Business leaders to debate the importance of upholding consumers interests in IP

Consumers International, with the support of UFC-Que Choisir and La Quadrature du Net, is holding a Business Roundtable on the Consumer Interest in IPRs on the afternoon of 22 October (just before the TACD's second Paris Accord meeting), to bring together representatives of the entertainment, publishing, information technology and communications industries to discuss and debate the role that consumers' interests play in their decision-making on intellectual property issues.

This free event will provide a venue for dialogue about the changing environment facing businesses that produce or use information protected by IPRs, and the intersection between the interests of such businesses in financial sustainability, with the interests of consumers in being able to fairly access, copy, share and build upon the culture and science of their society. The objective of the event is to challenge the participants into thinking laterally about how the interests of consumers and creators can be mutually supporting.

More information about this event is available here:

If you can't attend in person, do follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and return to this blog entry after 22 October for a follow-up and hopefully a link to a recording of the event.

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Report on Business Roundtable

The Business Roundtable on the Consumer Interest in IPRs was a great success. It brought together eight panelists representing the information technology (including hardware, software and Internet services) and the creative industries (including music, film and publishing), to engage in reasoned dialogue with consumers to secure a better understanding of the business case for supporting consumers' interests in intellectual property rights.

The afternoon began with an introduction from moderator Jeremy Malcolm which explained Consumers International's motivation for hosting such a roundtable meeting. This was followed by a presentation from Alain Bazot, President of French CI member UFC Que Choisir, in which he raised the possibility of alternative models for funding content production, such a fund for artists, that would not depend on the imposition of a fee for each copy made.

Following these introductions, each of the eight panelists spoke in turn (noting in many cases that they spoke in their personal capacities, and not necessarily representing the views of their employers):

  • Loreto Reguera from Intel discussed her company's vision of the digital home of the future in which any content may be accessed at any place, on any device, at any time... as authorised. She explained that government-mandated Internet filtering is not flexible enough to achieve this end, and is likely to involve the violation of consumers' privacy. Instead she advocated the adoption of open standards for content protection by industry.
  • Ann Chaitovitz, former Executive Director of the Future of Music Coalition, began with the observation that our copyright law is based on controlling copying, but in the new digital environment copyright owners no longer have such control. Indeed, even the concept of copying is becoming increasingly irrelevant. A range of rights are beginning to merge in the new uses being made of digital content.  In this process, moral rights are being neglected.
  • Giuseppe de Martino noted that the Internet has been seen by some as leading to the death of creation. However he presented the positive experience of Dailymotion.com, the world's largest independent video sharing site, as an alternative successful model of online content distribution. About 30,000 creators worldwide have appointed Dailymotion.com as their agent; ironically, the most difficulty found was in negotiating with French rights holders.
  • Hervé Le Crosnier, author, former librarian and publisher, took a more radical view of the shortcomings of the existing intellectual property system, particularly as it affects developing countries which are pressured to adopt the Western IPR model without regard for local circumstances. Because knowledge goods are public goods, market failure is inevitable and must be addressed by treating them as a commons rather than as property.
  • Aslam Raffee from Sun Microsystems spoke of the ability of open source software to promote choice and innovation. He also presented a historical perspective from Mali, where authors from as early as the 11th century welcomed the copying of their work as a tribute. In fact, copyists, who had to be highly educated to perform that task, were widely revered almost as creators in their own right.
  • C Cay Wesnigk is a film maker who claimed that consumers did not want to live in the world of end to end content protection that Ms Reguera had presented, as this along with the dominance of large retailers like Amazon, had reduced the trust between creators and the public. On the other hand, film makers are concerned that their films remain unseen. Onlinefilm.com is a market for films that offers an alternative to both DRM and piracy.
  • Eddie Schwartz argued that file sharing offers the greatest opportunity we will ever have to change the way that intellectual property is distributed, and that most songwriters such as himself strongly support this technology (though intermediaries, understandably, are less enthused). However, creators are also keen to be remunerated. The answer, as proposed by the Songwriters Association of Canada, may be a voluntary user licence for file sharing.
  • Margie Milam from ICANN looked at how intellectual property infringement can be a consumer protection issue.  She gave the examples of counterfeit products such as pharmaceuticals that may be sold online, and phishing Web sites that may utilitise copyright-infringing designs. She did however acknowledge the need for enforcement mechanisms such as the American DMCA to take account of flexibilities such as fair use.

During the question time that followed, discussion on these presentations was lively and passionate, covering everything from Digital Rights Management technology, to "three-strikes" or "graduated response" enforcement mechanisms against copyright infringers, to the difference between the common law conception of copyright as against the civil law concept of authors' rights, and alternative mechanisms for remuneration of authors in a world without copyright.

With the gracious permission of the panelists, MP3 recordings of the event are made available below for download:

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