Old Europe to open new can of Internet worms at eG8 Summit

My Monday started well as I woke to discover that I’m “an Internet titan“, that is if you believe the Reuters pre-coverage of the eG8 event in Paris tomorrow.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, describes the event on the official eG8 website thus:

“The Internet’s multilateral dynamic, and the driving role that the private sector and civil society play in its development, have led me to invite the major stake- holders of this ecosystem to Paris, so that the meeting of Heads of State can benefit from their vision. The content of your exchanges will be conveyed to the Heads of State and governments of the G8. A new phenomenon requires a new method of consultation, one that recognizes the legitimacy and the responsibility of the actors concerned: hence the idea of this e-G8 Forum.” read more

I’m actually very excited to see how the event will be run and President Sarkozy should at least be given credit for pushing not only onto the G8 agenda, but for organising a consultation prior. The question is, what will transpire?

Previously the President has said:

“Regulating the Internet to correct its excesses and abuses that come about in the total absence of rules — this is a moral imperative!”

..said during a speech at the Vatican in 2010.

Big names speakers (who certainly do deserve the internet titan moniker) include Mark Z, Rupert Murdoch, Jeff Bezos and Eric Schdmit alongside a bunch of smart attendees such as open data proponents like @novaspivack (his blog post on eg8 here)

As the blurb says, the aim is to build a consensus for the key issues are which should be discussed by the G8. The topics likely to dominate the agenda include copyright law, privacy and personal data.

Sarkozy has a poor record (depending on your point of view) in these areas, championing stricter controls. Everyone else (at least from the corporate world) is predictably pushing their own agenda – not based on what is best for the consumer but what furthers their own gain.

Traditional media are pushing for stricter controls – IP blocking, the confiscating of domain names, the right of government to “pull down” websites. These backward steps are a grave mistake.

Even if you agree that (e.g.) piracy sites or copy right infringers should have their websites curtailed, enabling a government (or any entity) to do so at will risks a slippery slope toward at best ever increasing controls and at worse outright censorship.

In fact the UK government has already enacted some of these laws and more of this ilk are on the horizon, such as the recent EU cookies law (there’s a great example here of what visiting a website adhering to the potential new guidelines might be like for you the user) it’s a nightmare in the making. @mikebutcher from Techcrunch Europe seemed very clean on his opinion on the cookie monster.

I concede the definition of “Fair use” as a concept against copyright theft or republication of content presents a raft of problems in itself for those wanting to (quite rightly) be paid for their work; but the very nature of influence and ambassador based endorsement of brands, content and companies via sharing on social media sites means this redistribution of digital content is inevitable.

The charming Tuileries Gardens in the centre of Paris where the eG8 is being held

Other measures recently introduced such as Sarkozy’s “3 strikes and you’re out policy” which cuts off the right to have internet access for repeat copyright offenders, just seem Dickensian. There are also bigger issues. Internet access is fast pervading every aspect of daily life. Not having access genuinely at best would already be inconvenient, at worst very seriously debilitating. “Then don’t break copyright laws” you may cry.

The young giants on the digital age such as Google and Facebook are pushing of course for less or no regulation; arguing everything from freedom of speech to a fundamental shift in the meaning of privacy and the way people share, want to share or should share (Mark is a particularly keen advocate of the latter for very obvious reasons).

I err on the side of these new corporate giants more so than those clinging to an ever more inaccurate perception of the online world. Their hopes of maintaining the status quo are just that: hope, as the reality on the web is already very different.

Ironically, I’m looking forward to meeting some European digital pioneers who I don’t know and many who are attending from the USA who I do.

Hopefully I can add something useful to the debate along the way too. If you have an opinion, please add it to the comments, I’d love to hear from you.

Finally, being in France I suppose the dress code will be predictably formal. I can either wear a suit and blend in, or buck the trend and hang out in my more usual jeans and shirt, the standard internet-entrepreneurial garb.

The one time I need a crowd-source “what to wear” app and there isn’t one.

See you in Paris.

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