The history of “information wants to be free”...

In fall 1984, at the first Hackers Conference, I said in one discussion session:

         “On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable.  The right information in the right place just changes your life.  On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time.  So you have these two fighting against each other.”

That was printed in a report/transcript from the conference in the May 1985 Whole Earth Review, p. 49.

In The Media Lab (Viking-Penguin, 1987) on p. 202 is a section which begins:

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.

The final iteration for me was in sundry talks I gave in the two years after the Media Lab book came out.  In those I frequently said, and even put up on an overhead, the following (this one happened to be a national Computer Security conference):

Information wants to be free (because of the new ease of copying and reshaping and casual distribution), AND information wants to be expensive (it’s the prime economic event in an information age)...  and technology is constantly making the tension worse.  If you cling blindly to the expensive part of the paradox, you miss all the action going on in the free part.  The pressure of the paradox forces information to explore incessantly.  Smart marketers and inventors quietly follow—and I might add, so do smart computer security people.

Since then I’ve added nothing to the meme, and it’s been living high, wide, and handsome on its own.  I saw in  Wired magazine, April 1997, that Jon Katz opined on p. 186:  “The single dominant ethic in this [digital] community is that information wants to be free.”

In 2009, Wired editor Chris Anderson came out with a book titled Free: The Future of a Radical Price.  One chapter examines the origins of “Information wants to be free” and expands intriguingly on it.