Jean Michel Jarre: ‘Don’t forget that us creators are the smart part in a smartphone’ by @Helienne Lindvall

[Editor Charlie sez: We are thrilled to welcome Helienne Lindvall to MTP as a guest writer!  Helienne interviewed Jean Michel Jarre, the newly elected president of CISAC, at MIDEM.  A version of this interview previously appeared in the Guardian.  As this year’s conference is widely rumored to be the last MIDEM, we should enjoy it while we can before it turns into a tech conference.]

by Helienne Lindvall

At this week’s Midem music conference in Cannes, France, I sat down with electronic music pioneer Jean Michel Jarre, whose career as an artist and composer is now in its fifth decade, having broken through internationally with his groundbreaking Oxygene album in 1976. Last year, he took over the presidency of CISAC, the global body for authors’ societies, after the previous president, Robin Gibb, passed away – and so his Midem “visionary talk” went under the headline Fair Share for Creators.

I explained that I’m a professional musician and songwriter myself, and that I only expanded into journalism back in 2008, adding: “I went into an industry that has been even more financially screwed by the internet than the music industry. Perhaps I should be a postman next?”

Jarre shot back, without a pause: “But, yes, being a postman is the future – cause apparently, these days, it’s much better to carry content than to create it.”

At the end of the interview I explained Blake Morgan’s IrespectMusic campaign to Jarre, and he happily posed with his own “selfie”.

jean michael jarre IRM 1

I covered parts of the interview in my Guardian article, but for those interested in the nuggets that didn’t make it into the piece, here it is in full. Jean Michel Jarre, uncut, if you will…

What is the most urgent issue facing creators today? To stop whining – and promoting a positive image of creators. We are the extraordinary. We are the people creating the future – not manufacturers of computers or cables. It’s our responsibility to be able to send a clear message to the street, saying that [the lack of protection of] intellectual property is not just a problem for artists from Europe and America – it’s a global problem. It’s one of the strongest elements of what democracy is all about.

Creation and all art forms create the soul and the identity of a country and a continent. There is no sustainable development if there is no sustainable economy for creation. We shouldn’t be thinking about if we need a tax for the creators or getting the consumer paying for content, or if we need donations… We are not taxmen, we are not a species in the verge of extinction, we are not the Amazon forest – and we are not beggars.

What we need to do is to sit with the new actors – the digital distributors of any kind of art form and the hardware manufacturers – and create the right business model for creators. I think we send the wrong message by saying that the consumer should pay – it’s too late. Music, all content, photography, media, film – it’s all going to be free on the internet. We have to accept it.

How would that work in practice? Think about when you listen to a song on the radio. You are not paying for it, yet it’s not illegal to do it, because the rights have been paid for on top, beforehand, by the radio station, by the network. We have to find exactly the same kind of system with the internet.

But what would bring these players to the table? We should stop thinking that Google, Facebook and those kinds of companies are our enemies. It’s not true. These people were just kids 15-20 years ago, geeks creating something great – but they created a monster without even having the time to think about the collateral damages they were creating. These guys are music lovers. Very often you can meet with them at rock concerts, and they have lots of friends in the movie and music industry. They love us. They are understanding more and more the situation artists are in.

That’s why I’m quite optimistic. As long as we as artists are able to send the right message to the right people. The media is in the same boat. Ten years ago the media was against us. They had this neo-hippy attitude. Now they’re in dire straits and joining the boat. A bit late, but now we are all on the same boat. We must know the difference between freedom and mess.

We should never forget that in the smartphone, the smart part is us creators. If you get rid of music, images, videos, words and literature from the smartphone, you just have a simple phone that would be worth about $50. Let’s accept that there’s a lot of innovation in the smartphone, so let’s add $100 for this innovation – the remaining $300-$400 of the price should go to us.

So we should sit down and talk to all the telephone companies and computer companies selling hardware, the companies carrying the content on the internet, such as Facebook and Google. We need each other, so at the end of the day we have to find the right partnership. We are talking about a business partnership, not a tax, and this shouldn’t affect the consumer.

What would give them the incentive to do right by artists? I’ll make an ecological analogy. When I first started my career with Oxygene, it was not that common to think about environmental issues and ecology, but step by step people started to become aware that it’s not that bad to take care of the planet for future generations. And so the government took action, because it had become a popular concept with the population.

It should be the same for IP. IP is not only a problem for us as artists – it’s for every family, because in every family you have a son, a daughter, a sister a brother dreaming about becoming a journalist, film-maker, writer, photographer, painter or musician. And today they’d need to get a job on the side. They can’t dedicate their life to it. This is not acceptable. The notion of IP should be promoted as one of the fundamental elements of our societies and democracies for the future.

It’s not just a matter of finance – it’s a matter of ethics. IP is linked with human rights. If we start to harm it, we’re harming freedom and human rights. Instead of thinking that we should suppress or forget the idea of copyright, that it’s an old idea from Europe for the Europeans, we should think about an internet copyright. We could consider that after a certain time the revenue will go into an international fund to help creation worldwide.

It’s not an issue that only concerns Europeans and Americans – it’s a worldwide problem, and a north-south issue. There’s something wrong when the advertising world and fashion world are stealing graphics and patterns from the Aborigines, from the Fiji Islands, from Africa, without paying anything – just because they can’t identify the author. You are weakening the identity of some communities step by step. This has to change.

