DD is Dead! Long Live DB
So on we go with the first installment of a column called "DB", which stands for "Dear Bill". I leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out the rest.
You recently had an interview that existed partially to correct your strange statements from a previous interview. In case you've forgotten, here's a refresher
Gizmodo: When you talked to CNet (I believe that was yesterday), you sort of ticked off some of the blog world with some of the comments… a specific comment that was made, about some of the IP advocates—people that are advocating more… not necessarily open source, but Creative Commons and things like that. A less restrictive IP environment. You made an analogy and called them “communist.”
Do you feel that’s necessarily a fair judgment to make, to call those people ‘communists,’ as opposed to someone who adopts DRM as maybe… a ‘capitalist?’ (I don’t know what you’re thinking the opposite would be).
Gates: No, no, no. I didn’t say those people were ‘communists.’ I did say that they’re… The question is: what incentive systems should exist in the world? Call ‘communism’ a system where [in] the extreme case you believe that the idea of the individual getting lots of wealth in return for the things they do… that that’s wrong. If you have no incentive for individual excellence and it’s just sort of, you know, banned. All the way up to an extreme that nobody would believe in, that there’s no redistribution of wealth and that’s there’s no expiration of rights and control. So you have this huge spectrum.
Well, Bill, you're right about one thing: that is, indeed, the question. You didn't answer it, so Greg London answered it for you. (Since that page is very long, I'll sum it up even though it's worth reading: the incentive systems that should exist are the ones that are most efficient, obtaining e.g. "the promotion of science and the useful arts" at the least expense to society.)
You are, however, wrong about another thing, and it happens to be something I know a little bit about.
Gates: Well, ignore DRM for a second. Should an artist that creates a great song be paid for that song? That’s where you have to start. You don’t start with DRM. DRM is just like a speed bump that reminds you whether you’re staying within the scope of rights that you have or you don’t. So you don’t start with DRM. That’s like saying, ‘Do you believe in speed bumps?’ You have to say, ‘Should people drive at 80mph in parking lots?’ If you think they should, then of course you don’t like speed bumps.
It is clear, here and elsewhere in your interviews, that you don't go very deep into questions, or analogies, to figure out whether they are meaningful.* Suppose someone decides actually to ponder this question: should an artist that creates a great song be paid for that song?
As an artist who has created several good songs and half of a great one, I immediately think "yes". Then I think
Will the aforementioned artist be paid?
That, alas, depends on a great number of things, the most important of which is the collective economic decision-making power of the free market, which I assume you've heard of.
As for your speedbumps metaphor, I don't mind issuing you a gentle correction.
-Speedbumps are minor inconveniences, placed on roads, that reduce the chance of a driver hurting people
The differences between this set of relations and DRM are numerous
-Making copies of digital works & ideas does not hurt anyone. So it is more like a technology that prevents people from driving, say, east than from driving too fast.
-DRM does not slow down the making of copies -- it stops it outright. So it is more like a wall than a bump
-DRM technology is placed in the computer -- i.e. in the car. So it is more like having every car come with an RIAA executive who is in charge of operating the radio. You can, I guess, still control the power button, but when you turn it on she gets to pick the station.
I'm sure you would like people not to think too much about DRM, because it changes, fundamentally, the act of operating a computer. It becomes a collaborative effort. Now, if I use Windows I have outsourced -- voluntarily -- a lot of low-level OS functions because I don't want to worry about them. The trade-off is that I don't control every aspect of my computer's behavior. As it turns out, I use Linux, so the level of control I have over my machine depends solely on my willingness to learn about it.
You and the other DRM advocates propose that we change that. You would like there to be a component of my computer, required by law, that I do not control. Why? Because an artist should be paid for writing a great song. DRM opponents reply that, indeed, they should -- but this is too high a price to pay.
PS: Artists for File Sharing believes that artists should and can be paid for their work without surrendering control over their computers or the Internet to the established content-providing institutions.
*I have a theory that Windows users tend toward a mild form of ADD, because their reading/writing/surfing activities are so frequently interrupted by crashes, annoyware, etc. Just a theory. (Also, just a joke ... but it's one of those jokes that makes you think)