CNet's interview with Bill Gates has any number of howlers, but a couple of them stand out.
He claims, for example, that Internet Explorer is the best browser. Insulting people's intelligence is par for the course for Gates, but this one is beyond laughable.
More serious, and ugly, is Gates' attack on people who want to restore a modicum of balance to today's grossly tilted system of intellectual property. He snidely dismisses "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."
The purity of this lie is remarkable. Even the most ardent of the free-software folks are not trying to remove the incentive to be creative. They believe in a different kind of incentive, just not the mercenary one that motivates Bill Gates.
The larger truth -- a principle for which Gates so frequently demonstrates such contempt -- is that the vast, vast majority of people who find fault with today's system still want to reward creators for their work, financially and otherwise. But we also want a system that balances the rights of creators with the rights and needs of the larger society.
Gates and his allies in the entertainment cartel want absolute control. For them, fair use and other societal benefits are what the intellectual property holders deem them to be. (And when it comes to patents, Gates and his company are becoming some of the worst bullies on the block, abusing a system that increasingly has little to do with actual innovation.)
Tonight I'm going to a party celebrating the second anniversary of Creative Commons, an organization that uses "private rights to create public goods: creative works set free for certain uses." That such an organization is needed so badly is testament to the outrageous imbalance in today's copyright regime.
Gates' defenders will claim that he was referring to a tiny group of people in his attack. But he's too smart, too media-savvy, not to have known what a broad brush he was wielding. His latest propaganda is shameful, but not a surprise.
A commenter named Leo (see below) was puzzled about my comment that there are incentives to create other than mercenary motives. I responded:
There are many other incentives than financial ones. People volunteer their services all the time, not looking for payment (ever heard of the barn-raising or a volunteer fire department in a small town, for example?). People create art all the time without regard to payment. What's the business model for community theater? There isn't one in the standard sense. The purpose is to enrich a community's cultural life, and to give amateur actors a way to go on stage and fulfill something in their own lives.
The open-source software folks are similarly committed to producing something valuable without direct payment to themselves. Some are making a living off it by providing ancillary services. Others do it because they believe in the principle.
Grassroots journalism will rely in some ways on this concept. If the copyright cartel controls the distribution and the tools of creation -- has veto power over technology we need to make this happen -- then tomorrow's journalism will be partly stifled before it gets off the ground.
To follow the logic of people like Bill Gates, we should ban voluntarism because, after all, there are companies that would sell us the services. It's an absurd notion.
What's more, Bill Gates knows that markets fail. That why he's putting so much money into his philanthropy to help improve public health, especially in the developing world where markets have not worked. I greatly admire his commitment in that area.