Jean Michel Jarre: YouTube not bad guys in artist rights debate
For many people, the idea of browsing YouTube to listen to music for free is almost second nature. Even when some videos get whacked, the sheer amount of uploads per day makes it impossible for the big labels to keep up.
The issue of an artist’s intellectual property has therefore been a thorny one for the past 10 years. Yet, for Jean Michel Jarre, speaking at the biennial World Creators Summit in Washington DC earlier this week, all artists, not just musicians, need to speak up for their rights – and the issue is one of wide-ranging significance.
“The problem of intellectual property cannot be resumed by a matter of royalties, author’s rights,” Jarre said in a call from Washington. “It’s beyond this. It’s a global issue.
“If you see patterns or designs from the aborigines, the Maoris, [they are] constantly stolen by the advertising world, the fashion world. Those people take these patterns, ignoring where it’s coming from.
“In Africa, so many artists have actually no rights, their music [is] being stolen constantly, their creativity, their photos, their cinema, all their creative activities,” Jarre explains.
This is where CISAC (the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers) comes in – trying to find a solution to a complex problem which benefits everyone.
So what can be done? There have been methods of prevention over the years, but these all seem to be missing the point, especially digital rights management (DRM).
Readers of a certain vintage will recall this author’s grievances many moons ago of transferring .wma files which they owned perfectly legally onto other devices, but it’s safe to say that things have moved on since then.
Still controversial and still criticised however, DRM has been in the news in recent months due to its presence in attempting to shore up gaming and HTML5.
With the release of the Xbox One, there was uproar over the initial idea that, with games DRM, games bought were linked to a console; so much so that Twitter campaigns, featuring #XboxOneNoDRM and #PS4NoDRM hashtags were set up.
Microsoft has since clarified the issue, stating that whilst gamers can trade games in, once they lose the game, they lose the digital rights to it, which seems reasonable.
DRM on HTML5, on the other hand, throws open a world of issues; chief of which being, with an open standard, there is a very real fear that browsers will be locked down, and users can’t access genuine content the browser thinks the user’s not allowed to watch.
This hardly supports the statement on literature of the Creators Summit hoping to “stimulate creation without stifling technical innovation”.
Jarre, however, prefers to see his mission as “creating a sustainable economy for the world of creation”, drawing parallel with the scene in the early 1970s.
“When I started to write Oxygene at the beginning of my career, we were [among] not that many to think about ecology and the environment,” he explains. “Lots of politicians were considering us as dreamers and neo-hippies in a sense, and then step by step everybody today knows that we have to respect the planet and we have to be conscious of our environment.
“Intellectual property is in exactly the same situation today. We need to talk to the streets, and convey clear messages. As we know in the music industry, if you want to start as a musician, you have to get a second job on the side.
“For all these reasons, we need this kind of great beauty that CISAC is, on five continents, all kinds of sectors of creation.”
It was very easy to spot Jarre’s passion for the subject on the call, and it came therefore as no surprise that he was voted in as president of CISAC after the summit had finished, succeeding the late Robin Gibb.
Yet he was quick to defend the likes of YouTube, who was a principal sponsor at the event.
“I think we must stop considering that the guys at YouTube, who are creating those fantastic tools, had a cynical view...and they were getting everything for free,” Jarre says.
“Now they’ve created the system, they were young kids creating something fantastic, and so 10 years later it’s so big that everybody is pointing them saying ‘you are the devils’.
“We can understand that those guys said ‘hey, we’ve created something, it’s a big success, we have to invent answers to questions we hadn’t even thought about before.’
“That is something we have to adjust in the next years. It’s a matter of communication, of taking what we’re talking about together, to the street and to public opinion.”
In terms of advocacy, Jarre insists that communication and social media was key – but only if there’s something worthwhile to say.
“You must take a distance with the new media, using social media when you have something to say,”
Jarre said, explaining that when the telephone was invented, people didn’t automatically have more interesting things to say to their neighbours as a result.
Above all though, Jarre notes the message must be loud, clear, and in one voice from everyone towards the politicians – musicians, photographers, filmmakers, even journalists.
“We, as artists, or writers, or intellectuals, have always been stronger than any kind of big entities and systems,” he says.
“We are like the man on Tiananmen Square stopping the tank with one hand, and we must reappropriate this situation, this position.
“We are artists, we are not in the business but we have to use our voice, our talent to make things change; and not for ourselves, but for all artists with much less power than we have.”