The notion that "information wants to be free" is a rather interesting case study of anthropomorphism gone horribly awry. Information doesn't want anything. Truth, the facts, raw data, none of them want anything. They're just sentences, numbers, claims, opinions, ideas. Unless you're willing to extend the definition of a meme to the extreme, they're hardly capable of even Darwinian ambition.

But people often want information -- want it to be free, or secure, or copyrighted, or burned, or locked away for the greater good. People want the latest news, the biased studies, the most accurate statistics. They want each other's secrets, their inventions, their inspirations, their dirty laundry. They want to be the first in the know, the winner in the argument, the smartest in the class. They want to be told what to think, to make others think like themselves, and to be the first with a new idea.

People in the Western world are conditioned to believe that with a little applied brain power, they can be anything they want. So they insist that information should be free, despite omnipresent evidence to the contrary. They ignore the fact that library books cost ten cents per day late, that a reliable Internet connection costs fifteen dollars a month, and that university tuition costs four thousand dollars a year.

Knowledge is power. The right kind of information is all that's needed to upend governments, bankrupt companies, exile citizens, and execute prisoners. It can turn a housewife into a millionaire, a CEO into an inmate, and a celebrity into a punch line. A poor man will kill for money, but a rich man will kill for secrecy. The patent office is filled with millions upon millions of facts which are worth anywhere from pennies to princedoms to the right people.

Information doesn't want to be anything. Information just is, which makes it an asset, which makes it vulnerable to the economic laws of supply and demand. So if your information is about Linux, it's probably worth nothing at all, save your reputation as a programmer. But if your information is about, say, Microsoft Office... in that case, it's worth whatever Bill Gates can get you to pay.

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