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BRUSSELS — The role of copyright in the digital age was at the top of the agenda Thursday during the morning session of Day 2 of the CISAC Copyright Summit here.
In a keynote address, Nikesh Aroha, Google’s newly appointed president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, told delegates that the Internet will democratize information.
“If storage is very, very cheap, it will have huge consequences,” he said. “The Internet becomes our first port of call for any questions we might have. In the ’50s, talent scouts would take their Chevys and drive to bars in the Midwest to find their new stars. Now they just scour YouTube.”
Aroha countered suggestions that this will create an avalanche of mediocre output.
“The Internet promotes diversity over homogenization,” he said. “The Internet will change the way we use, distribute, make and consume content. There are 1 billion people connected to the Internet. That may be only 16% of the world’s population, but it is also 89% of its GDP. And with 1 billion people, even niches can become viable.”
Aroha said that in the digital world, content has a platform for the world.
“I don’t think anyone who creates content wants it to languish in obscurity,” he said. “The question is: How can we make this content discoverable? It has to be a symbiotic relationship. We have to help creators, and they need us to get it out.”
And he denied that Google was planning to launch its own music or movie studios.
“Our competence is technology,” Aroha said. “We can support content, but we don’t see ourselves with any competence to produce.”
Elsewhere at the summit, many speakers were preoccupied with the shift to a digital world. Larry Kenswil, executive vp business strategy at Universal Music Group — one of the very few major-label execs to attend the summit — said the CD will be reduced to a niche format by 2012.
“The CD is dying at a rate that’s predictable at this point,” he told a lively panel on “New Revenue Streams: Where’s the Money?” “Five years from now the CD will be of very little consequence.”
He also told delegates that the whole industry is watching EMI’s experiment with selling DRM-free tracks.
“If EMI’s sales go up, we’ll know it makes a difference,” he said. “And if it makes a difference, everyone else will look at it as well.”
Alison Wenhem, chairwoman of Worldwide Independent Network, told the “Understanding Mobile and Online Licensing Systems” panel that licensing has to adapt to the new world.
“Distribution is no longer a top-down process, with the product delivered at my time, my place, my speed,” she said. “Distribution control is over — absolutely finished. We have a responsibility, all of us, to make licensing as simple, global and efficient as possible.”
She also warned against in-fighting among collecting societies that might have missed the big picture.
“We need to stop the localization of our fiefdoms,” she said. “We need a global solution to all our licensing concerns.”
Ventura Barba, director of legal and business affairs at Yahoo Music International, gave a recent example of how user-generated content has changed the relationship between fans and artists: When Sony asked fans for lip-synch videos to Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie,” the response was so great that they were edited together into the official song video.
“The relationship between the user and the creator goes both ways,” he said.
David Israelite, president and CEO of the National Music Publishers Assn., said publishers have lost money because they were competing with labels for money rather than jointly seeking more.
“We have to break out of the belief that there is a limited pot of money for publishers and labels,” he said. “That is the exact wrong philosophy.”
But despite the flurry of pleas to adapt to the new paradigms of the digital era, many delegates still rallied to older war cries. The biggest cheer for the whole summit came after an impassioned speech on culture by Eduardo Bautista, chairman of Spain’s SGAE. Yet his message that creators are “artists” and not “content providers” seemed at odds with the summit’s goals to find solutions in the digital world. And it certainly failed to address the terms of the panel he was speaking on, which concerned mobile and online licensing.
CISAC — the International Confederation of Authors and Composers Societies — said 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.
In other news from the summit Thursday, Robin Gibb will become CISAC’s president, subject to a vote today at the confederation’s general assembly.
The Bee Gees singer-songwriter will be joined by Mexican director, screenwriter and producer Alfonso Cuaron, who will become vp, as the authors society body seeks to put creators at the heart of its work.
“The appointment of these two celebrities, known the world over for their works, will amplify CISAC’s international voice,” CISAC director general Eric Baptiste said.
Gibb and Cuaron’s appointments were expected to be ratified today.
The inaugural CISAC Copyright Summit attracted 582 delegates, according to figures issued Thursday by the confederation of authors societies.
Delegates came from 263 different companies and 53 countries.
Baptiste said in an interview that attendance was above the organization’s expectations when they planned the summit. It is now expected to become a regular event on the calendar.
Mark Sutherland is Billboard’s London bureau chief and global editor.
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