Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.


Xeni @ Boing Boing
Bill Gates: Free Culture advocates = Commies

In an interview on, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates described free culture advocates as a "modern-day sort of communists." Well now.

Q: "In recent years, there's been a lot of people clamoring to reform and restrict intellectual-property rights. It started out with just a few people, but now there are a bunch of advocates saying, 'We've got to look at patents, we've got to look at copyrights.' What's driving this, and do you think intellectual-property laws need to be reformed?

A: "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.

Lessig Blog
what a total (intellectual) disappointment this man is

If I had the time, and the money, I'd do the deep analysis that it would take to explain to myself why it is I constantly hope to be surprised by Mr. Gates. Yet I never am.

It's one thing to read this sort of thing from a studio exec, or head of a record label -- surrounded as they are by the sort that surround them. But the people I've met at Microsoft are miles beyond this sort of silliness. Does Mr. Gates not even talk to them?

More Gates "Creative Commies" propaganda on Boing Boing.

I'd be interested to know why Larry expected to be positively surprised by Mr. Gates.

UPDATE: Good response to Bill Gates from Glenn Otis Brown of Creative Commons.


This might be off-topic, but I will never forget the 3 months I spent in China in 2001, in Hangzhou and in Beijing, thinking to myself the whole time... "These people are such capitalists".. and I think of Bill Gates and think "This guy is such a dick" (to paraphrase Jon Stewart).

Oh well, they can´t control nature can they: No bad pun intended, but this is all so temporary and silly...

"...why Larry expected to be positively surprised by Mr. Gates"
Hope springs eternal in the human breast...

I'm not as concerned by the communist crack - everything come down to money in Bill's world. The part that kills me is that the man either has no clue what "blogging" is or he honestly believes that he's flakey and can't commit to 10 minutes once every six weeks...

I'd have loved to have seen a Bill's Blog Entry the day after that Developers! Developers! video with Ballmer was remixed and released to the internet...

I get a mental image of a 14 year old's livejournal... "OMFG! Steve's being such a total DORK! ROFL!"

Bill Gates is correct. In a free society based on the rule of law an individual is free to produce and create goods and ideas that are of value to others. If he chooses not to receive econonomic value in return for providing this value then that becomes a free choice to make a gift of that value to others. The pleasure derived from providing that gift to others could be of considerable value to that person and so he is actually still getting what he want in return for providing that value. However, if the other person or group of people, or society, take the value provided by the individual without payment without that person's consent then that is theft. If the other person or group of people or society insist that the individual should provided their value to them without payment againt that person's will then that is co-ercion. This is the immorality of communism. Some people think that communism failed because of man's inate immorality and that is wrong. The actual system is immoral because it asks the individual to produce without commensurate value being provided in return. There is a word for that and it is called Slavery. Now people may choose to enter into a co-operative grouping where they can share there values and that is perfectly fine if the individuals choose to enter into such agreement in the beleif that by combining their powers they will all be able to enjoy a greater degree of happiness or acheive greater creative expression as a as individuals in this group than they could feel or express on their own. However, that is still the choice of the individual. Any attempt to force the individual to provide their ideas or value into such an "open source" arrangement against their will is immoral. Ultimately the foundation of this moral system is the individual's right to private property to trade or share with others or give to others as they choose. The only things the upholds this moral foundation are the morality of others who share this value system and a government that protects the individual's right to private property. As this foundation is eroded then we start moving in the direction of a society not based on individual production, private property and morality but one based on the rule of the mob, looting and slavery. You may not like him but Bill Gates is correct.

I'm not sure what the point about China proves. China may be a very capitalist place at the street level (I've been there too and I agree with you that it is), but it is not regarded as one of the great innovation centers of the world. The type of capitalism they have (centered for the most part on almost commodity products, with growth driven by foreign capital and technology transfer) probably doesn't rely as heavily on providing monopoly rents at home as an incentive to innovate.

I agree... why is there surprise at not being surprised by Mr. Gates? He's been known, since the 1970s, for being a stickler against piracy and for intellectual property. His business values, right or wrong, have helped him build his empire. I'm not saying that he was right, I'm just saying that whatever he did, it worked for him beautifully.

The simple fact is that ideas are not property, and the Microsoft empire is built on selling millions of not-so-unique ideas for massive amounts of money.

China is a very relevant to this discussion because they are investing billions of dollars in manufacturing. The US has abandoned the manufacturing of real goods & property in favor of pop music, movies and software.

When you consider that there are only a couple of hundred superfreighters shipping essential products needed for everyday life across the Pacific, you will start to realize just how fragile our current economic model is.

I am an economist (ie formally trained), and well aware of our present economic circumstances. The distinction you attempt to draw ('real' vs. not real goods) is a silly one. It is one of those bad popular economic notions that simply will not die. Let's in some sense push your logic even further: do you realize what thin ice we have skated onto by moving away from a self-sufficient agrarian society? "When you consider there are only a couple hundred chicken farms providing essential meat for McNuggets..."
But seriously: ideas are not property in an enduring sense, but the fact is that many ideas that have been critical to delivering the lifestyles we currently enjoy involved considerable effort and cost to develop. Where is the incentive to do that in the absence of some degree of monopoly power over the idea?
The point about China is that I'm not sure that capitalism (and more importantly market driven growth) in its current incarnation there requires extensive protection of ideas. But what is true of China now will not always hold, and does not hold even now for the US.
The issue here is not whether ideas are property, but how far property rights over them should extend. At some point overly extensive protection actually hinders innovation, but no protection leaves no incentive to innovate. So the real questions, it would seem to me, are which ideas should we protect as if they were property, and how much should we protect them? The answer is really not obvious to me.

