Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the APNZ News Service office in Wellington.

Web inventor: Internet should be free

Tim Berners-Lee. Photo / AP
Tim Berners-Lee. Photo / AP

People using file-sharing websites should be given the chance to do the right thing and pay for what they're using, the inventor of the worldwide web says.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee believes internet users should have access to free information across the board, but they should also be given the opportunity to make a moral decision and pay for what they listen to.

He gave a lecture on open internet to a packed theatre of about 500 in the national museum Te Papa in Wellington last night.

Sir Tim would not comment on the case being brought against the founder of the file-sharing website Megaupload, Kim Dotcom, because he had not been following it.

But he said a system should be created where people choose to do the right thing.

"I'd like also to have a system where I'm reading blogs or reading newspaper articles where I'm reading them for free, but decide at the end of the month that I'd like to give a certain amount ...

like $100 to all the people that the machine knows I enjoy."

The British-born computer scientist imagined webpages and created his first one in 1991, after proving computers could communicate with each other through the internet.

In 1989 Sir Tim wrote a memo about his idea, but it was ignored for a year before the idea was picked up by his boss.

A decade later, Sir Tim found a note by his boss about his idea, which said "vague but exciting".

"So if he had said 'exciting but vague' we'd have no worldwide web."

In 2009 Sir Tim began a crusade for "open data" and tried to convince governments to make data more accessible for people.

"Gordon Brown was the prime minister of the UK at that time and he just said 'Yep we'll put government data on the web, let's do it'."

There were three reasons for government data to be accessible for the public, Sir Tim said.

"One is economic benefit - your country will run much better, and anybody who is trying to run a business in that country will find life better ... if they can take government data about where hospitals are, where all the potholes in the road are and just use it."

Government transparency was another reason, as well as making governments interact better.

He warned against companies or governments having any control over the internet.

"You must not allow governments or companies to twist, to put a filter, to put pink spectacles over the vision that people have when they look at the web."

He said the worst thing that governments could use the web for was to spy on their residents.

"Depending on which country it's in, sometimes they spy on you in order to target you ... or they could be targeting you to trace the social network that you're part of and put you and all your friends in jail and possibly kill you."

Sir Tim said he could never have envisaged 24 years ago the kinds of things that were now being looked at on the internet.

"The idea was that you should be able to put anything on the web, the web should not constrain what you should do.

"What has been great has been the amount of creativity. And that's not because of web technology, it's because of humanity."

- APNZ

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