The inaugural CISAC Copyright Summit has started in Brussels with some lively initial sessions.

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

But in the first keynote address, British Telecom chief executive Ben Verwaayen issued a brutal warning to rights owners, telling them that business models that had been sustained for over 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?"

He flatly rejected suggestions that operators like BT needed to compensate rights owners because they had 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 he added that piracy is here to stay.

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

Earlier, European Union Culture Commissioner Jan Figel told the summit that, despite the EU's internal soul-searching about its future, he was struck by how people wanted Europe to do more for culture.

Figel said his Commission paper on culture, published on May 10, had put the issue at the heart of the EU project. And he pointed out that 2009 would be the European Year of Creativity. It came as an independent study found that the EU's creative community -- representing 2.6% of GDP -- was bigger than its food, tobacco and beverages industries.

He called on the creative community to engage in partnerships with other industries, like tourism. "Culture is not a luxury, it's a necessity," he said.

Meanwhile, on the "I've Seen the Future" panel, Nokia's U.K.-based VP for sales and multimedia, Mark Selby, 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," he 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 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 towards artists and our relationships with our audiences," he said.

CISAC 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 summit continues this afternoon with debates entitled "The Value of Copyright in the 21st Century -- Should It Be Free for All, Really" and "Author's Societies -- Building a New Model."

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