The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard helped shape the agenda of Rethink Music, a recent conference that brought together legal, business, and academic experts to discuss new business models for creating and distributing music.

The conference, which ran April 25-27, 2011, was presented by the Berklee College of Music and MIDEM, in association with the Berkman Center and Harvard Business School. (MIDEM—Marché International du Disque et de l’Edition Musicale—is the world’s largest music industry trade fair, which has been held annually at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, France, since 1967.) The conference kicked off at Harvard on the 25th with a concert by Canadian indie band Metric at Harvard’s Memorial Church. On the 26th and 27th at Boston’s Hynes Convention Center, panel discussions ranged from business-oriented challenges to issues of copyright law and policy.

In his opening remarks on the second day of the conference, Harvard Law School Professor and the Berkman Center’s Faculty Director William W. Fisher ’82 (photo right) outlined the impact of the technological advancements on the music industry. New technology has allowed for significant cost reductions in the distribution of music as well as opportunities for creativity, he said.

“The advancement of new technology has increased the accessibility of music products to consumers. For better or for worse, lawful or not, music is experienced by most people in the United States today as free, and, from the standpoint of the consumer, the richness and inexpensiveness of the product is paradise,” Fisher said. “But there are harms of the technology, the most notorious of which is the corrosion of one of the most important revenue streams, one on which both composers and recording artists depend.”

Artists and intermediaries have since devised creative ways to adjust to the changes in the music industry, relying on strengthened bonds with fans to build a base of loyalty and enhance performance revenues, he said, and business models such as the advertising-based Pandora system or cloud-based streaming services show promise.

But Fisher argued that industry players should not be complacent.

“Things are going okay, but we should not be satisfied with this state of affairs,” Fisher said, stating that the current conditions of the industry disadvantage artists who are not able to tour, for example, but deserve to be compensated for their work.

Watch the video of Fisher’s remarks (beginning at approximately 1:00):

Fisher moderated a panel on alternative compensation schemes for composers and recording artists – schemes ranging from tax revenues to levies imposed on Internet service providers and other technology companies.

Lawrence Lessig, Harvard Law School professor and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard, described the challenges facing the music industry as “a battle between those who make money under the old system and those who might make money under the new system, the alternative compensation scheme.”

“The one group that has completely lost in the last 10 years in this existing structure of compensation has been the artists,” Lessig said. “The only opportunity we have here is that the rhetoric, the ideals, the principles that stand behind this system of copyright are on the side of the alternative compensation system, because copyright is supposed to be about compensating artists.”

Harvard Law School Professor Jonathan Zittrain ’95, a faculty co-director of the Berkman Center, moderated a panel on the future of copyright law and asked panelists what changes in copyright law they would like to see going forward.

Cary Sherman ’71, the president of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), said he hopes to see changes in copyright law that would facilitate licensing opportunities and increased collaboration on “game-changing business models.”

“What we’ve got now is not working well,” Sherman said. “It’s very difficult to have entire industries accept entirely new business models with new partners. What are the rules? Forget about pricing, how do you figure out what the value proposition is going to be?”

The Berkman Center’s Cyberlaw Clinic Assistant Director and Lecturer on Law Christopher Bavitz moderated a discussion entitled “Licensing difficulties – Will the proposed Global Repertoire Database simplify the process? What is the role for collective licensing?” with panelists Robert Ashcroft, CEO, PRS for Music; Stephen Block, senior counsel, Harry Fox Agency; Jay Fialkov, deputy general counsel, WGBH; Michael Huppe ’95, president, SoundExchange; and Patrick Sullivan, CEO, Rightsflow.

Other speakers included Harvard Law Professor Charles R. Nesson ’63; President and CEO of Pandora Joe Kennedy (HBS ’85); Northwestern University Law Associate Professor Olufunmilayo Arewa ’94; Microsoft’s Chief Counsel for Intellectual Property Tom Rubin; and Google’s Senior Copyright Counsel Fred von Lohmann.

The Berkman Center also released a briefing book with papers examining the challenges stemming from digital technology, for the conference’s 500 participants. “Rethinking Music: A Briefing Book” included the Berkman Center’s own framing paper about the music industry’s reactions to copyright law and policy and seven contributions, including a paper on voluntary payment models by Harvard Law School Professor and Berkman Center faculty Co-Director Yochai Benkler ’94. Bavitz, who was interviewed about the conference for a segment which aired on WBUR on April 25, oversaw the preparation of the briefing book.

Prior to the conference, the Berkman Center organized a call for papers seeking policy proposals recommending changes in legislation affecting those who create and distribute music, to help them cope with challenges facing the industry. The winning paper presented at the conference, written by University of Nevada, Las Vegas Law Professor Mary LaFrance on public performance rights in sound recordings, will be published in the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law.

Finalists of a music industry business model competition organized by Berklee College of Music in collaboration with Harvard Business School also presented their proposals for innovative ways to stimulate and monetize creativity in the music industry. The first place winner, NuevoStage, received a $50,000 cash prize from Berklee and $10,000 in in-kind legal services from Duane Morris, LLP.

NuevoStage, a Boston-based company co-founded by Harvard MBA candidate Maxwell Wessel and Dartmouth College graduate Chris Allen, allows performing artists to connect with fans to book more live music experiences.

During the conference, an all-star group consisting of Ben Folds, Amanda Palmer, author Neil Gaiman, and Damian Kulash of OK Go (pictured L-R) collaborated to write, record, and release eight songs over the course of those eight hours. They ultimately created six songs in twelve hours. The recording sessions were broadcast over the Internet and the album is now available for download at

Video of the entire conference is available at