Words-worth: Free

The idea that everything on the internet should be free is a curse to anyone trying to earn money online, from music and film firms to publishers.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Rupert Murdoch is leading the charge against free content: from this summer, people will have to pay to read his newspapers on the web. But the problem is that 'free', an Old English word, is highly ambiguous. On the one hand, it means unrestricted; on the other, it means available at no charge. When internet pioneers used the word 'free', they were often thinking of the former - information should be available to all who wanted to use it, without conditions. The open-source movement offers 'free' software, but its model is 'free speech' rather than 'free beer'. You can take 'free' software, run it, copy it, and modify it: but you don't necessarily get it for nothing. A generation has grown up believing that everything on the internet, from celebrity gossip to music, ought to be available gratis. Murdoch will have a job putting that idea back in the bottle.

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