How Can Information be Both Expensive and Free? An Example

On the New York Times Dot Earth Blog, Andrew Revkin writes about Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and whether they are a burden on government agencies who must handle compliance. Revkin references my article quoting Stewart Brand’s full thought at the 1984 Hackers’ Conference – that information wants to be free and expensive.

In the article, Revkin includes a response from Chris Horner, a lawyer at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who has filed numerous FOIA requests. Horner explains to Revkin why he believes FOIA compliance should not be viewed as a burden to agencies:

Keep that journalist hat on and the telescope won’t so easily get turned backward, as to who has a burden when the public seeks access to that for which it entirely pays.

His point: information that is expensive to develop, and paid for by tax dollars, should be freely accessible to those who have paid for its creation – the public. That’s one example of how information can be expensive – true to Brand’s thought – and free in the sense that it should be freely available to those who have helped cover that expense.

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