Anivar Aravind on Wed, 16 Feb 2005 13:58:25 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> "Bill Gates and other communists" article by RMS

This is a Followup of  CNET interview with Bill Gates

Bill Gates and other communists
February 15, 2005, 3:55 AM PT
By Richard Stallman

When CNET asked Bill Gates about software patents, he shifted
the subject to "intellectual property," blurring the issue with
various other laws.

Then he said anyone who won't give blanket support to all these laws
is a communist. Since I'm not a communist but I have criticized
software patents, I got to thinking this might be aimed at me.

When someone uses the term "intellectual property," typically he's
either confused himself, or trying to confuse you. The term is used to
lump together copyright law, patent law and various other laws, whose
requirements and effects are entirely different. Why is Mr. Gates
lumping these issues together? Let's study the differences he has
chosen to obscure.

Software developers are not up in arms against copyright law, because
the developer of a program holds the copyright on the program; as long
as the programmers wrote the code themselves, no one else has a
copyright on their code. There is no danger that strangers could have
a valid case of copyright infringement against them.

Thanks to Mr. Gates, we now know that an open Internet with protocols
anyone can implement is communism.
Patents are a different story. Software patents don't cover programs
or code; they cover ideas (methods, techniques, features, algorithms,
etc.). Developing a large program entails combining thousands of
ideas, and even if a few of them are new, the rest needs must have
come from other software the developer has seen. If each of these
ideas could be patented by someone, every large program would likely
infringe hundreds of patents. Developing a large program means laying
oneself open to hundreds of potential lawsuits. Software patents are
menaces to software developers, and to the users, who can also be

A few fortunate software developers avoid most of the danger. These
are the megacorporations, which typically have thousands of patents
each, and cross-license with each other. This gives them an advantage
over smaller rivals not in a position to do likewise. That's why it is
generally the megacorporations that lobby for software patents.

Today's Microsoft is a megacorporation with thousands of patents.
Microsoft said in court that the main competition for MS Windows is
"Linux," meaning the free software GNU/Linux operating system. Leaked
internal documents say that Microsoft aims to use software patents to
stop the development of GNU/Linux.

When Mr. Gates started hyping his solution to the problem of spam, I
suspected this was a plan to use patents to grab control of the Net.
Sure enough, in 2004 Microsoft asked the IETF (Internet Engineering
Task Force) to approve a mail protocol that Microsoft was trying to
patent. The license policy for the protocol was designed to forbid
free software entirely. No program supporting this mail protocol could
be released as free software--not under the GNU GPL (General Public
License), or the MPL (Mozilla Public License), or the Apache license,
or either of the BSD licenses, or any other.

The IETF rejected Microsoft's protocol, but Microsoft said it would
try to convince major ISPs to use it anyway. Thanks to Mr. Gates, we
now know that an open Internet with protocols anyone can implement is
communism; it was set up by that famous communist agent, the U.S.
Department of Defense.

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