Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What does "information wants to be free" mean?

Nerds like to say "information wants to be free" as if it is a useful argument.  It long puzzled me.  It was actually a random Slashdot poster who made it clear to me: "information wants to be free in the same way that water wants to run down hill".  Now that makes sense.

It is relevant to the notion of copyright on the internet because it perfectly describes the situation we have.  Look at the word "copyright" itself--Copy and Right.  The right to copy.  Copyright is an attempt to give only certain people the rights to make copies of something.  The internet is the ultimate enabler of making free, pefect, copies.  It is natural that there should be a conflict.

I think even the biggest technophobes understand here in 2012 that once a piece of information makes it onto the internet, there is no retracting it.

It is, in fact, impossible without massive constraints.  

For example, we (try) to control water with damns, levees, dikes, carefully prepared ponds and pools and tanks.  It takes a great deal of effort to control water, and if we fail, we don't blame the water.

It is entirely possible to control information on the internet in the same way--except that information multiplies.  Copies are made of copies are made of copies--all perfect--and numbering in the millions in no time if it's popular.

This is the new reality.  Information wanted to be free before the internet, but its capacity to do so was severely limited by the technologies of the time.  But those constraints no longer apply.  Forever.  It's over.

It is necessary to refine the ideas of copyright to meet this new reality.  Reality brooks no reasons or excuses, it just is.  You can either accept it or get run over like so much opossum on the side of the road.

And nobody is going to let you build a dam.  Not for long.

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