For more than a decade, the slogan "information wants to be free" has been a rallying cry for technology activists to attack intellectual property rights. Their plan is to force all information--including your trade secrets--into the public domain.
Since this is a direct attack on every entrepreneur's business, I'm going to pull the "information wants to be free" slogan apart to reveal its true purpose:
The slogan begins with a word that's ambiguous to the point of meaninglessness. Does "information" mean government secrets? The design specs for the next iPad? The latest superhero movie? Your personal medical records?
By blurring the important distinctions between different types of information, the slogan allows activists to feel high-minded, as if they're fighting for the right to know what their government is doing.
However, what the activists really mean by "information" is often the private and corporate ownership of intellectual property, which is a completely different case.
There's a valid argument for making government secrets public because the government belongs to the citizens. Intellectual property, on the other hand, is a privately-owned financial asset that loses its value when made public.
Think of it this way: the national parks belong to everybody and are thus accessible to everybody; your backyard, however, belongs to you and you should be rightly able to keep strangers from traipsing across it.
The verb "want" implies desire, an emotion that can only be experienced by a living creature. Since information is inanimate, it can't "want" anything. Activists surely realize this, so why do they continue to use the word "wants" in this context?
The reason is simple: applying the desire to an impersonal and imaginary entity ("information") allows activists to hide (and ignore) their own desires and motives, which are less than altruistic.
When seen for what it is, the phrase "Information wants" actually means "I want information" which actually means "I want somebody else's intellectual property."
Interestingly, activists don't seem to think that their own personal information "wants to be free." Quite the contrary, activists who want other people's intellectual property to be in the public domain seem to greatly value their own personal privacy.
The crux of the slogan is this word "free." The way the slogan is worded, "wants to be free" implies that the word "free" means "freedom," as in "freedom from tyranny." It leaves the impression that "information" is struggling against evil forces that have unfairly imprisoned it.
However, when you return the slogan to its actual meaning "I want somebody else's intellectual property" the phrase "to be free" reverts to its financial definition: getting something without paying for it.
Thus, the slogan "information wants to be free" actually means "I want your intellectual property without having to pay for it."
Hiding that selfish desire in a noble-sounding slogan allow activists to steal intellectual property without feeling guilty. Indeed, many of them are amazingly self-righteous, as if downloading a bootleg copy of Frozen is a blow against tyranny. Yeah, right.
Why Intellectual Property Matters
If you're an entrepreneur, chances are that you've created a product or service or delivery method that's new and different. As any investment banker can tell you, a large portion of the value of your company lies in your intellectual property, aka trade secrets.
The belief that "information wants to be free" is thus a direct assault on your ability to make money. This is especially true your company makes a product--like books, music, movies or software--that can be easily hijacked and spawned across the Internet.
However, that attitude is also a threat if your business provides a physical product or service because "information wants to be free" provides justification for the theft of your product designs, business contacts or anything else that makes your company unique.
Because of this, entrepreneurs should be especially supportive of strong intellectual property laws and the active prosecution of people who steal IP, regardless of whether it's entertainment content or trade secrets.
The "information wants to be free" philosophy is, in fact, communism by another name. It's the transfer of private property into public property, without regard for who created or owns that property.
If entrepreneurs plan on growing their companies, they must fight for strong intellectual property laws and strict enforcement of those laws. Think of it this way: if entrepreneurs don't fight for the sanctity of intellectual property rights, who will?