The media has covered the recent G8 meeting in France, but at least here in Sweden there’s been little mention of the e-G8 conference that preceded it, where Nicholas Sarkozy apparently discovered he couldn’t impose his vision of a controlled Internet.
Something like 1000 people took part in the meeting, which included luminaries like Google’s Eric Schmidt and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg, along with old media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Some, like writer and Boing Boing co-editor Cory Doctorow, refused to take part, arguing that participation would give credence to Sarkozy’s restrictive approach to the Internet. But others took advantage of the opportunity to say “non” to monsieur le Président.
Sarkozy was seemingly either somewhat unaware of exactly who he had invited, or just overly-confident that someone in his position could just force them to his way of thinking, to create a “civilized” (i.e. government-controlled) Internet.
The most high profile repudiation came from Jeff Jarvis, prominent blogger, writer (author of “What Would Google Do”), co-host of the “This Week in Google” podcast on the Twit network, and an associate professor of Journalism at the City University of New York. He took advantage of the opportunity to ask Sarkozy that in the subsequent G8 meeting he seek to “do no harm” to the Internet.
Sarkozy gave a typical politician’s answer, conciliatory, and asking whether it was harmful to impose restrictions to stop child pornography and terrorism? Apparently it never occurred to Sarko or his advisers is that this is the argument used by China to stamp out online dissidents.
Ironically, the key item on the subsequent G8 (the world’s biggest economies minus China and plus Russia) meeting was supporting the Arab Spring. Yet that revolt has been fueled by social media, the old regimes in Egypt and other countries have sought to stop it through turning off the Internet, and had Sarkozy’s proposals for a “civilized” Internet been in place, those revolts might have been nipped in the bud.
The French president also used the event to force support for more copyright protection and the music and film industries efforts to fight fair use, cloud storage, and other modern technological advances they perceive hurts their profits.
The highpoint there was a panel on intellectual property with representatives from the industry, and France’s Minister of Culture, along with last-minute invitee John Perry Barlow, poet, one-time lyricist for the Grateful Dead, and a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The last to speak on the panel, he began by pointing that he was in fact its only member who actually created content. He then scandalized by other members of the panel by rejecting the idea that content is in fact property:
I may be one of very few people in this room who actually makes his living personally by creating what these gentlemen are pleased to call “intellectual property.” I don’t regard my expression as a form of property. Property is something that can be taken from me. If I don’t have it, somebody else does.
Expression is not like that. The notion that expression is like that is entirely a consequence of taking a system of expression and transporting it around, which was necessary before there was the internet, which has the capacity to do this infinitely at almost no cost.
It’s interesting that Sarkozy tried to use the G8 as his means to impose his vision of a “civilized Internet”. Just over two years ago France tried to force its “three strikes and you’re out” law on the European Union. That legislation takes away Internet access from anyone accused (without a court trial) three times of illegally downloading copyrighted material. The European Parliament rejected the whole approach.
Sarkozy seems to have thought the forum of the G8 was a better medium to get his way, but according to reports this approach found little support from other leaders. And events in the Middle East and other areas seem to have dominated the agenda.