Sarkozy questions 'neutral' net at e-G8 forum

By Iain Mackenzie
Technology reporter, BBC News, Paris

media captionInternet bosses are meeting in Paris at a 2 day forum arranged by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, as Christian Fraser explains

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has opened the first ever e-G8 forum in Paris.

The event brings together leading figures from the technology industry to discus the impact of the internet.

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, and Google's Eric Schmidt are among those due to speak.

Critics have claimed that the e-G8 is too focused on handing net control to companies and governments.

Moral rules

Addressing those concerns, President Sarkozy said that states were subject to the will of their citizens who were currently engaged in a revolution, empowered by the internet.

"The global revolution that you incarnate is a peaceful one. It did not emerge on battlefields but on university campuses," he said.

media captionFrench President Nicolas Sarkozy tells internet heads at the e-G8 conference in Paris that they do not live in a parallel, moral-free universe

However, President Sarkozy claimed that countries could not remain neutral and allow completely unchecked internet use.

"The world you represent is not a parallel universe where legal and moral rules and more generally all the basic rules that govern society in democratic countries do not apply."

In the past, the French president has been characterised as someone who favours the rights of content creators and rights holders over internet users.

France has passed one of the toughest laws to crack down on people who download content without paying for it, with a three-strikes-and-out law for illegal filesharers.

Repeat offenders face a range of punishments, including disconnection from the web.

No harm

A number of prominent rights-holders including News Corp chief executive Rupert Murdoch and BBC director general Mark Thompson were also due to speak at the event.

Addressing delegates, Mr Sarkozy said the role of government regulation was to promote creativity and prevent criminality, but he also acknowledged the claims of his critics.

"I know and I understand that our French idea of copyright laws is not the same as in the United States and other countries.

"Nobody can have his ideas, work, imagination and intellectual property expropriated without punishment," he said.

American media commentator Jeff Jarvis challenged President Sarkozy, during a question and answer session, to sign up to an oath to "do no harm" to the internet.

The suggestion was met with some indignation, with the President suggesting that asserting controls on illegal activity could never be regarded as harmful.

Speaking to the BBC afterwards, Mr Jarvis said that President Sarkozy's comments betrayed the true intent of many world leaders.

"At least Sarkozy acknowledged that he doesn't own the internet and his government doesn't own the internet. Nonetheless, he is claiming sovereignty here and so will the G8 and I have fear in that.

"Perhaps out of best intentions they will try to change the architecture of the internet and how it operates, but we don't even know what it is yet. It is too soon to regulate the beast," he said.

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