Two Worlds (.Com & .Gov) Collide in Paris
This week in Paris, key players from the Internet came together with representatives of the world’s eight richest countries, ahead of the real G8 summit starting today in Deauville, Normandy. This originated after an invitation from Nicholas Sarkozy, president of the French Republic, for discourse and hopes of fresh entente cordiale between governments and Internet representatives.
The get-together, themed “The Internet: Accelerating Growth,” consisted of a schedule of presentations and workshops organized on Sarkozy’s behalf by a leading French communications and PR company.
Mr. Sarkozy set a rosy scene of what the Internet has achieved in his opening speech, full of dreams that had become reality, of barriers that had been broken down, and of the conference being an exceptional gathering where Web honchos were invited to “enrich the meeting of the heads of state and government of the G8 with your experience and your vision.”
But sweetening the audience was soon tempered with a whole string of “do nots.” For example: “Do not allow the revolution you began to violate people's fundamental right to privacy and to be fully autonomous.”
Mr Sarkozy drew parallels between the French Constitution, which is based on the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,” and the US Constitution, all while defending French ideas of copyright as not being “the same as in the United States and other countries.”
He stressed the need to find a balanced way forward based on collective responsibility and commonsense. Governments could not be excluded from the huge forum, he said, and the Internet is not a parallel universe “free of legal and moral rules.”
Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook , had the last word before the conference closed. He warned governments not to get involved in heavy-handed regulation: “You can't isolate some things you like about the internet and control other things that you don't.”
Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) boss Eric Schmidt supported this view, saying that governments should not over-legislate as technology moves “faster than governments.” But he also added an appeasing comment along the lines of a future in which automated robots trawl the Internet for copyright-infringing material to take offline.
A sigh of relief from representatives of the Motion Picture Association , and company was clearly discernible, if not completely audible.
Both Zuckerberg and Schmidt hot-heeled it to Normandy on an invite to the real G8, giving a hint of who and what the government heads will be listening to.
Back at the e-G8, the main issue was clearly about intellectual property, and debate on both sides of the fence was often animated and opinionated. This is a subject that is bound to be central in the real G8.
Lessons could be learned from sources that may seem surprising to some. In a plenary session titled “Fostering Innovation -- How to Build the Future,” it was noted that Russia now boasts two of the largest Internet companies in Europe, so the country must be doing something right. But there was no mention of Russia’s multibillion-dollar cyber-crime industry at this cozy meeting.
Were any lessons learned, or any real decisions made this week? No real decisions were made, but a couple of clear messages emerged about .Gov and .Com:
(a) The message from .Gov is, as has been argued for some time, that either .Com fixes the lawlessness and IP theft on the Internet, or .Gov will.
(b) In contrast, .Com argued for .Gov to focus on the jobs and businesses created by the Internet and leave it alone. According to the McKinsey report, Internet business accounted for an estimated 20 percent of economic growth and 3 percent of GDP for the G8 countries in the last five years.
The reality check: .Gov, recognizing the Internet as an economic powerhouse and now as the prime method of global communication, will use the issue of lawlessness on the Web as a legitimate basis to wrest control.