Francis Gurry led WIPO as Director General from October 1, 2008 to September 30, 2020.

The Global Digital Content Market

April 20 to 22, 2016

Opening Remarks by Francis Gurry, Director General, World Intellectual Property Organization

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video (YouTube)

Distinguished Guests,

It is a great pleasure and a privilege for me to welcome you to this conference on the Global Digital Content Market

I thank you all for your presence here this morning.  We are delighted to see the enthusiastic response that the Conference has provoked.  Over 1,500 participants from 144 countries have registered for the event.  Such a strong response is a good indication of the timeliness of an international discussion of developments in the global digital content market, as well as an overwhelming endorsement of the quality of the speakers, panelists and moderators who have so generously agreed to share their experience and insights.

We are fortunate, I believe, to be living through an extraordinary transformation of the ways in which our culture, and the creative works that define it, are expressed and communicated.  Technology, notably digital technology and the Internet, lies at the basis of that transformation.  It has enabled ease of storage, ease of reproduction and ease of distribution of creative works.  These features, in turn, have created the possibility of access to unprecedented repertoires of works, the possibility of a worldwide audience and vastly reduced prices for access to creative works.  All of this has occurred in what has been, from a historical perspective, a very short space of time.  Scarcely 20 years ago, in 1995, commercial activity was permitted for the first time on the Internet.  The dominant method for a consumer to obtain access to recorded music at that time was through the purchase of CDs.  One CD, containing about 15 songs, cost around $30.  Twenty years later, a consumer can have access to a repertoire of millions of songs of the world’s music for around $10 to $15 per month.  One can compare that extraordinary change to the cost of access to a football match.  In 1995, the cost of a ticket to see Arsenal play was £12.50.  The cost of a ticket to see Arsenal play in the current season is £45.69.[1]

This profound transformation, which is unfolding before our eyes and our ears, has produced extensive disruption not only in the ways in which creative works are stored and distributed, but also in the business architecture that enables or accompanies the production, distribution and consumption of creative works.  We have all witnessed, for example, the steady disappearance or, at least, increasing scarcity of the retailers of the analogue world - the record shops, the video shops, the bookshops – and their replacement by online retailers, many of which serve indifferently a worldwide, as opposed to local, consumer base.  The value chains of the production, distribution and consumption of digital works are radically different from those of analogue works.   

Creative works occupy a very special and multidimensional place in our lives.  Socially and culturally, they enrich the quality of our lives.  They enable the human experience to be communicated.  They educate and transmit our culture and knowledge from one generation to the next.  Economically, the creative industries are a major source of employment, accounting, according to a recent survey, for around 30 million jobs worldwide.[2]  They contribute to economic growth, generating, according to the same survey, $2.25 trillion in revenue globally, more than the GDP of India, the world’s seventh largest economy.[3]

Copyright is the central mechanism in the creation of the market for creative works - if you like, the dominant interface between the world of creativity and the economy.  It is the means by which the market exchange of creative works occurs.  As such, it is also the principal means for the financing of the production of creative works, enabling the creator to control the commercial exploitation of her works, thereby returning economic value to the creator  and ensuring livelihood for the individual creator, and economic sustainability for the creative industries. 

The same features of technology that have produced enormous benefits for consumers, however, have also presented multiple challenges for creators and their business associates.  This Conference seeks to explore both of these sides of the impact of the digital transformation on the creative world, the enormous benefits and opportunities, on the one hand, and the radical challenges and, even, threats, on the other hand.  What has been the impact on creators and performers of the new value chains?  Are the balances that were built into the copyright system being preserved in the new environment?  How is the territorial copyright system coping with the reality of the global market that technology has created?  The questions are numerous and the speed of change is so rapid that it is not always easy to obtain a transparent view of the impact of technological developments and market responses, since one new development follows another at a pace that leaves little time to absorb the change.

The least that one can say, however, is that this an exciting and fascinating evolution, with fundamental implications for cultural production in the 21st Century.  We are going to begin the exploration of these questions with a look into the future, since, as Charles Kettering said, that is where we are going to be spending the rest of our lives.  It is a great pleasure for me to introduce Jaron Lanier.  Jaron Lanier is a man of remarkable talents.  He is a computer scientist, a composer, an artist and an author.  He will be known to many of you, in particular, through his book Who Owns the Future.  It is a privilege to have Jaron with us this morning.  He is going to talk to us about the global digital value chain and sustainable creativity.

  1. Andy Kelly, “History of Arsenal Ticket Prices since 1980
  2. EY and CISAC, Cultural Times - The First Global Map of Cultural and Creative Industries, December 2015.
  3. IMF, 2015