Digital technology entrepreneur Janus Friis, inventor of the original rogue P2P application Kazaa, told delegates at MidemNet today that his vision and energies these days are directed toward building legitimate, robust businesses.
Friis said his latest venue, the online TV service Joost, was proving something of a hit with the same companies who in the past might have taken him to court for his Kazaa.
"Everyone in the business from the small guys to the big guys are saying, 'we have to really work this out'," he said. "It has not been as difficult as I anticipated to get deals [with broadcast and content companies]. But it takes time.
Friis, who also counts online telephony pioneer Skype as one of his success stories, was speaking in a Q&A to wrap the first day of the music and technology gathering.
Earlier in the day, Professor Lawrence Lessig, CEO of the controversial Creative Commons (CC) organization, which allows creators to license their work free for non-commercial use, reached out to the music industry during his presentation at MidemNet.
Lessig has been heavily criticized in the past for fuelling the anti-copyright debate but he told delegates: "Creative Commons is not a threat to the music business. [We] have nothing to do with the anti-copyright movement."
During his well-received presentation, he also called for a balanced debate about copyright and warned the industry that it was "ridiculous" to think criminalizing consumers will stop piracy.
"The copyright abolitionist movement needs extremists," he said. "You need to stop giving them what they need."
Lessig says artists including the Beastie Boys and David Byrne have issued work under CC licenses in order to take advantage of the burgeoning fan remix culture on the Internet. He also said Danish collecting society KODA had recently allowed its members to use the CC licensing system for selected works, following the lead of Dutch collecting society Buma Stemra, as reported in this week's Billboard magazine.
In a separate session, Public Enemy founder Chuck D told the "Fans Business - They Care, How Can They Help You?" panel that digital was the only way forward for the music business.
"Ten years before this Radiohead phenomenon I saw that it was advantageous to step away from the majors," he said. "The music business is still healthy, the record biz is not." The rapper also said that the music business has a lot to learn from sports about inspiring fan loyalty. "The standard has to be raised constantly for fans to remain fanatical," he said.
Recalling his time within the major label system, Chuck D highlighted the difference between rights acquired ("They wanted either for the world or for the universe - what the f*** does that mean?") and the ability to deliver music across the world.
During his keynote Q&A, Jean-Bernard Levy, CEO of Universal Music Group parent Vivendi suggested the CD and traditional retail had a viable, long-term future, selling alongside digital formats.
"It is a transition into a very diversified model, of which CDs will still play a part. So I do not think it is black and white," he told interviewer Lars Brandle, Billboard global news editor.
Levy's comments were echoed by Thomas Hesse, president of global digital business and U.S. sales for Sony BMG Music Entertainment. "The physical business isn't something we should talk down too much," Hesse said during the "Beyond record, reinventing the label" panel, on which executives debated ways to compensate for the decline in CD sales. "The existing physical retailers are incredibly important partners to us. Retailers sell devices which are useless if it wasn't for music. They would just be plastic."
Hesse suggested that bundling access to music would be key to future revenues. "That's the next frontier," he said. "Bundling music, whether it be with a device or with cellphone or cable access, means it becomes something you can consume in a very free way. There are some very interesting models and, in all the testing we do, consumers respond very favourably."
Hesse added that the digital percentage of Sony BMG's North American recorded music sales pie was approximately 30%, a figure which was "rapidly" moving toward 50%. "By 2009 it will be roughly 50/50," he said, noting that Justin Timberlake's last album generated 18 million transactions, only three million of which were for CDs.
"As we move from a single product model to a multi-product model, the biggest challenge is to develop the whole process - marketing, distribution etc - so it adapts to that new world," he said.
In a laidback Q&A interview conducted by Billboard group editorial director Tamara Conniff, producer great Bob Ezrin showed a philosophical side to his view of creativity.
"What we have to start concentrating on is protecting standards, and inspiring great standards among musicians. Otherwise they get really pissed off, and move on."
He added, "I urge everybody to resist the temptation of viewing music as a problem to be solved. Music is not a problem. Music is art. When it is really great, it will find its way into the world and everyone will benefit from it."
MidemNet concludes tomorrow, coinciding with the launch of the annual Midem trade fair.