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France's Sarkozy sets tech tongues wagging with his call for a state role in the Web

posted 24 May 2011, 09:54 by Mpelembe   [ updated 24 May 2011, 11:01 ]

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's call for a greater state role in the workings of the internet draws criticism and cautious praise from industry heavyweights gathered in Paris for a pre-G8 forum.

PARIS, FRANCE (MAY 24, 2011) FRENCH TV  - French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged Internet leaders gathered in Paris on Tuesday (May 24) to work with governments and share fairly the benefits of a revolution he compared to the discoveries of Columbus, Galileo and Newton.

Opening a forum at which Google's Eric Schmidt and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg will be among the speakers, Sarkozy heaped praise on an industry that has democratised information and helped enable the revolutions of the Arab Spring.

Sarkozy, widely mistrusted in the online world for measures such as a law that calls for copyright pirates to be cut off from the Internet, struck a more conciliatory tone than in the past by urging caution in regulating the digital economy.

But he maintained governments have a role in setting ground rules to limit the abuses and excesses of the Internet, citing in particular privacy and intellectual property, as well as voicing a concern over monopolies forming online.

"Sarkozy did acknowledge in his speech that government does not own the internet," said Jeff Jarvis, a blogger and professor at New York's City University.

"Nonetheless, he then put his stake in the ground and claimed sovereignty to regulate it. He claimed that behind security and privacy and copyright and so on. I fear that we see a government coming in believing that they do in fact think they can own and regulate the internet. And if this government can do it, why can't every other government, including China and Iran and Libya."

News Corporation Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch, who had earlier lunched with fellow delegates in Sarkozy's company at the Elysee Palace, welcomed his strong action against copyright pirates and called on the G8 summit to be held later this week to take action.

"We hope the G8 will strongly affirm the property rights of artists and creators and more than a matter of protecting cultures," he told delegates.

John Donahoe, president and CEO of e-bay acknowledged that governments had to play a role in the internet. But he added: "I think what doesn't do any good is a polarised notion that either it's total regulation or not. And I think President Sarkozy hit it in his opening when he talked about establishing a dialogue, a dialogue between the policy makers and the internet platform providers. And this is a good first step."

Others welcomed the dialogue that Sarkozy was seeking to establish with the industry.

"I do get a sense that Sarkozy's genuine in actually seeking feedback from the internet community, from the large businesses, from Wikipedia, from civil society with a view towards saying: 'look, if there are legitimate problems and we need to solve them, we should at least proceed in a way the people who actually run the internet and know how it works will tell us: yes that makes sense.' We've seen so many pieces of legislation that actually don't make sense at all and don't help at all," said Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.