Last week in DC, CISAC, a France-based international umbrella organization for collecting societies, sponsored the 2nd “World Copyright Summit.” This event was billed as a “2-day event where the shape and impact of the new creative, economic, technological and legal environment can be discussed.” As a hardcore copyright geek, I was excited to attend the event. It appeared promising; with PK's President Gigi Sohn on the first panel, I was hoping to hear some lively discussions focused on users rights, new media and new business models. Unfortunately, PK's appearance on the first panel was the end of the public interest focus of the conference. The rest of the conference focused almost entirely on how to get collecting societies paid with no connection to the real innovations going on in copyright.
Keynote talks included the topics: Creations and Internet Law and the French Approach (why 3 strikes is good), Criminalizing Infringement and 3 Strikes in South Korea, and a talk on the need to prevent young voters from becoming members of the Pirate Party. It was not just the keynotes that were one-sided: panels often lacked diversity, too. For example, the day two panel on “ISPs and Telcos: Part of the Problem or the Solution” contained not one ISP or telco. The panel focused on content filtering and blanket licensing, but was not very meaningful without more stakeholders involved. If you want to have an honest discussion about ISPs, they should be at the table along with consumer rights groups since ISPs do not always have users interest in mind.
Even the panels of famous creators were moderated by copyright-holder insiders that asked the creators leading questions to try to justify the need for stronger copyrights or rights collecting societies. My favorite, most painful, question from the first day came from the moderator Keith Harris of PPL(UK):
“The Internet offers this huge opportunity just to get your work out there and it has never been easier you no longer need record companies, but…”
I was with Keith until the “but”.
“But I see something else… the Internet also provides a platform for a lot of not very good work to be put out there. It is a kind of a smoke screen… and that makes it really difficult for really talented people to come out.”
This question was then answered by Paul Williams, the song writer and ASCAP President / Chairman, who pontificated on the value of the recording industry and publishers. At least not all members of the panel were so quick to toe the line put forward; both film director Fernando Tureba and the painter Herve di Rosa saw value in access to more media without central controls that approve content. Fernando's fears of the future mostly related to big media controlling the net and independent film makers being left out in the cold.
The most revealing thing about the nature of the conference was the list of topics that did not make the agenda. Missing in action from the panels were fair use, orphan works legislation, limitations and exceptions, and Creative Commons licensing. Not one panel covered open education, user-generated content or participatory remix culture. The web was viewed only as a place to consume, not as a place for all to contribute. Given that the conference was being held in DC — a city with large contingents from the ALA and SPARC, a city in which several high profile members of Students for Free Culture reside — it would not have been difficult for WCS to find the public interest speakers or innovators in DC.
The conference generally appeared to be industry insiders talking to each other about how great they are or how wronged they have been in the information age. Even given this focus, I was really shocked by how little the industry insiders get along. To paraphrase Jim Griffin, the mastermind behind the controversial and interesting blanket licensing proposal Choruss: “when the industry gets together to circle the wagons we seem to turn our guns inward and take shots at each other instead of working together to address challenges presented in the digital age.” For us to make real progress on copyright reform we need these stakeholders to join with innovators, creators, and users* to find new models, instead of fighting with each other for the last few crumbs of a loaf of bread.
Despite the conference's failings, there were a few bright points. Michael Heller of Columbia Law School gave a great keynote on Copyright Gridlock. David Touve of Vanderbilt and Will Page of PRS also gave a thought-provoking talk on Financing Creative Industries — should societies pursue equity in start-ups? We will be covering these ideas in more depth in upcoming posts.
It takes an event like this to help remind me of how much work we have to do to get new ideas into the marketplace and make sure that our voices are heard when policy is being created.
- the user term is not ideal here: we can all be creators. Unfortunately the world has been divided into users and creators, and only those branded as official creators are being invited to the table to shape policy. This is where PK, EFF, CC, and ACLU come in to help get us the participatory culture creators of the next generation a seat at the table to rewrite policy to include us.