If there was one overarching takeaway to the Copyright Clearance Center’s 2014 OnCopyright seminar, held yesterday at the New York Academy of Sciences, it is that things have certainly changed, and in just a few short years. Where the three previous conferences were just beginning to grapple with the implications of the Internet on the media business and content owners at large, many of the changes once discussed in the abstract have now come to pass. And where fear of the unknown may have surrounded the issues just a few years ago, this year’s conference program focused more on dealing with new market realities.
In his opening introduction, host Robert Levine, former executive editor of Billboard Magazine, and the author of Free Ride: How Digital Parasites Are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back, set the tone by noting that the most encouraging development in recent years is that digital platforms like Netflix, are now funding the creation of original content. He said this development was sparking real competition for creative work, and could prove to be “a race to the top,” for content creators. And while he acknowledged that content creators still face challenges, and may not be satisfied with the terms offered by these new services, that can change. “You can negotiate with Spotify,” he said. “You can’t negotiate with the Pirate Bay.”
Levine was followed by Mike Perlis, president and CEO of Forbes Media—and if Perlis’ talk had little to do with copyright (he acknowledged being no expert on the subject) it had many implications for the future of copyright holders. While print still remains part of the fold, Perlis told the audience how Forbes necessarily transformed into a digital platform with 1,200 contributors, and 28 million unique visitors. The key, he said, was the company’s “open approach” to disruption. “We used to get our news from a couple of anchormen,” he noted of the past. “That’s not the world we live in any more.”
Afternoon sessions included meaty discussions on "Copyright, Education and Enforcement"; and informative panels on pricing and payment strategies. But the morning’s featured panel—on innovation—was a strong table-setter.
The panel included Katharine Zaleski, veteran journalist and former Huffington Post editor; CUNY media professor and author Jeff Jarvis; Forrester Research’s James McQuivey; and TV executive Fred Seibert, of Frederator Studios. Each spoke intently—and provocatively—of the need to embrace “disruption” for the sake of innovation, and of the power of technology to solve problems—even if that means destroying old business models.
The talk began by re-framing that word often overused in our tech-fueled age: disruption. But “disruption is not about technology,” McQuivey said. “It is about economics.” Siebert expanded. “Elvis was disruptive,” he noted. “He wanted to play black music for white audiences.” What drives disruption, the panel agreed, is the “the desire to solve an issue.”
In her remarks, Zaleski spoke of her new business venture as an example of how technology can help solve problems. Called PowerToFly, the venture seeks to “connect women with jobs that value a work-life balance.” In her remarks she cautioned how money can actually impede innovation in the early stages of a project, and especially when it is used to “protect old business models.”
Jarvis, who teaches “entrepreneurial journalism,” spoke of the broader changes wrought by the Internet, as models shift from owning content to providing a service. “Content fills things up,” he noted. “Services accomplish things.” He said that new legal and technical regimes were needed to encourage experimentation and new models, but cautioned that it is still to early to know what those regimes should look like. “The Internet is still too new,” he noted. “It’s 1472,” he added, referencing the dawn of the printing press and the many decades is took before the market effects of printing were only beginning to be tapped.
Siebert neatly summed up the state of play in the media and entertainment business. “We believe we have a right for people not to destroy our business before we reinvent it,” he said. “But that’s not how it works.”