"Information wants to be free" is an expression that has come to be the unofficial motto of the free content movement.


The expression is first recorded as pronounced by Stewart Brand at the first Hackers' Conference in 1984, in the following context:

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.[1]
Brand's conference remarks are transcribed in the Whole Earth Review (May 1985, p. 49) and a later form appears in 'The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT', Viking Penguin, 1987 (ISBN 0-14-009701-5), p.202:
Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. ... That tension will not go away.[1]
The various forms of the original statement are ambiguous: the slogan can be used to argue the benefits of either propertied information, or liberated/free/open information, or of both. It can be taken merely as an expression of an amoral fact of information-science: once information has passed to a new location outside of the source's control there is no way of ensuring it is not propagated further, and therefore will naturally tend towards a state where that information is widely distributed. Much of its force is due to the anthropomorphic metaphor that imputes desire to information. This personification of abstract entity fell by the wayside in 1990 on the occasion of Richard Stallman lending a normative spin to Brand's slogan:
I believe that all generally useful information should be free. By 'free' I am not referring to price, but rather to the freedom to copy the information and to adapt it to one's own uses... When information is generally useful, redistributing it makes humanity wealthier no matter who is distributing and no matter who is receiving.[2]
Stallman's reformulation incorporated a political stance into Brand's value-neutral observation of social trends. Most recently, at the 2008 RSA Conference, Brand's original slogan was complemented by a pessimistic expectation of bug infestation in programming:
Infromation Wants To Be Free, and Code Wants To Be Wrong.[3]

Cyberpunks Edit

Template:Unreferenced Brand's eleutherian attribution of emotion to an abstract human construct (information) has been adopted within a branch of the Cyberpunk movement, whose members espouse a particular political (Anarchist) viewpoint. The construction of the statement takes its meaning beyond the simple judgemental observation, "Information should be free" by acknowledging that the internal force or entelechy of information and knowledge makes it essentially incompatible with notions of proprietary software, copyrights, patents, subscription services, etc. Information is dynamic, ever-growing and evolving and cannot be contained within (any) ideological structure.

Under this line of thinking, hackers, crackers, and phreakers are liberators of information which is being held hostage by agents demanding money for its release. Other participants in this network include Cypherpunks who educate people to use public-key cryptography to protect the privacy of their messages from corporate or governmental snooping and programmers who write free software and open source code. Still others create Free-Nets allowing users to gain access to computer resources for which they would otherwise need an account. They might also break copyright law etc. by swapping music, movies, or other copyrighted materials over the Internet.

Literary usageEdit

In the Fall Revolution series of science-fiction books, anarchist sci-fi author Ken Macleod riffs and puns on the expression by writing about entities composed of information actually "wanting", as in desiring, freedom and the scheming of several human characters with differing political and ideological agenda, to facilitate or disrupt these entities' quest for freedom.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Roger Clarke, "Information Wants to be Free", (online).
  2. Dorothy E. Denning, Concerning Hackers Who Break into Computer Systems, in Proceedings of the 13th National Computer Security Conference, Washington, D.C., October, 1990, pp. 653–664 (online)

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