Myth #48: Information wants to be free.
Mark Perry

Myth: The innate nature of information is to self-disseminate. It should be without cost and it should be accessible. Reputable scholars seek open access, and those criticizing intellectual property and supporting free information even take this assumption as excuses for hacking.


Busted: Of course, information itself doesn’t want to do anything, it is all driven by the will of people. Since the time individuals have understood that they hold information, they have known of its use and may have given it to others as a valuable asset. (#9) Although legal systems have been loath to propertize raw data as this would lead to restraints on normal daily living, the openness provided for information sharing has been eroded over the centuries by concepts of privacy, database protection (Europe), data protection, and various other mechanisms, such as confidential information laws, that restrict sharing. Some data, e.g. that supplied by drug companies for the purposes of regulatory examination of a new product, is also protected. (#40) On the other hand, and this perhaps is one of the roots of one form of the ‘information wants to be free’ meme, is the reduction in the cost of sharing information and giving widespread accessibility through the Internet. What would have taken years of work and large sums of money to disseminate can now be made available to half the world at the click of a mouse.

The idea that information could be shared without detriment to the sharer of information has come up in a number of earlier computer law cases, mostly denying the ability of prosecutions to claim ‘theft’ of information (as no deprivation), or the failure of copyright over assemblages of data. These have led to changes in the law ranging from database protection in the European Union to the widespread adoption of anti-hacking laws. The latter have typically criminalized the entry into systems for the purposes of accessing information, changing it or deleting it. The trend has been to allow those with access to data to collect information about everything, and then sell the material to those interested. Often such sales are restricted by contract to prevent the ‘sharing’ of the data, although the data itself may not be protected by any intellectual property laws.


Truth: Useful data is rarely free, neither in the sense of cost nor legal access. Information is being gathered, collated and analyzed at an unprecedented rate. Most of this data diving activity is by governments and corporations who wish to gain advantage or influence over the behaviour of the individuals whose information has been collected. It might rather be the people who want to be free, like Cory Doctorow put it.


Source: Graham Greenleaf, An Endnote on Regulating Cyberspace: Architecture vs Law? 52 (1998) 21 (2) UNSW Law Journal, 593,;query=%22information%20wants%20to%20be%20free%22; Steven Levy, “Hackers” and “Information wants to be Free”, Medium (2014),