Copyfight: EFF co-founder enters e-G8 "lion's den," rips into lions

John Perry Barlow
"I just arrived at the Tuileries for the #eG8, already a hoot. Unfounded smugness to rival the World Economic Forum."
John Perry Barlow—EFF co-founder, Grateful Dead lyricist, and, improbably, now a rancher—arrived in Paris and began tweeting up a storm from the e-G8 summit gathered there this week to discuss the future of the Internet.
After listening to French President Nicolas Sarkozy call repeatedly for Internet regulation and more copyright protection, Barlow added, "You'd have thought from Sarkozy's talk he was addressing a convocation of Anonymous and the Pirate Party. He wasn't."
And then it was his turn to take the stage: "I am about to enter the Lion's Den at #eG8."

Weary giants of flesh and steel

Barlow was a late addition to a panel on intellectual property; his name wasn't even included on the schedule. But he accepted the invitation even as colleagues begged him not to go and activists like Cory Doctorowturned down invitations to the event, which was seen as an industry/government cabal bent on regulating the 'Net for its own ends.
Barlow made the most of his opportunity. On stage with the French culture minister and the heads of 20th Century Fox, Universal Music France, Bertelsmann, and a French publisher, he waited though 30 minutes of opening statements filled with comments like:
  • "We do not believe that you can remove 'content' from the Internet, and if you do this, what is there left? Basically, the Internet then is a set of empty pieces and boxes.” (Bertelsmann)
  • "When someone comes to you and says I need a few hundred million dollars to make a movie about 10 foot tall blue people on another planet, that's not an easy decision to make. But if you do make that decision and it does turn out to be Avatar, then you'd like to be compensated." (20th Century Fox;Avatar set the world box office record)
  • "In France, there are still people who maintain their criticism of this [three strikes authority HADOPI], who view it as a repressive body, whereas in actual fact it creates momentum from a pedagogical standpoint." (Minster of Culture)
When Barlow had a chance to speak, he expressed his own surprise at being on the panel, “because I don't think I'm from the same planet, actually.” He then proceeded to trash the foundational assumptions of everyone who had just spoken.
I may be one of very few people in this room who actually makes his living personally by creating what these gentlemen are pleased to call "intellectual property." I don't regard my expression as a form of property. Property is something that can be taken from me. If I don't have it, somebody else does. 
Expression is not like that. The notion that expression is like that is entirely a consequence of taking a system of expression and transporting it around, which was necessary before there was the Internet, which has the capacity to do this infinitely at almost no cost.
In Barlow's view, the e-G8 has been about "imposing the standards of some business practices and institutional power centers that come from another era on the future, whether they are actually productive of new ideas or not."
He added that he was more interested in talking about "incentivizing creativity by people who create things, and not large institutions who prey on them and have for years."
Part of the audience, at least, loved it—to Barlow's obvious surprise. "This is a different audience than I thought it was," he said after some applause and scattered cheering.
This quickly awoke the somnambulant panel, especially when Barlow concluded by conflating copyright issues with free speech and attacked efforts to "own" that speech.

"Speech is free but movies cost money"

Jim Gianopulos of 20th Century Fox shot back that "no one's going to argue against free speech," if "free speech" means that someone takes a video camera and makes a movie on any subject he or she wants. But when "speech" is defined as sharing copyrighted works?
"Speech has to be free but movies cost money," he said, adding that he hears plenty about the need for new business models but doesn't see any actual alternative business models that generate the cash to fund big-budget films.
Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterand took Barlow to task for his dramatic statements. "I do not share this apocalyptic vision of some dictatorship that will be creeping back through the Internet into our lives to control our thoughts and the way in which we function," he said. Some controls on the Internet are eminently reasonable—we need "economic solutions to economic problems."
The head of Universal Music France talked about just how much money was necessary to nurture new talent. DIdn't Barlow understand economics?
"If you're spending $5 billion on new artists, we're not getting our money's worth," Barlow cracked, and he reframed his argument in economic terms of scarcity and abundance.
"Trying to optimize towards scarcity, as you are by all of your methods, is not going to be in the benefit of creation, I promise you," he said. "It's not IP enforcement that gets you guys properly paid." In his view, payment comes from building a product that people actually want to buy—and the movie industry's repeated record box office takes in recent years show that people have no problem coughing up the cash for something of value.
"I am not against being compensated for what you do," concluded Barlow.
Some of his comments were over the top—something certainly to be expected from the man who once wrote this. But seeing Barlow seated on a stage looking like a sleek spaceship, perched on a chair in front of a wall filled with corporate logos and delivering pleas for a new approach to creation based on an era of abundance certainly made for a compelling panel.
Culture Minister Mitterand opened the panel with a lengthy, placid speech about how the copyright debates had grown so "calm" recently, now that everyone had agreed on ground rules. 
Barlow's biggest contribution to the e-G8 may have been the reminder that this illusion of calm is only possible in a setting where one screens out the dissenting voices—and that those voices are still raging outside.


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