Bill Gates recently sat down with CNET for an interview (which begins with the frightening teaser “Bill Gates is coming to your living room, whether you like it or not”). In it, Gates talks about the current state of intellectual property law and the recent challenges to it from certain “communist elements” in the digital world:
No, I’d say that of the world’s economies, there’s more that believe in intellectual property today than ever. There are fewer communists in the world today than there were. There are some new modern-day sort of communists who want to get rid of the incentive for musicians and moviemakers and software makers under various guises. They don’t think that those incentives should exist.
Well, this sounds like something that would come from the completely delusional heads of Microsoft. If you don’t like something, call it communist. Open Source is anti-American. Critiquing current intellectual property laws is communist. Unfortunately, calling someone a “communist” doesn’t really have the bite it did 50 years ago. techdirt offered a little economics lesson as an antidote to Gates’ “brilliant” synthesis of intellectual property law:
Intellectual property laws are often artificial barriers in the marketplace to forcefully limit supply and increase the price of something over what the market values it at. That sounds a lot more like the centrally planned economies that are usually called “communist.” Those who are looking to free up the content are simply saying let’s see what the market can do when these products are freed from those government mandated barriers. History has shown that the increased efficiency usually broadens the market and offers new opportunities to make money (for example, by bundling…). So, while I certainly don’t think that those who believe high intellectual property barriers are necessary are “communist,” I do think they’re being quite shortsighted in their economic analysis. And, while Bill Gates is obviously much richer than I’ll ever be, much of that success came from the benefits Microsoft received from their use of “free” products (whether authorized or unauthorized) that helped build lock-in and establish Microsoft as the dominant platform in the market. To turn around and call that same behavior in others “communist” is simply wrong.
Lawrence Lessig and the folks at Boing Boing were equally disgusted and amused by Gates’ red-baiting, and on both pages you can see the new CopyLeft Communist flag. 😉