On the brouhaha over Bill Gates’ interview with CNET at CES. The relevant bit:
[D]o you think intellectual-property laws need to be reformed?
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.
And this debate will always be there. I’d be the first to say that the patent system can always be tuned–including the U.S. patent system. There are some goals to cap some reform elements. But the idea that the United States has led in creating companies, creating jobs, because we’ve had the best intellectual-property system–there’s no doubt about that in my mind, and when people say they want to be the most competitive economy, they’ve got to have the incentive system. Intellectual property is the incentive system for the products of the future.
The “communists” bit is the part that has gotten so many people worked up.
The Response. I enjoy calling out Gates’ idiocies as much as the next person, though much of the response I’ve seen has been a tad ebullient. Microsoft fans don’t create fascist art knockoffs when that company’s detractors incorrectly call it fascist. Glenn Otis Brown has the best response I’ve seen, posted on the Creative Commons weblog.
What Would Brezhnev Do? In a communist state would there be no financial incentives for artists? No, they’d simply be employed by the state. The Soviet Union took information control to extremes, including prohibiting use of photocopiers by scientists. I suspect that had the USSR survived to this day, the KGB would now be furiously trying to make Digital Restrictions Management work so as to gain access to a few of the wonders of computing without permitting open communication.
Advice to Gates. Call reformers anarchists rather than communists. For most people “anarchist” is derogatory and you wouldn’t be telling quite as much of a bald-faced lie.
The Real Issue. Forget labels. Gates’ substantial claim is that strong intellectual protectionism drives economic growth. Gates believes this. He isn’t simply shilling for MSFT’s latest strategy. It is on this point that Gates must be rebutted.
Apologies to you the reader and to Robert Nozick for this post’s overwrought title.