In a speech that steered clear of policy proscriptions, but that urged a need for creative thinking about copyright and content distribution, former President Bill Clinton on Friday called for further discussion “about the need to give people an appropriate return on their ideas and development of them, and presentation of it, in film and music and in other areas, and the need to give it as quickly as possible to the world.”
Clinton’s speech came at the Creativity Conference, a half-day meeting hosted by the Motion Picture Association of America, Microsoft, and Time Magazine, where participants ranging from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to HBO CEO Richard Plepler discussed issues in the creative economy ranging from federal research and development investment to copyright. While there was a clear consensus on the first issue, with even Cantor, who has focused on spending cuts, suggesting that the government had a valuable role to play in research and development, some participants spoke frankly, and even harshly, on the subject of copyright.
“So I think a very good business plan [is] here, use somebody else’s content for free, deliver it, don’t pay them anything, and build a $500 billion silicon valley company, and then have cool slogans like ‘We just want to help the world,’” said Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of the Weinstein Company, appearing to refer to YouTube and its parent company Google. “They’re stealing. That’s what they’re doing. My artists, they can’t be artists if they’re hungry. The starving artist, trust me, that’s a myth. When you’re starving you’re starving. It’s hard to be creative in that situation.”
Clinton, by contrast, sought to establish a different framework in his remarks, suggesting that the conflict in creating copyright policy was not between who should be allowed to profit from the creation of individual work, from music to pharmaceutical development, but between balancing the interests of content finding a wide audience and making it sustainable to develop. “We have to keep struggling to find the right balance between creativity, broadly and quickly shared, and as widely understood as possible, and making it reasonably profitable for people to be creatives,” Clinton argued. As one example, he praised Saint Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, which does not accept fees for services, but encourages patients whose families can pay to make ongoing donations to the institution, and which voluntarily makes public significant amounts of its data to aid in drug development.