“Information wants to be free” has the same relationship to the digital rights movement that “kill whitey” has to the racial equality movement: a thoughtless caricature that replaces a nuanced, principled stand with a cartoon character. Calling IWTBF the ideological basis of the movement is like characterising bra burning as the primary preoccupation of feminists (in reality, the number of bras burned by feminists in the history of the struggle for gender equality appears to be zero, or as close to it as makes no difference).
Geert Lovink, the quite famous net critic, has recently been making the lecture circuit tour with a speech entitled a “Radical Critique of Free”. While such a critique is of course welcome and necessary, I was rather shocked in Venice when I listened to such a lecture, to discover that Geert Lovink’s considers the free culture movement as an enemy, because it advocates everything to be free. Geert presented the following expressions of free as ‘the enemy': the freeconomic ideas of Chris Anderson (who in fact, also does not advocate everything to be free, but rather explains its economic rationale in a era of very cheap digital reproducibility), the Oxcars free culture festival (which pays it artists!), and the Barcelona charter on digital rights. This equation is of course entirely untrue, and I was surprised that someone of Geert’s stature, could make the classic mistake between free speech and free beer, which has been clarified ages ago.
But this distinction therefore bears repeating, which may be why Cory Doctorow thought it was important enough for an editorial in The Guardian.
Cory Doctorow (excerpt):
“So what do digital rights activists want, if not “free information?”
They want open access to the data and media produced at public expense, because this makes better science, better knowledge, and better culture – and because they already paid for it with their tax and licence fees.
They want to be able to quote, cite and reference earlier works because this is fundamental to all critical discourse.
They want to be able to build on earlier creative works in order to create new, original works because this is the basis of all creativity, and every work they wish to make fragmentary or inspirational use of was, in turn, compiled from the works that went before it.
They want to be able to use the network and their computers without mandatory surveillance and spyware installed under the rubric of “stopping piracy” because censorship and surveillance are themselves corrosive to free thought, intellectual curiosity and an open and fair society.
They want their networks to be free from greedy corporate tampering by telecom giants that wish to sell access to their customers to entertainment congloms, because when you pay for a network connection, you’re paying to have the bits you want delivered to you as fast as possible, even if the providers of those bits don’t want to bribe your ISP.
They want the freedom to build and use tools that allow for the sharing of information and the creation of communities because this is the key to all collaboration and collective action — even if some minority of users of these tools use them to take pop songs without paying.”