Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,66209,00.html
02:00 AM Jan. 08, 2005 PT
When Bill Gates referred to copyright reformers as modern-day communists in an interview at the Consumer Electronics Show, it didn't take long for the web community to respond with a big "nyah-nyah-nyah."
Bloggers and designers were quick to dream up "creative communist" symbols, a play on one of the best-known groups working for copyright reform, Creative Commons
The images were instantly passed around and added to websites, T-shirts and buttons.
The kerfuffle started when Gates was asked in a News.com interview if intellectual property laws should be reformed. He replied:
"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," he told News.com.
The comments show just how out-of-touch Gates is with a large and growing community of people who have embraced the ideas of open source and building on one another's creative works, proponents of copyright reform say.
Creative Commons was formed to provide a more balanced alternative to those who want to protect their works, but share them under certain conditions. The group devised a series of flexible copyright licenses available for anyone, for free.
When people snap photos, write music or create animations, for instance, they can choose a license that permits others to use or sample the content as long as they credit the author and use the material for noncommercial purposes.
Glenn Otis Brown, executive director of Creative Commons, wondered whom Gates was referring to when he made the remarks. Certainly not Creative Commons, which is a "voluntary, market-based approach to copyright," Brown wrote in an e-mail.
"I get sad when people cheapen words like 'communist' or 'fascist' by throwing them around recklessly, especially given what those words meant in the not-so-distant past," Brown wrote. "My father was a CIA Cold Warrior for 35 years of his life; he wasn't fighting against GPL'd software. Stalinist purges, the Berlin Wall, tanks in Budapest -- that's communism.
"And let's not forget just how many creative people's lives were ruined by irresponsible name-calling not too long ago. Remember the Hollywood blacklists?" he wrote.
Lawrence Lessig, Stanford University law professor and chairman of the board of Creative Commons, mocked Gates' comments at the organization's second anniversary party Thursday night in San Francisco. He said Gates was mistaken: Copyright reform advocates are "commonists," not "communists."
Ken Mickles, owner of Giant Robot Printing, decided to print T-shirts with the red Creative Commies logo. After Boing Boing posted the link, Mickles received about 250 orders in less than a day, he said. The T-shirts sell for $5 or $6 depending on size.
Graphic designer Ryan Schroeder also arranged to print similar shirts through CafePress.com.
"I can't say I was terribly surprised by (Gates') comments. That's the kind of thing you would expect," Mickles said. "I don't really take offense to being called a communist."