EFF to fight for digital rights in Europe

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has opened a Brussels office and will step up its digital rights work in Europe

Consumers in Europe have another group looking out for their digital rights with the opening of a Brussels office by the U.S. nonprofit group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The EFF has battled the U.S. government and corporations to protect the rights of consumers and technologists in areas like free speech, data privacy and digital rights management. It has brought or helped to defend cases against the U.S. Department of Justice, Apple, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, AT&T and others.

On Monday it opened an office in Brussels, home of the European Commission and the European Parliament, and said it would play a more active role in shaping European law and advocating on behalf of European citizens.

The office was funded partly by Mark Shuttleworth, the South African dot-com billionaire who launched the Ubuntu Linux distribution, and by the Open Society Institute, a U.S. grants foundation chaired by George Soros.

Erik Josefsson will be the EFF's European Affairs Coordinator. He was previously the head of the Swedish chapter of the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure, which helped overturn the proposal for a unified patent system in Europe.

The EFF didn't say which issues it would pick up in Europe. Areas it could potentially get involved with include the battle under way against Apple to force it to open its digital rights management (DRM) system, so songs bought from its iTunes Store can play on music players other than Apple's iPod.

It has already been involved in some European cases. A few years ago it set up a defense fund for the Norwegian teenager Jon Johannsen, known as "DVD Jon," who was accused of creating an illegal program, DeCSS, to watch DVDs on his Linux computer. He was eventually acquitted by a Norwegian court.

In the U.S. the group has fought the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a controversial law that seeks to prevent people from cracking DRM systems to access copyright works, but which critics say has been misused to inhibit innovation and fair use.

It also brought a class action suit against Sony BMG over the "rootkit" copy-protection technology used in some of its music CDs, helping U.S. and Canadian customers to get refunds. And it helped defend several bloggers who were sued by Apple for allegedly leaking information about upcoming products to online news sites.

Its current cases include a class-action suit against AT&T for wire-tapping on behalf of the U.S. government, and a suit in Florida on behalf of citizens whose votes were not properly registered by e-voting machines.

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