Google chairman Eric Schmidt and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg warned governments to tread lightly on Internet regulation because moves to tame its rough edges risked hurting its virtues.
At the conclusion of a two-day forum in Paris, their comments exposed deep rifts between tech titans, academics and policy makers even as they tried to agree on a message to take to world leaders at the Group of Eight industrialised nations meeting on Thursday in Deauville, France.
With the forum, French President Nicolas Sarkozy was seeking to put his stamp on the debate over regulating the Internet and encouraging the digital economy during his one-year term as president for the G8.
Despite a glittering guest list, the event dubbed the eG8 ended up with few concrete policy recommendations and mostly vague conclusions that the delegation of six technology chief executives, including Schmidt and Zuckerberg, will present to leaders in Deauville on Thursday.
The outcome highlights the difficulty of finding a way to regulate the Internet that is acceptable to both governments and industry.
Zuckerberg, the 27-year-old entrepreneur who created the social network with 500 million users around the world, was greeted like a rock star during a question-and-answer session on Wednesday and praised for creating a tool that helped touch off democracy movements in the Arab world.
"People tell me on the one hand 'it's great you played such a big role in the Arab spring, but its also kind of scary because you enable all this sharing and collect information on people'," said Zuckerberg, who was clad in a T-shirt and jeans.
"But it's hard to have one without the other .... You can't isolate some things you like about the Internet and control other things that you don't."
Schmidt sounded a similar note earlier when he told the assembly: "Technology will move faster than governments, so don't legislate before you understand the consequences."
The divisions on copyright proved too large to be bridged, as well as the question of how the burden of investing in telecommunications networks should be shared among telecom operators and the Web giants that rely on them.
At the final panel intended to finalise the message to the G8 leaders, Schmidt squared off with Vivendi CEO Jean Bernard Levy over copyright issues.
Levy, whose company puts out music and video games that are often pirated, said: "I don't think you can compromise on copyright. It's the right of the artist to decide how his work is used."
Schmidt shot back: "I would be opposed to any absolute statements. Copyright is not an absolute right; it is a shared right. Copyright in one form or another is a balance of interests."
Maurice Levy, chief executive of advertising firm Publicis, which is hosting the conference, said they didn't have to resolve the many debates over the Internet's future.
"We are not going to Deauville with a list of grievances or requirements," said Levy at the close of the forum. "We are going with the idea of sharing our points of view and to have an exchange with leaders."
(Additional reporting by Marie Mawad and Gwenaelle Barzic; Editing by Richard Chang)