I should have added one other thing in the context of my last point: property is what whatever the government decides it is. It may be that certain aspects of ideas make it impossible to make them completely exclusive, but that does not mean there is no scope to do so at all.

I am not arguing for or against Bill Gates' ideas and practices, but I think that questioning his intellect is a foolhardy thing to do. The rashness of such a thing contaminates the seriousness of any principle one may have wanted to counter Gates with.

The surprise on Larry's part is explained in the sentences following his statement. I worked on a summer internship at Microsoft (and will soon start a new job with them), and he's right. There are some developers at MS I've met don't really share the same view Bill Gates does on these things (though there are a ton who do). I guess Larry would figure that the man at the top would listen to and take into account his employee's opinions on these things, but of course, as Mike B pointed out, Bill G has built his empire on copyrights, so why should he fix what isn't broken?

Err.. I meant Lessig, not Larry.

need.. cooffeee....

To say ideas are not property is immoral and evil. The plenty and abundance in the world today is directly attributed to the application of ideas and knowledge of key people who have ploughed the fertile soil of their imagination and knowledge to create new ways of living for us all. Someone who lovingly takes care of the land deserves to reap a harvest and so do those that plough the land of the imagination. Property is just the abstact quality that government provides these individuals to ensure that this harvest will not be stolen from them after all their hard work. And, the monopoly of patent and copyright protection is not perpetual and only provides a certain duration of time in which the intellectual property owner can collect rents in reward for their effort. In contrast, society can benefit for ever from the benefits of this knowledge and those who have stood on the shoulders of this knowledge to create new knowledge and ideas. If you want to live in a abundant world, based on respect for life and advancing civilisation then you provide rewards for those that create and that means providing the benefit of property protection to ideas. Stop cloaking your arguments in the garb of morality you free culture people. Your argument is immoral, evil and is based on the values of the theif and the parasite.

One of my favorite quotes:

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.

That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. (Thomas Jefferson)

...even though you CAN'T patent just ideas...

YES. Our founding forefathers surely intended for individuals to benefit from their creativity. But not forever. Nor even by their offspring. That's why patents and copyrights expire, at which point benefits the society. But these days, most IP is owned by corporate entities which is why we rarely see much winding up in the public domain. (see Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extention Act of 1998...)

I've always struggled with this question: at which point in a conversation do you just tell yourself "oh damn they just don't get it and I'm tired of trying to explain." ...

Sorry to be a stick in the mud, but this issue will not get resolved in the comments of a weblog. Sure, in this medium the "you either get it or you don't" mentality breeds an "echo chamber"... too bad... or, so much the better! Those who are "in" are fortified to go out in the real world and make a difference. Unlike the cynical masses who rather just be keyboard warriors. Nay-sayers never actually DO anything.

That said: what is IN your head is YOURS. The second you express it, it is communciated, thus SHARED. It is the pinnacle of arrogance to think otherwise. If you share with integrity, in an environment respectful of sharing, you WILL be rewarded. This is how it has always been. And if you don't "get yours", then it is no one else's fault but yours.

This all runs so deep, on so many levels, it boggles.

There ARE solutions that work within our current economic models. Creators CAN be protected. Just goddamn keep the greed in check.

/end rant ;)

Bill with greatest respect, you have asked for this...

!!!Iron Gates!!!

"I've always struggled with this question: at which point in a conversation do you just tell yourself "oh damn they just don't get it and I'm tired of trying to explain." ..."

Those who are "in" are fortified to go out in the real world and make a difference?

Wow. Why are you wasting your time on a small issue like this when you could go out there and form your own Khmer Rouge or Sendero Luminoso and bring us all back to your private year zero? B/c, after all, you *understand.*

"It is the pinnacle of arrogance to think otherwise. If you share with integrity, in an environment respectful of sharing, you WILL be rewarded" Give me a break.
Michael hits the realistic note here: the real question is what is reasonable from society's standpoint.

- "If you share with integrity, in an environment respectful of sharing, you WILL be rewarded" Give me a break.
- Michael hits the realistic note here: the real question is what is reasonable from society's standpoint.

These two sentences, in my regard, are one and the same. Only mine is perhaps a touch optimistic, hoping that "society's standpoint" is one that is actually "just" and balanced (as opposed to weighed and gamed by corporate gains).

As for the rest of your comment. Pshaw. Life is full of creative and destructive forces.

I guess Gates would include as "sort of communists" the guys who would right something like this: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries". Key word: "limited".

hello ... im iranian ... are you too ? ... in iran very wesit's are filter ... but evry day peaple make a new way too breake the filter ... see you in my weblog ? ... see you ... bay

Well, you're wrong on every count. Nice try. I wish you had elaborated on your last sentence, because its clear you didn't get my point, but it's going to be hard to guide you home since it isn't exactly clear where you are.

