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03/27/2004 Archived Entry: "Microsoft vs. EU"
I'm sure you've heard by now that the European Union has fined Microsoft half a billion euros, and required MS to sell Windows without a bundled Media Player. Heck, even the US government declared MS a monopoly, though their remedies were something like "Bad monopoly. Play nice."
Libertarians are, predictably, up in arms about the harsh treatment of poor little Microsoft. And while I agree with the libertarian position against anti-trust law, they miss the point: as long as we have government-enforced monopoly protection, the only remedy is government monopoly regulation.
This is a scam the State has been playing for decades (centuries?) -- create a problem, and then offer their services as a solution to the problem. The real solution, of course, is to attack the underlying State-created problem, not to buy their Band-Aids.
I'm speaking, of course, of patent and copyright protection.
Despite attempts to come up with a libertarian underpinning for patents and copyrights, the plain fact (to my eyes, at least) is that these are government granted monopolies. If you are the first person to "patent" the telephone, you enjoy a monopoly, even if others have independently invented it. (And we've seen independent invention, over and over again.)
Then, having created a monopoly through pure State fiat, your "representatives" Look With Alarm at the evil monopolistic corporation, and tell you that you need protection from it...protection that they'll happily provide, for a price.
We've seen this countless times: the State passes Law A. Then, to rectify the problems of Law A, they pass Law B. (Somehow repealing Law A never seems to enter their minds.) The problem is that Law A and Law B never exactly balance, so we get Amendments A and B and Laws C and D and before long an all-encompassing gridlock of laws. Like an incompetent barber trying to even sideburns, they trim one freedom, then the other freedom, until before long you have no freedoms left.
In this case the fundamental problem -- and the fundamental injustice -- is that underlying state-sanctioned monopoly. And as long as libertarians refuse to confront that problem, there will be injustice and abuse.
Libertarians, take note: Microsoft is not libertarian. They will use whatever State power they can to destroy their competitors. You don't like the EU overriding US court decisions? Right now Microsoft is asking European courts to override US court decisions. Is this who you would champion?
Open-source advocates are already anticipating a patent war, and this is a war MS can win not by the merits of their cause, but by sheer attrition. MS wants to tell me -- and thousands of programmers like me -- that I'm not free to use my mind; not free to independently invent ideas; and not free to independently turn those ideas into computer programs. You call this libertarian?
Here, then, is my modest libertarian proposal: let's make Microsoft a libertarian test case. Let's exempt them from all antitrust laws and regulations...provided we also deny them all patent, copyright, and trademark protection.
But, you gasp, bootleg Windows and Office CDs would abound. How would MS make money? Well, users would still have to pay Microsoft for what they laughably call customer support. And presumably only registered users would receive the often-and-desperately-needed security patches. So there's still a revenue stream there, and perhaps the quality of those services would actually improve. (Arguably there's an incentive for MS to publish buggy software and charge for the patches, but they're doing enough of this without incentive anyway.)
Think it won't work? Red Hat just had a record quarter.
Try this solution, and I'll shut up about Microsoft's abuses. But that's an empty promise: this proposal will never be tried. It will never even be considered...not even by most libertarians.
So while we're waiting for the never-to-happen, what can you, the non-programmer, do?
Consumers, take note: Microsoft does not care about you, your data, your security, or your privacy; they want to ease you into a trap where you tithe regularly for the privilege of using your computer.
It's you, not the government, who will pay exorbitant prices for substandard software. (The government will just tax you to pay for the software they use...when MS isn't giving it to them for free.) It's you, and only you, that can get yourself out of this trap. It's individual action, and only individual action, that will solve the "problem" of Microsoft and end their monopoly.
Consumer action works...better than voting. Companies listen to individual consumers, consumer activists, and mass campaigns, and only these make a lasting change. (Companies listen to legislation only long enough to figure a way around it. Intelligent consumers aren't so easy to circumvent.) Companies that don't listen often fail.
This is why Microsoft spends billions on its image; but the PR campaign is beginning to crumble as individuals and companies realize that all the largesse of the Gates Foundation will not protect their crucial data from a virus attack. Or from abusive "product activation" software.
So check out David Cartwright's Microsoft strategies for lovers of freedom and justice. Stay informed about your options. And your options aren't just Linux, Unix, or Mac. If you can't leave Windows, you can make a powerful statement -- and protect your data -- by refusing to upgrade. Stay with an older computer and a copy of Windows 98SE. Write MS and your computer vendors and tell them why you don't like the invasive terms of the MS End User License Agreement, and why you won't upgrade.
But that's a topic for another blog.