France is at risk of killing ZeWebDeux

France has astonishing engineering talent, some great entrepreneurs, one of the most benign seed funding environments (thank you state sponsorship) and a multitude of (variable quality) VC funds.  But yet again inappropriate or heavy handed legislative action threatens to kill the Golden Goose.  Can the new Digital Economy  secretary make a difference to the Web2 ?

France is supposed to have the highest number of bloggers per capita.  It also benefits from great broadband infrastructure, with 20Mbps being the standard offering and a number of 100Mbps full duplex offerings appearing.

As a result it has spawned some very interesting success stories, with the standout user successes being Skyblog and DailyMotion (where I am invested).  Oh, and its most famous export, Loic Le Meur :-) 

It’s also got a vibrant community of web2 inspired businesses, such as Deezer or Wikio and many others.

But just like with gaming in the past, the spectre of inappropriate legislation or government policy hangs over this burgeoning segment, presumably partly because of heavy lobbying from the established media players.

My Anglo-Saxon readers no doubt missed this, but the French High Court condemned a Digg-like service called, making it responsible for links posted by one of its users.  As the man behind Fuzz, Mr Eric “Presse Citron” Dupin (photo) duly noted, it feels like the whole affair is just one big misunderstanding.

Eric Dupin

Get this: someone posted some link related to star Olivier Martinez with the link being located in the “people” channel of the site.  The court considered that the fact that there were channels was enough to constitute “publishing” rather than simply “hosting”.  Never mind that (a) the user could have selected the channel or that (b) for all we know the site used automated extraction techniques to determine in which channel the content should be published.  Anyway, at that rate ANY site that relies on user generated publishing will be in trouble soon, and why not every forum launched since 1995 or whilst we are at it.

There have been calls to modify the LCEN or Law for the Confidence in the Digital Economy including suggestions to split the status of hosting provider according to their “level of interaction” with the content.  Given that the judges are already finding it hard to understand how to interpret the law, you can see where this is going…

In steps Eric Besson, the new state secretary in charge of the Digital Economy.  Early signs are that proper concertation will replace the one sided legislative process that has prevailed to date.  It was great to see Besson engaging properly with some of the actors including recording a video at Dailymotion’s own offices.  In fact the whole reason for this post was really the big sigh of relief I experienced in hearing the guy talk and make some sense (finally).

To be fair, this whole story highlights the intense difficulties that the fast evolution of technology generates for the legislative bodies.  Here’s to hoping reason prevails.  Pragmatism is not always the most obvious of French qualities, but the Sarkozy administration seems endowed with much more of it than its predecessors.  PS: Yes, I am from Belgium and no, they never exported “How to Make Friends and Influence People” that far north :-)

Fuzz is appealing the decision.  It’s important for all of us that it wins!

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