About a year ago, Bill Gates made an off-hand remark about open source/media friendly licenses like Creative Commons being "communist" in nature because they refused to take a maximalist approach to intellectual property rights. This lead to a lot of humorous retort, including the new cultistly-famous Creative Communist t-shirt occasionally seen at copyleft events. The irony, of course, is that Creative Commons is one of the most pro-market, pro-capitalist approaches to copyright out there. It maintains full rights in one's copyright (the only thing it changes are the default permissions you grant, not the scope of the rights you receive), works on an opt-in basis, and allows the copyright owner to adjust the license on a case-by-case basis in response to market feedback -- much like any other commodity.
However, we are seeing the influence of centralized governmental systems like communism on copyright and technoloogy policy. Not from CC though -- but rather from supposedly proto-capitalist companies like Microsoft, Sony, Phillips, and Hollywood's Big Content movie studios and record labels.
Example #1: The Broadcast Flag
The Broadcast Flag is an attempt by Hollywood (and now the RIAA as well) to "plan" the next generation of digital television (DTV) and radio (DAB) receivers to be sold in the U.S. economy. And when I say "plan", it is exactly in the style of a Soviet Five Year Plan. Under the flag regime, all DTV and DAB receivers sold in the U.S. must comply with mandated design limitations imposed by the FCC to prevent unauthorized copying. These design limitations are essentially written by the four or five major Hollywood studios and record labels. If your new device doesn't fit their "plan" for the future of TV or radio -- well, tough luck there Mr. Entrepreneur, you're product is now illegal and all that R&D is now down the tubes. No markets decide these restrictions. In fact, the FCC isn't required to consider market or consumer preferences at all in its rulings -- only the needs of Hollywood's self-appointed Planning Committee. To quote Andy Setos, the Godfather of the Broadcast Flag, a BF regime is a "well-mannered marketplace." So much for radical innovation and unplanned inputs.
Example #2: DVDs
This also isn't the first time this kind of cabal has happened. DVDs are another example. When the DVD was originally designed, a coalition entity called the DVD Copy Control Association was formed. It consisted of a number of Hollywood Studios and consumer electronics companies. Together, they agreed to a standard for the DVD, including how its intellectual property would be guarded and how its copy-prevention scheme would work. And they did this all in secret, behind closed doors and without any public or consumer input. In fact, even to this day, the details of how one complies with the DVD-CCA specification are supposedly "secret" even though tens of thousands of engineers and business people all over the world have seen the information.
So how is this a communist plot? Well, I'm using the term a little bit tongue-in-cheek, of course, but this is certainly a "planned" technology by a small consortium of super-powerful corporate players. And any company that tries to make a non-compliant DVD tool is quickly sued out of existance by one or more of the players. So, in effect, this "Assocation" controls all uses and innovation in the DVD market. You can see this by the fact that there has been no innovatoin in that market at all in terms of new features. Sure, DVDs have gotten cheaper and smaller. And they are integrated with other devices, such as computers or VCRs. But think about it -- are there any new options on the remote? Can you save anything from your DVD to your computer? Can you permanently "tag" any section of a DVD for future playback? Can you create DVD playlists? Can you label favorite scenes? Can you annotate? Can you create your own audio commentary track? Can you move your favorite low-rez clip to a mobile device or iPod?
Compare this to other concurrent and even later-developed consumer electronics markets: mobile devices, mp3 players, video game players. All those markets have seen an explosion in feature sets. And this has lead to an explosion in consumer purchasing. I mean, how often does someone you know get a new cell phone or mp3 player vs. get a new DVD player? That's because companies in the mobile and music spaces are allowed to innovate more freely and respond to market demand, whereas the "planned" economy of the DVD doesn't allow for that because of the DVD-CCA's stranglehold.
Now I'm not a big libertarian. I actually believe that a fair amount of government is necessary for a healthy, well-run society. But I'm pretty sick of the IP maximalists claiming the high ground when it comes to free markets vs. planned economies and communism. If they want to mandate and veto the pace of innovation in the tech market for the next 20 years, they should just come out and say that and own up to its criticisms. But to accuse others of being anti-market is cowardly and most importantly, wrong.