Bill Gates, TV pirate

by Mathew on June 22, 2006

Sometimes it pays to read all the way to the end of an interview. In a recent chat (subscription required) between Microsoft co-founder, chairman and gazillionaire William Henry Gates III and the Wall Street Journal’s tech guy Walt Mossberg, the discussion turned to the phenomenon of “social networking” and sites like video-sharing service YouTube.com.

At this point, Mr. Bill admitted that he had watched several programs — including excerpts from shows about the legendary basketball team The Harlem Globetrotters and some physics lectures (he is a geek, after all). Here’s an excerpt from ComputerWorld magazine’s website:

WSJ: “You watch physics lectures and Harlem Globetrotters [on YouTube]?”

Gates: “This social-networking thing takes you to crazy places.”

WSJ: “But those were stolen, correct?”

Gates: “Stolen’s a strong word. It’s copyrighted content that the owner wasn’t paid for. So yes.”

As a commenter on the ComputerWorld blog notes (sometimes it pays to read to the end of the comments on blogs as well), copyright infringement isn’t technically theft — at least, not as far as the U.S. courts are concerned. Still, that doesn’t make it right.

But then, Mr. Gates has what you might call a “nuanced” approach to piracy, even when it involves Microsoft products. In 1998, he told CNET News that he knew large-scale bootlegging of products was occurring in China, but didn’t seem overly concerned.

As he put it: “About 3 million computers get sold every year in China, but people don’t pay for the software. Someday they will, though. As long as they are going to steal it, we want them to steal ours. They’ll get sort of addicted, and then we’ll somehow figure out how to collect sometime in the next decade.”

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