It was the mantra, the rallying cry of an entire generation of early Internet users: “Information wants to be free”. First formulated back in 1984 by Steven Levy in his book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, the sentence was always open to different interpretations. For some, it meant “free” as in “liberty”, a freedom to say and do whatever you want (at least as long as your freedom doesn’t infringe on someone else’s). But for others, “free” had another meaning completely, namely “free of charge”.
In the early days of the World Wide Web, especially, “paid content” was a dirty word, and Internet activists argued for ages about whether “commercialism” should even be allowed online.
Artists, writers and musicians, these starry-eyed enthusiasts claimed, could and should present their collective efforts online for free. To make a living, they would use the Web as a place to advertise: musicians would give away songs for free in order to get people to attend their live concerts; writers would collect a huge following of people who would rush to bookstores (or to Amazon, which was still struggling to get started) and buy their deathless prose. And the best thing was: They wouldn’t need a publisher because they could self-publish cheaply and easily and thus cut out the middlemen who were skimming off all the profits anyway. Whoever heard of a rich author (unless your last name happened to be Grisham, King or Rowling.
Yes, those were heady days, but by now, 15 or 20 years later, we have all sort of calmed down and realized that money makes the online world go round, too. (mehr …)