Archive for June 2nd, 2011

Lessig at e-G8 or Le civilised Internet vs gales of creative destruction

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

While we’re having our dark mutterings about what might be in a “Convergence Review“, the Leaders of the Free World (or at least the Western Hemisphere) meeting at Deauville have declared:

5. We discussed new issues such as the Internet which are essential to our societies, economies and growth. For citizens, the Internet is a unique information and education tool, and thus helps to promote freedom, democracy and human rights. The Internet facilitates new forms of business and promotes efficiency, competitiveness, and economic growth. Governments, the private sector, users, and other stakeholders all have a role to play in creating an environment in which the Internet can flourish in a balanced manner. In Deauville in 2011, for the first time at Leaders’ level, we agreed, in the presence of some leaders of the Internet economy, on a number of key principles, including freedom, respect for privacy and intellectual property, multi-stakeholder governance, cyber-security, and protection from crime, that underpin a strong and flourishing Internet. The “e-G8″ event held in Paris on 24 and 25 May was a useful contribution to these debates.

[Slight digression: "new" issues? plus ça change?]

The real fun, however, was at the “e-G8″.

President Sarkozy, who was convening the meeting of the Leaders, had brought together all sorts of likely people

[such as Eric Schmidt, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Jarvis and Prof. Lessig]

and issued a clarion call for Le Civilised Internet.

It all started very well with M. le president declaiming:

You have changed the world. For me, you have changed the world, just as Columbus and Galileo did. You have changed the world, just as Newton and Edison did. You have changed the world with the imagination of inventors and the boldness of entrepreneurs.

However:

Also the States we represent need to make it known that the world you represent is not a parallel universe, free of legal and moral rules and more generally all the basis principles that govern society in democratic countries. Now that the Internet is an integral part of most people’s lives, it would be contradictory to exclude governments from this huge forum. Nobody could nor should forget that these governments are the only legitimate representatives of the will of the people in our democracies. To forget this is to run the risk of democratic chaos and hence anarchy. To forget this would be to confuse populism with democracy of opinion. Juxtaposed individual wishes have never constituted the will of the people. A social contract cannot be drawn up by simply lumping together individual aspirations.

and

Do not allow the revolution you began to violate people’s fundamental right to privacy and to be fully autonomous. Complete transparency, which never allows a person to rest, will sooner or later come up against the very principle of individual freedom.

Let us not forget that behind an anonymous Internet user, there is a real citizen who is evolving in a society, a culture and an organized nation to which he belongs and with laws he must abide by.

Do not forget that the sincerity of your promise will be assessed in the commitment of your companies to contribute fairly to national ecosystems.

Do not allow the revolution you began to violate the basic right of children to lives that are protected from the moral turpitude of certain adults.

Do not allow the revolution you began to be a vehicle for maliciousness, unobstructed and unrestricted. Do not allow this revolution become an instrument in the hands of those who wish to jeopardize our security and in doing so, our freedom and our integrity.

You have allowed everyone, with the mere magic of the Web, to access all the cultural treasures of the world in a simple click. It would be something of a paradox if the Web contributed to draining them over time.

The immense cultural wealth that provides our civilizations with such beauty is a product of the creative forces of our artists, authors and thinkers. Basically, it is the product of all those who work on enchanting the world.

Yet these creative forces are fragile because when creative minds are deprived of the fruit of their talents, they are not just ruined, what’s worse, they lose their independence, they will be required to pawn their freedom.

Unfortunately, this didn’t meet with such a good press (at least in those parts of the (western) world that Napoleon didn’t conquer). For some of the adverse press: herehereherehere. Maybe, the President said something more specific in unscripted comments as the press and Prof. Lessig all react to suggestions that the rest of the world should be introducing the 3-strikes regime of the loi hadopi (France and France again and NZ) and, in another reverberation DownUnder, the rights of governments to censor what their citizens read or do on the internet.

Prof. Lessig was willing to concede that (for intellectual property rights) the question is not whether there should be copyright protection – “No-one serious denies this” – the question is how copyright should be protected in the age of the Internet. On this question, he sharply disagreed with M. le president. The President’s solutions were answers provided by incumbents. And such answers, Prof. Lessig says, should be treated with (too put it mildly) skepticism:

From the Hargreaves Report (UK)

Instead, Prof. Lessig pointed out, the future of the Internet is not:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google
  • (he hopes) Rupert Murdoch,

the future of the Internet is not here (yet). We need to be careful lest the rules we put in place today (at the behest of incumbents) foreclose the emergence of new developments or lose sight of reality.

Now, of course, Prof. Lessig is engaging in polemical advocacy (just as Pres. Sarkozy was), but the point he raises is important and it is important that “we” get it right. One must accept that the State can lay down rules for its citizens’ use of the internet, just as it can lay down rules for all other aspects of its citizens’ lives. Apparently, this even applies in the USA, but in the UK may be not or may be. The question is: what rules (if any) should it lay down and whose views should it be listening to?

You can watch Prof. Lessig’s speech (which I recommend you do just long enough to admire the space age Stage that proves we really are living in the future) then switch over to the slideshow for the lesson (do persevere past section 1, the alcoholic(s)).

The link to the official (English translation of) the text of President Sarkozy’s speech.

For Hargreaves and some reaction.

The G8’s 2011 communique.

If you still need more on ‘creative destruction’ after watching Prof. Lessig, start here.

Lid dip: Peter Black at Freedom to Differ.