The G8 and Copyright

On May 27-28, the heads of state of the eight most industrialized nations got together in Deauville, France to discuss world issues at the G8 Summit. Two days earlier, in Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy sponsored a special gathering of G8 member countries to discuss broad questions related to the Internet and the digital universe, including copyright law. Thus, key players from France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, Germany, Japan, Italy, and Canada came together to exchange views over the Internet’s impact on society and the economy. The topic was included as an agenda item in the full G8 Summit.

France, the host country that pioneered the “three-strikes” (and you-are-out of Internet) legislation, has a conservative position in copyright law. Hence, the following final declaration issued by the heads of state:

“With regard to the protection of intellectual property, in particular copyright, trademarks, trade secrets and patents, we recognize the need to have national laws and frameworks for improved enforcement. We are thus renewing our commitment to ensuring effective action against violations of intellectual property rights in the digital arena, including action that addresses present and future infringements. We recognize that the effective implementation of intellectual property rules requires suitable international cooperation of relevant stakeholders, including the private sector. We are committed to identifying ways of facilitating greater access and openness to knowledge, education and culture, by encouraging continued innovation in legal on line trade in goods and content, that are respectful of intellectual property rights.” (Section II, Paragraph 15 of G8 Declaration–Renewed Commitment for Freedom and Democracy).

Criticism against this communiqué followed swiftly by one of its signees, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.   Medvedev, who has made  strong use of web resources and is widely followed on Twitter, speculated that the other heads of state had formed a conventional opinion due to a  poor understanding of the Internet.  Copyright laws were written “50 or almost 100 years ago” and Medvedev advocated reform instead of punishment, fostering fair use exemptions, allowing format shifting, and easing the licensing process in order to facilitate the development of new legitimate business practices and legal activities for the average music consumer. Cynics would say that the ravages of piracy hardly affect Russia’s music industry, so a progressive stance on copyright is not a hard fit for that country.

Still, e-G8, which brought together international business leaders, media experts, and technologists, seemed to conclude that more copyright protection and Internet regulation, as supported by President Sarkozy in his opening remarks, were necessary.

However, a group of organizations concerned with human rights, liberties, and a more open civil society released a statement at the G8, pointing to a very different set of priorities, i.e. “expanding internet access for all, combating digital censorship and surveillance, limiting online intermediary liability, and upholding principles of net neutrality.”

In particular, Lawrence Lessig, the Harvard professor and Creative Commons founder, maintained at a press conference that the builders of the Internet first thought about societal, not business, needs.  Missing too at the gathering, he said, were the business innovators of tomorrow.

In fact, tensions over the Sarkozy consensus were not hard to find. At the panel  “Intellectual Property and the Culture Economy in the Digital Age”, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Co-Founder John Perry Barlow was added as the dissenting voice at the last minute. Panelists included Frederic Mitterand, the French culture minister, as well as representatives of traditional media companies such as 20th Century Fox, and Universal Music France.

Mitterand’s argument was classic: “if you protect copyright you protect artistic creation; if you don’t do that, you get a drying up of artistic creation, ending up with the disappearance of artistic creation.” And so was Barlow’s retort about “incentivizing creativity for people who create things, not [collect money] for large institutions who prey on them and have for years.” The head of Universal Music France then drew attention on the money spent nurturing talent, but  Perry Barlow contended that “it’s not IP enforcement that gets you guys properly paid”; for him,  compensation came from the development of a product of quality that people would really want to buy—in the same way that a movie’s success  showed a consumer’s willingness to spend money on product that was perceived as having value.

Undoubtedly, it is important to secure a “civilized” Internet–a favorite phrase of President Sarkozy. Perhaps the right direction is not to try to impose regulations that are at odds with the forward thrust of technology. The Rethink Music conference, held in Boston a month earlier, contemplated alternative schemes to compensate copyright owners in the digital economy that should have been further discussed by those responsible for setting global policies. The creation of an International Music Registry – a global database of copyright owners that would ease tremendously the licensing process worldwide – was also presented at Rethink, but not discussed in the e-G8 Forum. Thankfully, this subject was once again brought to life at the World Copyright Summit in Belgium last month. It seems that this idea will be likely be implemented, because of the efforts of Jim Griffin, a well known digital strategy consultant in the US, and the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization.

By Luiz Augusto Buff



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