Copyright Communism?

In a 2005 interview, Bill Gates dismissed the free culture/open source movement as “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.”

Never mind Gates’ own hypocrisy on the subject. Never mind that he developed Microsoft’s BASIC compiler by a classic open source method: “The best way to prepare is to write programs, and to study great programs that other people have written. In my case, I went to the garbage cans at the Computer Science Center and I fished out listings of their operating systems.” Never mind that this enthusiastic dumpster diver had the nerve to write a letter to the Homebrew Computer Club Newsletter in 1976, whining that the widespread infringment of BASIC was taking food out of his mouth (“most of you steal your software”) — despite being a multi-million dollar trust fund baby from birth.

Never mind what Gates practiced. Many a fortune founded in robbery has been sanctified by time.

What matters, rather, is what he preaches: if you don’t believe a return on effort should be guaranteed by the state, you’re a communist.

But as the American individualist anarchist Benjamin Tucker observed more than a century ago, removing privilege and monopoly means that free market competition will cause the benefits of innovation to be “socialized.”

The normal process, in a free market without entry barriers, is for an innovator to derive short-term economic rents from being the first on the market, and for those rents then to decline to nothing as competitors adopt the innovation and drive price down to production cost.

So anyone who believes in genuinely free markets is a “communist.”

As many critics of “intellectual property” have pointed out, the term is inherently self-contradictory. “Intellectual property” is fundamentally at war with the principles of genuine private property. “Intellectual property” can only exist by infringing the rights of genuine, tangible property. Copyrights and patents give the holder a de facto ownership right in other people’s physical property, and prevents prohibits them from using their own property in ways that the copyright or patent holder has been granted a monopoly on.

And the reason for this, if you examine the assumptions behind IP law, is that the “artist” or “innovator” has a right to state-guaranteed returns on his investment or effort.

So if we’re Copyright Communists, then Bill Gates and his good buddies at the RIAA and MPAA are Copyright Nazis.

Fascism is a system in which government guarantees a profit to favored business interests by protecting them — at gunpoint — from market competition.

The Copyright Nazis believe the creator’s right to a profit trumps the right of people to enter the market freely and use their own property as they see fit.

We Copyright Communists believe everyone has the right to do what he wants with his own property, and that nobody is entitled to a profit from the state.

Copyright Nazism, on the other hand, is “socialism” of the perverse kind described by Noam Chomsky: socialized cost and privatized profit. The real and genuine property of the many — their property in the fruits of their own labor, and their right to do with it as they will — is “socialized” for the benefit of the privileged. Bill Gates’ watchword, in short is Adam Smith’s “vile maxim of the masters of mankind,” frequently quoted by Chomsky: “all for ourselves .. and nothing for other people.”

Another Adam Smith quote that’s relevant to the Copyright Nazis: “‘People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

I declare myself the enemy of Gates, the MPAA and RIAA, and a friend of Adam Smith.

If this be communism, then make the most of it.

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory