The International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations (IFRRO) will hold its 2010 Annual General Meeting in in Boston from October 25-28, the first time the meeting has been in America since 1989. The meeting, themed “Advancing Licensing Solutions for a Changing World: Collaborating, Adapting, Building, Advocating,” will bring together some 250 delegates from all over the world to discuss copyright related issues—from piracy, to broader legislative themes, and nuts and bolts practices, as well as hot topics of the day such as the Google books settlement.
“It’s a big deal,” Copyright Clearance Center CEO Tracey Armstrong told PW, of the organization’s first U.S.-based meeting in decades. CCC, which is serving as a host for the gathering, helped form IFRRO some 26 years ago, and since the last U.S. meeting, Armstrong notes, the world has certainly changed, with digital licensing a critical—and often very contentious—piece of the publishing puzzle.
So what happens when copyright and licensing delegates from over 50 nations, including from nations with very different practices—such as Brazil, which is notoriously open, and Germany, which has a very strong system of protections, come together? Are there moments of tense discussion and disagreement, or do the parties seek consensus? “It’s a little bit of both,” Armstrong noted, saying that the delegates will attend to routine organizational business, as well as engage in broad discussions over the hot topics of the day—from the Apple iPad and devices and models, to e-reserves, to the Google Settlement—whatever is in the news, she agreed, that’s what the delegates will also talk about.
If there was any doubt that the Google Settlement, a source of contention internationally, will be on the agenda, the meeting’s two Keynote speakers—New Yorker writer Ken Auletta, and Register of Copyrights Marybeth Peters—both have strong, prominent opinions on Google. Auletta’s latest book, Googled: The End of The World As We Know It, is a New York Times business bestseller, and a Business Week “best book of the year.” And Peters voiced strong opposition to the settlement at a Congressional hearing last September.
In an interview, Peters wouldn’t venture a guess on the fate of the settlement, telling PW that for now she would let the U.S. government’s statement of interest (it is opposed to the settlement) stand as the official government position. In a tantalizing aside, however, she said that she might have more to say on the subject if Judge Denny Chin has ruled by the time the conference takes place. Peters also confirmed that she plans to retire in December, after 44 years at the copyright office, and 16 years as register, making this talk potentially one of her final official addresses.
What will Peters tell the delegates in October? “I will re-affirm how important copyright is to the creative work of the various countries, she said, emphasizing the expanding role of licenses, and licensing organizations. “One of the things we’re seeing with new technology and devices is a switch from a time when you as a purchaser bought a physical object, and you owned it. Today, with the Internet and all the devices, the most critical piece is the licensing. And there’s no way many of the licenses we negotiated in the past can still work. Licensing has always been important, but it will only become more important in the future.”
Indeed, this year’s IFFRO meeting comes at a particularly interesting moment in the history of intellectual property. Not only is the Google settlement set to be ruled on, last week Google won a summary judgment against Viacom, which had sued YouTube for $1 billion, alleging copyright infringement. In addition, a contentious suit filed by publishers against individuals at Georgia State has put e-reserves and digital course content in play, and an international trade agreement, ACTA, includes intellectual property provisions that have caused major concerns worldwide.
Add to that a slew of new devices, DRM, piracy concerns over e-books, and new twists, like the agency model, and three days hardly seems like enough time to get started discussing law, policy and business models. Perhaps the most interesting session of the conference will tackle these issues—and is open to the public (although, for a fee). On October 27, the show will feature a “business model forum” moderated by blogger and CEO of the Idea Logical Company, Mike Shatzkin. Panelists will include Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild; Evan Schnittman, v-p, global corporate & business development at Oxford University Press; Wendy Strothman, founder of the Strothman Agency; and IP attorney Lois Wasoff.