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"Information wants to be free". Discuss the arguments for and against this proposition (widely circulated on the internet and often attributed to Steward Brand, author of The Media Lab, 1987).

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Title:” Information wants to be free”. Discuss the arguments for and against this proposition (widely circulated on the internet and often attributed to Steward Brand, author of The Media Lab, 1987). To what extent do you consider that it expresses a meaningful and important idea?

Registration Number: 030165609

Module: Information Systems and the Information Society                

Date:   19/12/03

Module Coordinator: Dr. Mark Sanderson

Module Code: INF6400

1.    Abstract/ Summary

This essay aims to describe the different views concerning the trend “Information wants to be free.” There are different kinds of opinions concerning this matter. The supporters claim that the free access of information prevail certain human rights like liberty and democracy. But also it creates substantial problems concerning the protection of personal information and the formation of laws that will assure data protection. As a result the role of the state is fundamental; in order to create those restrictions that will assure that the citizens will be able to have access to their own information and at the same time to protect them from the illegal access of information. Free software from the other hand has to be free of charge because it is the mean which connects technology with humans. This essay concludes that it is very difficult to make a decision whether information should be free or not but the important is that if it is, then certain regulations should be created in order to preserve the privacy of restricted information.


        “Information wants to be free. Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy and recombine-too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive, because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away.

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        However, a major enemy that regulates the distribution and access of free software is the government. It constrains access on software programs by introducing laws that can not be restricted. Developers in that case, do not have the ability to deny these regulations.

        According to a recent research, computer industry is losing eleven billion dollars annually from free and pirated software. Software privacy is the result of certain attempts by software developers to “break” the security of software programs, in order to be distributed with no financial cost in the market. This action is illegal and can not be characterized as an effort by people to improve and create software that can be distributed legally on the Internet. Sander (2001)

        Governments though fail to prevent software piracy due to the low cost of the crime and the impossibility to prevent data copying. This is one reason, why the commercial opinion believes that free software means software piracy which obvious is different applications that result to different commercial purposes.

        Many consumers are biased with the concept of free software, because they believe that through them, private information can be revealed. For example consider the scenario that a user downloads a free software program from the Internet. Sometimes in order to do this the user must provide personal information for advertising and statistical purposes. The user’s web activity can be monitored (e.g. through cookies, or server side logs) from the webpage that the free software exists. With this process all the personal information of the consumer can be easily mined. As a result free software is depreciated, and that leads to the disappearance of free software on the net.

        But imagine Internet without free software. Over the half of the web sites would disappear. Many development tools (e.g.

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Brand, S (1987) “The media Lab: Inventing the future at MIT”. USA: Viking Penguin Inc. [Pages 202-223]

Castells, M (2001) “The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business and Society”. Oxford: University Press. [Pages: 168-176, 182-184, 247-270]

Contributors (1980):” Secrecy or the Right to know?” London: Library Association

Coult, G (2000). “Intellectual Property” Managing Information Vol.17 (9), 57-58

Drahos, P& Mayne, R (2002). “Global Intellectual Property Rights: Knowledge, Access and Development”. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Feigenbaun, J (2003) “Digital Rights Management”. New York: Springer.

Jones, S.G (1995). “Cybersociety 2.0: Revisiting computer-Mediated Communication and Community.”  London: Sage Publication Ltd. [Pages 1-26 69-84 89-98]

Kahin B & Nesson C. (1997). “Borders in Cyberspace. Information Policy and the Global Information Infrastructure. Cambridge, Mass: MIT [Pages: 129-156 164-177]

Martin, W.J (1995). “The global Information Society”. Hampshire: Aslib Gower

McGarry, K.J (1981). “The changing Context of Information: An Introductory Analysis” London: Clive Bingley Ltd.

Sander, T (2001). “Security and Privacy in Digital Right Management”. London: Springer [Pages: 40-41 159-162 213-225]

Slevin J (2000). “The Internet and Society. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Smith, J.H (1996):”Internet Law and Regulation “. London: FT Law&Tax.

Electronic Resources


Barlow, J.P. (1994) “The Economy of Ideas”, [Online] Wired 2.03

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.03/economy.ideas_pr.html [Accessed 10 Nov 2003]

Clark, R. (1997) “Privacy Impact Assessments” [Online]. Canberra: Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd.

http://www.anu.edu.au/people/Roger.Clarke/DV/PIA.html [Accessed 11 Nov 2003]

Ghosh, R.A. (1998) “Cooking Pot Markets: An Economic model for the trade in free goods and services on the Internet. [Online] First Monday.

[Accessed 10 Nov 2003]

http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue3_3/ghosh/index.html [Accessed 11 Nov 2003]

Kaser, R.T (2000)” If information wants to be free…then who is going to pay for it?”

[Online]. 6, [5]. http://www.dlib.org/dlib/may00/kaser/05kaser.html [Accessed 25 Nov 2003]

Ross, S. (2001) “Information wants to be Free” [Online], 2 (6)


[Accessed 30 Nov.2003]

Stallman R. (1992) “Why software should be free” [Online]. Boston: Free Software Foundation. http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/shouldbefree.html [Accessed 20 Nov 2003]

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