eG8 Copyright debate: EFF co-founder takes on Industry

John Perry Barlow, the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) co-founder who was a last minute addition to the e-G8 forum panel on intellectual property (in fact originally he was not even scheduled to speak), as expected proved to be the sole lone wolf of the panel, as he so eloquently put it, “I have to debate copytheft with the French Minister and 3 content warlords”. You can watch the full panel discussion in the video below this post.

Mr Barlow, presumably a big Twitter fan, was tweeting like crazy from the e-G8 forum in Paris, declaring his arrival in Paris with an amusing yet telling: “I just arrived at the Tuileries for the #eG8, already a hoot. Unfounded smugness to rival the World Economic Forum.” He proceeded to post up an ominous “I am about to enter the Lion’s Den at #eG8″ before heading on stage for the intellectual properly rights panel discussion. Clearly he was well aware of the intellectually homogenous panelists he was to be pitted against for this debate, and he made the most of his opportunity.

On the panel with the French culture minister, and the big bosses of 20th Century Fox, Universal Music France, Bertelsmann, and French publisher Gallimard, he patiently waited though 30 minutes of unvarying statements from the so called “content warlords” before being able to hit back. He humorously started by expressing his surprise at even being invited to the event, “because I don’t think I’m from the same planet, actually.” he said. He then proceeded to take on and tear asunder all the assumptions and statements that the corporate executives were repeating so assuredly as facts of reality.

He started off to the panelists, “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.”

He explained the goal of the e-G8 as, “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.” Adding that he was more interested in finding new ways for “incentivizing creativity by people who create things, and not large institutions who prey on them and have for years.” Surprisingly this was followed by some applause and scattered cheers from the audience, which quickly put the rest of the panelists on guard, in particular after he accused the corporations and governments of trying to mix and muddy copyright issues with issues of free-speech and ownership thereof.

Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterand took exception to Barlow for his statements retorting, “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. We need economic solutions to economic problems.” he said. The panel then essentially rather smugly proceeded to imply that Mr. Barlow did not even understand basic economics or simple concepts such as scarcity and abundance.

Mr. Barlow properly responded that, “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. It’s not intellectual property enforcement that gets you guys properly paid.” He explained how in his view, payment originates from coming up with a product that people actually willingly purchase and he correctly cited the movie industry’s ever growing box office sales that seem to reach new records year after year. Barlow explained he was certainly not against financial compensation for content and not to be misunderstood on that matter.

All in all it was probably one of the most interesting and sincere panel discussion of the whole 2 day e-G8 forum when compared to the others that seemed so homogeneous and with little to no dissension or competing ideas. What can you expect though from an entirely elitist organized “for big business by big business” type event. It will be interesting to see if this elitism changes with coming years e-G8′s, although I wouldn’t count on it. As the expression goes, “Money talks…”

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