Stewart Brand: “Information Wants to be Free. It Also Wants to be Expensive.”

Anyone who does anything with information these days should know this entire quote. Many people know the famous short version: “Information wants to be free.” but the rest of the quote makes those first five words sound naive and utopian. The rest of the quote is what industries from the obvious – media and publishing – to the not so obvious – almost everything else – are struggling with in equal measure these days.

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. It leads to endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, ‘intellectual property’, the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better.

Stewart Brand first said it in 1984 at the first Hackers’ Conference. It was first printed in the May 1985 Whole Earth Review, and again in 1987 in his book, “The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT.”