Held May 24-25 in Paris’ Tuileries gardens, the eG8 assembled some of the greatest movers and shakes in media and the internet to debate government’s role in the web; but also essential notions of copyright protection, the internet’s importance to society, and how to foster innovation. Ideas gathered over the two days were then presented to the world’s leaders gathering at the G8 meeting in Deauville, from May 26.
After an opening address from president Sarkozy, McKinsey presented an eye-opening report entitled “Internet matters: The Net’s sweeping impact on growth, jobs and prosperity.” It notably found that internet accounts for 3.4% of GDP in 13 countries considered in the report, and 21% of GDP growth in the last 5 years in mature countries. Its findings were also resumed in this stunning & highly recommended visualisation…
Then at a first panel (photo, and video above), eBay CEO John Donahoe set the tone by illustrating the community focus of his platform, a true wealth generator to boot: “1.3 million people worldwide make a primary or secondary living from eBay,” he said; “and what’s fascinating is they help each other do so.”
Vivendi CEO Jean-Bernard Lévy commented on how the incredible growth in internet usage is now putting pressure on networks: “there is a threat to the European ecosystem: we will not be able to sustain growth if telecoms are not supported in responding to growing demand for online (mobile) video,” he said. This point was backed up later in the day by Orange CEO Stéphane Richard, who said a new business model would have to be found to avoid network “collapse”: mobile data consumption in Paris, for example, is currently increasing by 5% a week, he said.
Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt also commented on today’s amazing rate of progress: “what’s interesting to me is how quickly change happens now,” he said. “It now takes two years to reinvent a business (as Apple, eBay or Google have done): before, it took a decade. That’s due to the globalisation of the internet.”
Levy also pointed out how some change has been well accompanied by the government, citing France’s ‘3 strikes’ law as a case in point. “Hadopi has shown you can protect intellectual property and develop new services,” affirmed the head notably of Universal Music Group.
This claim was challenged – and not for the first time at the conference – by audience member the Berkman Center’s Yohai Benkler, who called Hadopi “nonsense. 20th century (media) companies succeeded by putting content in boxes: 21st century companies will succeed by capturing the flow,” he argued, to huge applause from the audience.
The next panel (video above) gathered a stellar cast to discuss “The Internet and Society”, including Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Groupon founder Andrew Mason. Little was said about the entertainment business. As for takeaways for the G8 members, all panelists agreed the need to help foster dialogue was key.
Another panel later in the day tackled the ever-thorny issue of copyright & intellectual property (IP) protection. French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterand began by reiterating Vivendi’s CEO’s claim that Hadopi “works”, and said the French government has as such “protected IP and improved the general environment.” He was backed up by Fox co-chair Jim Gianopulos, who claimed that “25% of all ISPs’ traffic is illegal content“; and said he had asked Google’s Eric Schmidt to devote its huge computational power to protecting IP; not just to showing him a picture of his car in his drive on Google Maps…
Former Grateful Dead member John Perry Barlow – the only creative on the panel – then shocked his fellow speakers by exclaiming “I don’t think I come from the same planet;” because he does not consider what he creates as his property. “The very idea of content implies a container… and (with the internet) that container no longer exists.” He then expressed his opposition to laws like Hadopi, as they “break the internet. The very idea that you can control any part of the internet is wrong, just as you can’t control any form of artistic expression.”
Naturally, Universal France CEO Pascal Nègre replied that Barlow’s “position has nothing to do with the reality of the creative industry,” then said that $5 billion is invested annually in finding new musical talent. “It’s a risky business,” he said: “we get our money back on about one artist in seven.”
“I’m overwhelmed,” replied Barlow*: “if you’re spending $5bn on artists, we’re not getting our money’s worth.”
Gianopulos notably rubbished Barlow’s claims, as well of those of an audience member, Jérémie Zimmerman, who claimed that those who share content illegally online are also those who buy the most content. Zimmerman then went on to form a counter-conference, with Creative Commons figurehead Lawrence Lessig, claiming that eG8 did not represent the internet, i.e. its users…
Before joining this splinter group, Lessig introduced the following morning’s “Fostering Innovation” panel (video), where he warned that “over-regulating culture is dangerous,” as it stifles creativity; and that enforcement like Hadopi “is a brain-dead approach. The conversations we had yesterday made it feel like we were still in 1999″; an apt date considering that was Napster’s year… and that Napster co-founder Sean Parker was also on the panel. Xavier Niel, head of pioneering French ISP Free, agreed, claiming that “it’s crazy to cut off internet access (as Hadopi allows); do anything but that!”
Parker, for his part, was surprisingly bullish about music. Explaining his investment in Spotify, he said “there’s a pretty dramatic shift happening in the way content is monetised. Labels’ back catalogues are becoming very valuable. In iTunes, you see the old model: new releases drive most of the sales. With Spotify, people build huge libraries based on back catalogues; then they pay to take that with them. It’s a paradigm shift. We’ve seen a $45 billion industry brought to its knees by technology. It’s now only worth $12bn; but again thanks to technology, it shouldn’t be that difficult to bring about its biggest turnaround ever.”
“Thank you Justin!” quipped moderator John Gapper of the Financial Times later on, in reference to a certain film about a certain social network… (whose founder’s keynote is chronicled by MIPBlog right here!)
*Barlow also came up with the event’s most-retweeted tweet:
From an eG8 tweet analysis by Synthesio: full infographic here