News

Response to Bill Gates

Glenn Otis Brown, January 9th, 2005

Katie Dean of Wired News has a story about the general response to Bill Gates’s casual lobbing of the word “communist” in the general direction of anyone who thinks critically about how the law regulates information.

The story quotes part of my response to Gates; I thought I’d print the rest of it here. (Dean interviewed me via email.)

WIRED News: Do you regard [Gates's comment] as a direct bash on Creative Commons?

Me: I can’t imagine that’s what he intended. Bill Gates is too smart to confuse a voluntary, market-based approach to copyright like Creative Commons with a statist, centrally planned economy. That would be like calling Bill Gates a communist because he gives billions of dollars to philanthropic causes, or on a more everyday level, describing a restauranteur who sometimes comps her best patrons as a socialist.

What is your reaction to his comments?

Well, since I know he can’t be talking about Creative Commons, I’d be interested to know whom Gates is talking about, exactly. Is he calling The Economist magazine communist for arguing that copyright terms should last only a few decades, which they did just last year? Does he think that IBM, which makes more than a few bucks from selling Linux-based servers, should be re-nicknamed “Big Red”? Is he saying that economists like Milton Friedman and Ronald Coase, who support limited copyright terms, are the new Marx and Engels?

Anything else you’d like to add?

I get sad when people cheapen words like “communist” or “fascist” by throwing them around recklessly, especially given what those words meant in the not-so-distant past. My father was a CIA Cold Warrior for 35 years of his life; he wasn’t fighting against GPL’d software. Stalinist purges; the Berlin Wall; tanks in Budapest — that’s communism. And let’s not forget just how many creative people’s lives were ruined by irresponsible name-calling not too long ago. Remember the Hollywood blacklists?

(One last little note: The Wired News article describes Creative Commons as one of the “best-known groups working for copyright reform.” We’re flattered, but we’re not in the copyright reform game. All our tools work within the current laws, and it’s part of neither our charter nor our nonprofit status to try to change those laws.)

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