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EFF founder speaks out at Big Internet gathering

Grateful dead lyricist, Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder and outspoken exponent of a free Internet, John Perry Barlow was an unlikely invitee to this week's e-G8 summit, seen by many as a self-serving back-slap-fest for giant corporations on keeping a tight reign on the World Wide Web.

The gathering of the great and good of big business on the web, populated to a great extent by representatives from the likes of Microsoft, Google and Facebook, may have raised an eyebrow when the ageing hippie was asked to join a panel of speakers which included French President Nicolas Sarkozy - the man responsible for imposing France's draconian HADOPI 'three strikes' file-sharing excommunication laws - to talk about dealing with intellectual property on-line.

A late addition to the bill, Barlow made no secret of his surprise at being invited to take part, given his public stance on Internet freedoms, or of his supposition that he would be crowded out by voices of consent coming from his fellow speakers, but received a warm and enthusiastic response from the audience, if not from some of his plenary colleagues when he said, "I don't think I'm from the same planet."

Having listened to Sarkozy rattling on about the need for ever stricter regulation of the Internet and its denizens, Barlow was given his chance to speak and immediately went for the French politico. "You'd have thought from Sarkozy's talk he was addressing a convocation of Anonymous and the Pirate Party. He wasn't," he remarked.

Making a clear distinction between people who create art, and those corporations which take ownership of it for their own gains, Barlow jibed, "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."

Throughout the lively debate - which as you might expect bounced between Barlow's assumption that creative artists could survive quite happily without the help of money-sucking corporations now that the Internet was here to save us all, and the representatives of those self-same corporations clinging to the restrictive models which makes executives wealthier than God but pays artists pennies for their work each time it is sold - the audience warmed to Barlow's rhetoric, even offering a rare smattering of applause on occasion.

After the main event, and out of view of the conference's cameras, Barlow remarked: "The vast majority of younger people do not share the opinions that were being voiced on that panel." But he conceded, "I was honoured they allowed me to participate at all. I thought it was so stacked in the beginning that my view was simply not going to be heard," according to the BBC.

It might be a small victory for those fighting for freedom in the face of the overwhelming might of the online-mega-corporations, but at least those with dissenting voices are being invited to the party.