ability to change intellectual property policy to safeguard its interests? Perhaps, if the free culture movement were the only voice of dissent that industry had to contend with. But more establishment players are likely to emerge over the course of this year to challenge the incumbent business view.

At the same time as the UK government is reviewing intellectual property, the BBC plans to submit one of its boldest experiments in a new type of copyright law to its new "public value test", a benchmark created in the BBC Charter Review last year. The Creative Archive, which uses Creative Commons-type agreements to licence the use of BBC and other archive material back to the British public for reuse and remix, will end its pilot phase this year, with the hope of launching fully in 2007.

The Creative Archive may be the first submission to the BBC public value test, and is expected to pass with flying colours. The effect it has had on nurturing innovation will no doubt be a key part of its value to the public, and this should be noted by the Gowers review. The use of a non-commercial Creative Commons-type licence will mean that innovations made through use of Creative Archive material will not have an effect on UK plc, but in terms of capacity-building, the benefits are clear.

Another voice of dissent is raised in the Adelphi Charter, a document prepared by an international commission of experts, including John Howkins of the UK's Royal Society of the Arts, Lynne Brindley of the British Library, James Love of the Consumer Project on Technology, Peter Drahos, co-author of one of the key texts on the global effects of intellectual property law, Information Feudalism, and Brazil's minister of culture, Gilberto Gil.

Thanks to its brevity and clarity, the Adelphi Charter – unlike many government papers on the subject – merits a full and thorough reading by all with an interest in democracy and the dissemination of ideas. It states that, "the expansion in the law's breadth, scope and term over the last 30 years has resulted in an intellectual property regime which is radically out of line with modern technological, economic and social trends. This threatens the chain of creativity and innovation on which we and future generations depend."

The charter has already been translated into six languages and presented to politicians dealing with creativity and intellectual property law in Shanghai, Australia, Hungary and at the UN in Geneva. It will be presented to the Gowers review once the call for submissions has been made.

What is crucial now is that defenders of the public good vested in the democratic dissemination of information step forward to make their voices heard. Expect this columnist to return to the matter, and to amplify these voices, as Britain's year of intellectual property progresses.

Some grown-up questions for Google

What does Google mean when it says "don’t be evil"? The company’s expansion in China will reveal whether it is on the side of citizen or state, says Becky Hogge.
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