Bill Gates Calls Out China On Software Piracy In Business - InformationWeek

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Commentary
9/24/2009
10:14 AM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
Commentary
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Bill Gates Calls Out China On Software Piracy In Business

In a Q&A session at Carnegie Mellon University this week, Bill Gates said two of the five most-profitable businesses in China don't pay for the software they use. And he said those are only two examples of a massive trend in that country.

In a Q&A session at Carnegie Mellon University this week, Bill Gates said two of the five most-profitable businesses in China don't pay for the software they use. And he said those are only two examples of a massive trend in that country.Speaking at the dedication of CMU's new Gates Center for Computer Science, Gates delivered a brief keynote address before taking questions from students in the audience. One of the questions came from a student who introduced himself as Joe, from China, studying in CMU's Tepper School of Business, and Joe asked Gates for his views on copyright laws and policy with regard to software.

Gates began his response by noting that the question of how intellectual property should be priced "is a very big issue and will be for a long time." He then connected that theme to one of his other current passions-healthcare in developing countries-and got a big laugh plus applause from the 1,200 people in the standing-room-only auditorium when he said, "I'm sure when people get my vaccines, they don't know to say, 'Ooh, thank God somebody paid for software."

Bringing China into the discussion, Gates said his experience has shown that almost without exception, software piracy in any country goes down as that country's affluence goes up, "especially in business"-but the exception, he said, is China. And then he laid out a very specific accusation about Chinese corporate software-copying:

"What's unique to China is you have large businesses using software without paying for it. SUPER-profitable big businesses [he chuckles]. Take two of the five most-profitable businesses in China: they don't pay for their software.

"So that's a case where the Chinese have done something quite unique [he chuckles again; huge laughter and applause from audience]. But, I'm not complaining about it-I'm, you know, a big fan of China [big smile from Gates; big laugh from the audience], and a lot of great things are going on there [another big smile, and more audience laughter and applause], but, y'know, we've all got things to work on."

Anybody who thinks that one of the most competitive and driven people God ever put on this Earth would mellow out because he now spends his time running the world's biggest philanthropy instead of one of the world's biggest software companies should read those few sentences again.

Because Bill Gates ties, very directly and specifically, his current charitable work in improving the health and education of poor people around the world to the wealth he was able to accumulate at Microsoft. And then he quite visibly skewers the Chinese business culture that would have undercut his ability to create a wildly successful software company, from which Gates was able to amass a vast fortune most of which he's now pouring into his philanthropic work.

So while he was smiling outwardly as he triggered repeated laughter from the audience by saying "…the Chinese have done something quite unique . . . I'm, y'know, a big fan of China . . . a lot of great things are going on there," it was abundantly clear that he certainly did not find the subject amusing, or something to be "a big fan of," or "a great thing[s]."

Watch it for yourself on this YouTube video; the comments quoted above about China come in at about 28:38.

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