Opinions fly at inaugural CISAC summit

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BRUSSELS -- The inaugural CISAC Copyright Summit kicked off here Wednesday in with some lively initial sessions.

CISAC -- the International Confederation of Authors and Composers Societies -- says it represents 217 copyright societies in 114 countries and 2.5 million creators and publishers in music, drama, literature, audiovisual, photography and the visual arts.

The two-day summit, attended by more than 500 delegates, goes under the banner "Creators First" and is focused on the protection of copyright in the digital age.

But in his keynote address, British Telecom CEO Ben Verwaayen issued a brutal warning to rights owners, telling them that business models that had been sustained for more than a century were coming to an end

"Your industry has not changed for 20 years, maybe 50 years. You have to rethink how you work in the digital age," he said. "Are you just a rights administrator that sends me a bill, or are you something more?"

Verwaayen flatly rejected suggestions that operators like BT need to compensate rights owners because they provided the infrastructure for online piracy.

"It's nonsense," he said. "It's the same issue in many industries: Is one responsible for the problems of another? If you think someone else will solve your problems for you, forget it -- it won't happen."

And Verwaayen added that piracy is here to stay.

"Regardless of your moral outrage, people will continue to download on peer-to-peer networks," he said.

Meanwhile, on the "I've Seen the Future" panel, Mark Selby, Nokia's U.K.-based vp sales and multimedia, said that new technologies had created a "democracy of distribution" and end users were uninterested in whether their content was text, music or images. He said he expected a wide range of business models to emerge, but the most successful ones would be the ones offering the greatest transparency.

"But the current situation is a nonsense," Selby added. "It is like arguing over the color of your stable lock long after the horse has bolted. If anyone believes that technology can offer total protection, they are living on another planet."

Artists also were featured on many panels. In his keynote speech, French crooner Charles Aznavour appealed to the European Commission to engage with the cultural community before taking any key decisions that might affect it.

"Without creators, without their works, which are vital, these pipes would just be empty," he said.

And on the "A New World for Creativity" panel, which featured Austrian actress Mercedes Echerer, French screenwriter-director Agnes Jaoui and Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro as well as representatives form the music biz, veteran U.K. singer-songwriter Billy Bragg spoke enthusiastically about the potential of the Internet.

"I'm playing festivals in the U.K. in September, and it's not because of global warming," he joked. "It's because there's a huge upsurge in live music, partly because people are hearing more music for nothing over the Internet."

Bragg and others called for "solidarity" among artists to help protect their income.

"The power in the creative industries is moving away from retailers and the industry toward artists and our relationships with our audiences," he said.

An afternoon session called "The Value of Copyright in the 21st Century. Should It Be Free for All ... Really?" was dominated by a standoff between delegates and controversial Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig.

Creative Commons issues copyright licenses that allow authors to license their work for free in some or all circumstances, a practice seen by many in the industry as contradictory to the principles of copyright. Lessig is also the author of the book "Free Culture."

Lessig repeatedly clashed with Brett Cottle, chair of CISAC's board of directors and CEO of the Australasian Performing Rights Assn.

While attacking those who commercially exploit user-generated content, or UGC, as indulging in "sharecropping for the digital age," Lessig also told a packed conference hall that Creative Commons licenses are aimed at those who had no interest in making money from their creativity.

"There's an explosion of UGC that never wants to be part of the commercial economy," he said. "If we're arguing, it's only because you think the only model for copyright is the commercial one."

Cottle hit back: "The problem is you give credence to the general anti-copyright argument, particularly in developing countries. Don't treat the authors like the record labels or the entertainment companies. Hollywood's Jurassic, and we're the mammals."

An announcement that there was not enough time for questions from the audience was greeted with uproar. When organizers allowed the session to over-run, several delegates criticized Lessig from the floor, though Bragg spoke out in favor of an "opt out" clause for payment for use of some copyrighted material.

Lessig's parting shot was to concede, saying, "The copyright system is perfect ... for people who have all the money in the world to pay lawyers."

The summit wraps today with panels including "The Value of Content in the 21st Century" and a keynote address by the Bee Gees' Robin Gibb.

Mark Sutherland is Billboard's London bureau chief and global editor.
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