Sarkozy woos Web giants, urges state role

CIOL Bureau
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PARIS, FRANCE: French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged Internet leaders gathered in Paris on Tuesday 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, although he said governments must still set ground rules.

"We don't want to make mistakes in regulating this powerful yet fragile ecosystem," he said in response to a question from an audience member. "We have to act with pragmatism. It is better to do nothing than to do harm."


He reminded the industry of its responsibilities in the fields of copyright and privacy, drawing a parallel between the intellectual property on which many Web companies are built and the copyright that artists seek to protect.

"These algorithms that constitute your power ... this technology that is changing the world, are your property and nobody can contest that," he said. "Writers, directors or actors can have the same rights."

Civilising cyberspace


The forum, whose conclusions will be presented to G8 leaders in the French seaside resort of Deauville later this week, pits passionate advocates of two opposing views of the Internet against each other.

One, espoused by Silicon Valley companies such as Google and Twitter as well as many academics, favours a hands-off approach to allow innovation and freedom of information.

The other, embraced by many established media companies, privacy advocates and governments, favours more regulation to tame potential excesses and online abuse.


The debate has been thrown into the spotlight in Britain this week as Twitter users in their thousands made a mockery of injunctions obtained by the rich and famous to hush up scandals, by publishing names and details.

The affair has highlighted the near impossibility of imposing national law on the Internet as well as cultural differences between Europe and the United States.

News Corp, whose Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch is among the speakers at the forum, has led a movement to stem the flood of free information online by charging readers and viewers for content on the Web.


John Perry Barlow, a founding member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which campaigns for internet civil rights, said: "It's about the revenge of the mass media.

"We've been trying to civilise cyberspace for 22 years," he told Reuters when asked why he was attending the forum. "It's a good idea to be present when movement is afoot to take away some of the values that you cherish."

Hubert Burda, chief executive and owner of a German magazine and newspaper empire, told Reuters the forum was a welcome first step by a European government.


"It's the first combination between European politics and the World Wide Web," he said. "Many European governments have been backward in understanding the digital revolution."