The World Creators Summit (formerly World Copyright Summit but still WCS) took place this week in Washington, DC. The event is run by CISAC, the international umbrella organization of collecting societies that mainly serve songwriters, composers, screenwriters, and visual artists. Its decision to change the name reflects the fact that copyright is not only no longer an insider’s domain but also carries negative connotations in some circles.
The CISAC event takes place every two years, alternating between Brussels and Washington. This year’s conference was an improvement on the last Washington event in 2009 in that it felt more broad in its focus and less concerned with the “inside baseball” of collecting societies. In fact, a consistent refrain throughout the event was the need for collecting societies to make it much easier for digital service providers to get licenses to content.
A few sessions at WCS particularly stood out. One was on antipiracy initiatives, such as the graduated response systems in France (Hadopi) and the US (Copyright Alert System). The most interesting thing we learned there was that, to paraphrase Mark Twain, recent rumors of Hadopi’s death (such as this one and this one) have been greatly exaggerated. (As is often the case, Ars Technica got it the most right.) The reality is that Hadopi’s core “three strikes” system will remain intact, but without the threat of suspending users’ Internet access and with maximum fines lowered from €1500 to €60. The Hadopi agency itself is to be disbanded, but the functions will simply move to another existing French agency, a process that has already started with the transfer of some personnel.
In other words, Hadopi is being repositioned as more of a copyright education campaign — closer to the Copyright Alert System being administered by the Center for Copyright Information, whose CEO, Jill Lesser, was also on the panel.
Although the Copyright Alert System is too new to report results, Hadopi has had time to acquire and analyze a significant amount of data. Hadopi’s director of legal affairs, Sarah Jacquier, acknowledged that Hadopi only addresses P2P file sharing and does not address direct downloads or illegal streaming. She noted that while both legal and illegal streaming have increased since Hadopi started in 2009, that same period saw drops in measured P2P usage, increases in usage of legal services, and an increase from 71% to 78% in the number of users who use legal content services only.
Another interesting panel was “Re-connnecting with the Digital Narrative”; it dealt with the need to re-establish the importance of copyright in the public dialog after the defeat of SOPA and similar legislation last year. Catharine Saxberg of the Canadian Music Publishers Association stressed the need for a simple, unified narrative to match the “freedom” and “censorship” rhetoric used in the SOPA/PIPA defeat, while her compatriot Eddie Schwartz of the Songwriters Association of Canada told of his organization’s “Fair Trade Music” campaign. I found this panel’s relatively low attendance disappointing, given the topic’s crucial importance.
One of the penultimate sessions was a debate between David Israelite of the National Music Publishers Association and Zahava Levine of Google. Many of us were anticipating a contentious prizefight along the lines of Levine’s debate with several collecting society and media trade association representatives at the 2009 event. In that respect, we were disappointed: the conversation was more of a love duet. Israelite praised the increasing importance of YouTube as a licensed music channel and source of ad revenue (which is admittedly more a promise for the future than current reality), and noted that agreements with YouTube were worked out within current copyright law and without recourse to blanket or statutory licenses. (Levine is actually no longer chief counsel for YouTube; she now runs content partnerships for the Android platform, including Google Play.)
The tone among collecting society representatives at WCS has also shifted over the past four years, from inward-looking self-congratulation and turf protection to a sense of urgency that collecting societies have to work together, erase both functional and national boundaries, and generally make it much easier to license content in the digital age.
Axel Dauchez, CEO of streaming music service Deezer, called rights fragmentation “the cancer of the digital world,” and noted music analyst Mark Mulligan said that “rights fragmentation steals the oxygen away from early stage startups” looking to license content. His remarks preceded those of electronic music pioneer and incoming CISAC president Jean-Michel Jarre (did he echo the title of Jarre’s biggest hit album intentionally?), who also stressed the need to automate and simplify licensing. Jarre also stated, regarding the tension between the creative and tech sectors, “I think the worst is behind us.” Although I found some people skeptical about that, the tone of this year’s edition of WCS did augur more hope for the future than previously.
Finally, I couldn’t help but notice a remark made by Matt Mason of BitTorrent. Apparently BitTorrent is working with the media industry on a legitimate content distribution model based on a new type of torrent-able file that contains e-commerce functionality, “bring[ing] the store to the user.” We don’t have any details on this yet but… sounds to me like DRM?
Update: The functionality that BitTorrent is introducing (in beta at this writing) is called BitTorrent Bundles. It is not DRM. It’s more like paywall functionality bundled with the torrent file delivery mechanism, so that the publisher of a file distributed through the BitTorrent protocol can force users to take an action before being able to view or listen to some of the content. This action could be an e-commerce transaction, but it could also be something non-monetary such as supplying an email address, liking the artist on Facebook, etc.