The role of copyright in the digital age was top of the agenda during the morning session of Day 2 of the CISAC Copyright Summit in Brussels.
In a keynote address, Nikesh Aroha, Google's newly-appointed president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, told delegates that the Internet would 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 Chevies and drive to bars in the mid-west to find their new stars. Now they just scour YouTube."
He countered suggestions that this would 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 one 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 one billion people, even niches can become viable."
Aroha said that in the digital world, content had a platform for the world. "I don't think anyone who creates content wants it to languish in obscurity. 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 out."
And he denied that Google was planning to launch its own music or movie studios.
"Our competence is technology: we can support content, but we don't see ourselves with any competence to produce," he declared.
Elsewhere at the summit, many speakers were pre-occupied with the shift to a digital world. Larry Kenswil, executive VP of business strategy with Universal Music Group -- one of the few major label execs to attend the summit -- declared the CD would 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 "New Revenue Streams... Where's the Money" panel. "Five years from now the CD will be of very little consequence."
He also told delegates that the whole industry was 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 Wenham, the chair of Worldwide Independent Network (WIN) told the "Understanding Mobile and Online Licensing Systems" panel that licensing had 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. Distribution control is over -- absolutely finished," she said. "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."
Yahoo! Music International's legal and business affairs director Ventura Barba gave a recent example of how user-generated content had 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' Association (NMPA) said publishers had 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. That is the exact wrong philosophy," he said.
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, the chairman of Spain's SGAE. Yet his message that creators were "artists" and not "content providers," seemed at odds with the summit's aims to find solutions in the digital world, and certainly failed to address the terms of the panel he was speaking on, which concerned mobile and online licensing.
The summit concludes this afternoon with sessions including an address by Bee Gees singer/songwriter and incoming CISAC president, Robin Gibb.
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