'Out of the one-time pirate, a business will be born,' Middelhoff sez

BERLIN — Bertelsmann CEO Thomas Middelhoff pledged his support Tuesday to Napster, the controversial online music site that the German media giant now has a stake in.

“Out of the one-time pirate, a business will be born,” Middelhoff affirmed, speaking of his conviction of the central role that the exchange of media data will play in the future entertainment biz. “Of course Napster will be put into a legal form that protects the rights of artists and producers,” he added.

In his keynote speech to producers gathered in Potsdam for Babelsburg 2001, the country’s leading production confab, Middelhoff conceded there was still legal ground to cover, but he dismissed criticism that people might not be willing to pay for Napster when they can use similar services free.

According to Middelhoff, the Internet is now fully integrated across all of Bertelsmann’s business areas. It invested DM1.6 billion ($746 million) in the Internet this year, and Middelhoff said the $1.2 billion-$1.9 billion that the company had invested to date has returned in the range of $9.3 billion.

Middelhoff’s appearance came after two days of discussion on the ins and outs of European production, featuring participants Nik Powell of the U.K.’s Scala Prods. and Peter Aalbeck Jensen of Denmark’s Zentropa Prods. Local participants included Roland Pellegrino of film production fund CP Medien and Andrea Willson of Deutsche Columbia TriStar.

Both Friedrich Carl Wachs of the indie consortium Producers’ AG and Georgia Tornow, general secretary of the Film20 initiative for independent producers, spoke out in favor of better conditions for indies.

They want the government to prevent a closed shop after local broadcasting giants Bertelsmann and the Kirch Group gained majority control of commercial airwaves following media consolidation.

They are also pushing for a change in financing that would give independent producers copyright of projects they develop.

The two-day confab, which ended Tuesday, is part of Intl. Mediaweek Berlin-Brandenburg, which runs through Friday.

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