I tried to follow the link with your name but it leads no where. What a shame. It would loved to have gotten a look at your world. Pity.

Final thought: look, there is no question that Gate's tone is silly and he brings a certain, ahem, conflict of interest to the table. That's a shame, because it appears that here and elsewhere it is provoking emotions that are hindering discussion of the real question. Which may have been his real objective. i don't think he fears the more extreme positions. He fears the more reasonable discussion about how far these property rights should extend. That could really start to cost a man like Mr. Gates serious money.

Fire does not diminish upon sharing and neither do ideas. The creator can enjoy his ideas to the same extent as society. Ergo there should be no property rights on ideas. We will all be rewarded in a sharing culture and so the creator should not fear that he loses ownership of his ideas once they are out of his head. The preceding argument summarises Joi and Boris's argument and they are both completely confused. Even though the creator can enjoy his own ideas once they have been shared, he can not enjoy the economic rewards for these ideas unless the public has paid for these ideas in money or provided something that the creator considers to be valuable. The property rights we are talking about here is not just those pertaining to enjoying ones property (living in ones house, driving ones car, eating the fruits of ones harvest) but the ability to sell or rent that property (sell/rent the house/car or fruitful harvest) If there are no property rights there is reward or currency to use for exchange or something that someone else has. The whole basis of trade on which prosperity is based is private property rights and if creators should be encouraged to develop their ideas for society then these ideas must become something that can be traded - hence the need for property values. Yes, this is abstract and the ideas are not truly physical property but as we move further into an information society this abstraction is crucial to ensure the prosperity upon which we all depend. One further note, who is greedy, the person works hard to develop ideas that can help society and receives billions of dollars by society for his efforts or the society that demands that that person should provide the benefits of his creativity to society for nothing. I say that in this case society is greedy and not the billionaire. We are not all equally blessed with genius, give the creator their due and everyone will be wealthier for it.

"Unlike the cynical masses who rather just be keyboard warriors. Nay-sayers never actually DO anything"

For the record, I am anything but a cynic. My values are life affirming both for myself and others. I dream of things that never were, ask why not and then go out and make those dreams happen.

Everything I do in my work life is in keeping with the values that I am writing here. I am involved in developing ideas that will help the world and I expect to be economically and spiritually rewarded for my work.

Lacking the fortitude or patience at the moment for a detailed statement on this issue, I simply give kudos to 'peter' and 'intellectualproperty' for expressing the fundamentally important reasons for IP.

As for the 'sort of communists' remark, IMHO it's just another way of saying 'those who would rather share than trade'. Lessig has clearly stated and proved that he's quite left of center on these issues, and Bill is clearly right of center. Those groups have been calling each other commies and fascists forever, even though they may be a bit over the top.

Bill Gates doesn't like things he (Microsoft) can't control and make big money of. Some time ago Steve Balmer (MS) called mp3-users thieves. That's because he wants them to use MS's format wma. He hates it that mp3 has become the most liked format. In America you're easily considered being a commie if you don't do what the ruling companies, and the politicians they are supporting, want you to do or think. Microsoft make dull products for dull people who don't think for them selves.

I believe that the intent of the movement to reform copyright and patent law is to maintain a free society -- one in which capitalism is possible. The irony of Bill Gates' remarks in the interview Joi Ito cites is that Microsoft's activities have stunted innovation through illegal monopoly.

Microsoft's impetus has been towards control of markets, which is a perfectly predictable outcome, given the mandate of its constitutive documents. Nevertheless, Microsoft has more in common with Soviet-style ministries than Bill the propagandist would have us believe.

And this is why we have legislatures and courts: because some values cannot be represented fairly by truck in money alone.

One of those values is that for capitalism and "the useful arts" to flourish there must be some limit on their ownership. The progenitors of ideas must be rewarded, but so too must the benefit of their labor be dispersed to society as a whole.

It is precisely the belief of those who argue against irrational patent law and excessively lengthy copyrights that these benefits are not devolving to society in a reasonable period of time.

And, of course, there is nothing in the legal instantiation of property that forbids gifting, and volunteerism. The GPL and Creative Commons licenses are quite supportable legally, at least as supportable under international copyright law as any other.

I would argue that we are all the richer for the efforts of voluntary organizations; indeed, a good deal of liberty and civil society can be attributed to those who have given freely of their time, property -- and ideas.

this is a completely unrelated comment, however it does go to conumers needs and or rights. I an currently with norton security. Nothing is working right and i can not contact anyone on their pay for service line who i can understsnd or who can understand me. i desparatly need to find a phone # or an email address for norton where a human voice with the simplest knowlege of this company can answer a customer service question or forward me to someone who can. I appologize for butting into serious format for discussion on an important topic but i am desparate. if anyone out there has this information please email it to THANK YOU! AGAIN, ALLOW ME TO APOLOGIZE FOR THE INTRUSION . YOUR HELP IS NEEDED, PLEASE RESPOND!

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