The tech community should share the ‘coolness’

It’s far beyond some artists sitting on a pot of gold, trying to keep their advantages. The cool guys have always been the creators, the artists – not the manufacturers of cables. That’s not particularly sexy. And yet they are considered the sexy people of society these days. That has to change. We should share the coolness.

Sometimes the problem is more due to the politicians. There are lots of people in Washington and Brussels that have good intentions. But most of them are so cut off from any sectors in society. It’s not only true for artists, but also for dentists and plumbers. They don’t know the day-to-day life of Portugal, of Ireland… they have a vague idea, but there’s an abstraction between the concept and the real world. It’s our responsibility as citizens to help the politicians, to tell them to not decide without us. We are not the Soviet Union.

For us [older creators] it’s more or less okay, because we started our careers when nothing was really organised. It was a golden age, in a sense. Now, for a young creator, it’s very difficult. There is no economy, there is no funding.

‘Today world is watching Europe’

As Europeans we have a responsibility, because we have always had a visionary approach to organising the economy of creation and to protect the creative world. And today the world is watching Europe. It’s interesting to see that at a time when Europe is weakened, when we have this appalling campaign against abortion in Spain, when we’re questioning if creation needs to be financed. That question is absurd. They question if we need authors’ rights – of course we do. An artist has to live just like any other citizen of the world.

At the same time you have China, one of the biggest markets in the world, saying that copyright is very important. We just opened a CISAC office in Beijing, because the Chinese government has realised that it’s the best way to promote Chinese culture and Chinese artists. The same thing has happened in Korea.

At a time when people around the world are inspired by Europe’s approach, Europe is trying to leave the boat. We have a responsibility to the rest of the world, having been ahead of our time and visionary. We must maintain this position.

When I was working in the studio in LA recently, I met lots of artists, musicians and film-makers – and they are all watching Europe.

I sat around the table with people from Google and Facebook and said: ‘Guys, you’ve made billions off our back If you want to continue being wealthy you have to listen to us and you have to business with us in order to create a sustainable economy. This is why I accepted the role of president of CISAC. At the end of the day I wanted to give back for everything the audience has given me.

Our creators are the identity we are going to leave for future generations. If we don’t solve this we’ll end up with just white noise.

The life of an artist is filled with uncertainty and doubts. Think about the mother of two or three children trying to write a book… if she doesn’t know how to survive doing it, she won’t do it. Maybe she has to sacrifice two years to write a book, like JK Rowling. If there is no hope of ever getting paid for it she wouldn’t start with even the first line of the book, and we wouldn’t have Harry Potter, for example.

I’m quite optimistic, because creators are very strong. We are the ones shaking the tree – shaking societies. MySpace was the social media platform 10 years ago – where is MySpace today? Facebook and Google need to be careful so they’re not the next MySpace. They need us to reinforce their position. It’s better for them to play with us than against us, because we were there before electricity – and we will be there after the internet. We have to be more confident in ourselves, and send a positive message to Brussels and Washington.

But sometimes artists don’t feel confident enough to speak out.  This is true. This is why our sector is so vulnerable. Cause an artist is full of doubts and uncertainty. He’s shy when it comes to evaluating his work. This is the most difficult thing for an artist – [answering the question] what is the value of my work? If everybody else around them says it’s worth nothing, the artist will be like an abused child. It’s very sad. We have to take this into consideration. It takes a lot of courage to stand up and say stop.

We made lots of mistakes in the music industry. We invented pirate radio – and 25 years later we want to put pirates in jail. We have been too focused on putting the responsibility of the financial problem for music on the consumers. The people that are making the most money from what we are creating are not the consumers – it’s the people carrying our content. They are not paying what they have to pay. It’s akin to a company not paying some of its shareholders. We, the creators, are shareholders of the internet. So it’s not a tax – it’s what we’re owed.

How would you distribute the revenue correctly? Firstly, through authors’ societies. We need to work out a business model with the private sector, but also with governments helping to define the rules of the game. That’s what we are waiting for from Brussels and Washington.

It’s interesting to see that in emerging markets, the BRIC countries, they have a much better attitude towards IP than ours. A country such as China realises it’s part of its identity, so that people don’t just think they are the country that are manufacturing a large part of the clothing market in the world – but that it has a soul.

You can’t quantise the value of art. At the moment the European Commission is listening to a minority that is saying, for their own reasons, that we should get rid of authors’ rights. But the remaining 98% of Europe is respecting the rights of authors – it’s just that the minority is screaming louder.

It’s the responsibility of the media to create more space to talk about all this. I’m quite optimistic, because for their own safety they have to do it. They are in the same situation as us. We have to solve this if we are to progress as human beings – we have to take into consideration the artist. A painting, a piece of music, a film – they are not like a pot of yoghurt or toothpaste. It has to be approached in a different way.

But it’s difficult for artists to talk about money – it’s somehow not viewed as honourable to talk about getting paid. You’re right. This is why society has to take care of the artist, cause it’s very difficult for an artist to evaluate what he’s doing. So how can an artist talk about the money and the remuneration he should get. So many artists are being abused, and when they become recognised they are abusing the system themselves, as a kind of revenge. It’s better to not talk about money, but the value of intellectual property.

It’s time for artists to start thinking about not just themselves but their communities. We are all isolated as creators, but this is our time to share, to be part of the bigger community.

[Copyright 2014 Helienne Lindvall]