Free Culture at SXSW

1:59 am conferences, speaking

I had the privilege this past Wednesday to speak on a panel at the music conference of South by Southwest: Set Your Content Free (It’s Harder Than You Think). Moderated by the enthusiastic and eloquent Michael Petricone of the Consumer Electronics Association, the panel was composed of me, Hank Shocklee (of Bomb Squad/Public Enemy fame), Julie Samuels of EFF, and Paul Geller of Grooveshark.

sxsw panelists

As you can see, I wore my QuestionCopyright t-shirt, which became a talking point in the panel. It was very refreshing that all of the panelists believed that sharing content is the right way forward, and though each of us had a different perspective, that fundamental agreement made it possible to have a much more interesting and in depth discussion about these issues than I’ve had elsewhere. As Michael put it, we had a great practical discussion of strategies for using free content to promote and maximize alternative revenue streams – the positives, negatives, pitfalls, and the hard work it takes to be successful, even when you give it away for free.

Some of the topics we covered were:

  • direct-to-consumer business models enabled by the digital marketplace
  • the power large copyright owners continue to wield and how it affects the marketplace
  • opportunities and obstacles faced by independent artists
  • new definitions of success in the marketplace

The theme was really exploring various ways that the shift away from centralized distribution and control affects musicians and artists generally. I spoke a bit about Sita Sings the Blues and nonprofit distribution of art and music. Julie piped in about things from a legal perspective in the wake of SOPA/PIPA, Paul talked about his experiences at Grooveshark and the legal battles they’ve been engaged in and Hank discussed his view of the industry as a producer and composer. Favorite moments of mine included Paul saying that there should be many Groovesharks, Hank kicking things off by saying that the key to being successful can only be by building an audience through the free distribution of your music and Julie underscoring my point about copyright as censorship and discussing the erosion of fair use. Also, Hank advises R&B artists to make A Capella tracks stat for DJs to use.

Many thanks to Julie for inviting me to participate and to QCO for sponsoring some of my travel. I really loved the discussion, which was in contrast to the continuing legal education tracks I sat through later in the conference. Those were predicated on the very traditional business of representing copyright maximalists. I found it interesting that most of the panels on the main sxsw tracks were realistic discussions about the current state of the music industry which is becoming more centered on the assumption of sharing whereas the panels of lawyers were mostly staunch supporters of the past models (it was news to me that the demise of SOPA was a tragedy). A few of the lawyers on some of the panels did have very interesting things to say. For example, one lawyer cited that 99.9% of the musicians who perform at sxsw cannot make a living from their music. I hope that over time, these legal focused sessions will become more balanced – both in perspective on copyright and also in their representation of women on the panels. In a field where there are many successful women (and the audience was well represented in this regard), the speakers in the CLE track only included 5 women out of 45 speakers.

Nonetheless, I was very glad to take care of some of the requirements I need to keep my bar membership in good standing, and some of the discussion was very interesting.

It was a fun and fascinating week. I was proud to represent QuestionCopyright.Org and look forward to having many interesting discussions about free culture in the future.

2 Responses

  1. Hugo Simoes Says:

    I would like to hear it.
    Is the conference audio available?

  2. karen Says:

    Sorry, Hugo, I don’t think they recorded the panel. I’ll check though just to make sure.

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