The Freeconomy Malaise

At the beginning of this month, I mentioned some of the open-source leeching going on, along with mentioning Wired‘s article, “Free.”  Well, “Free” is back in the news again, and not so much in the way that it probably wants to be. is all over recent reports that Wired‘s editor-in-chief Chris Anderson’s new book, Free, contains a number of straight lifts right out of Wikipedia.  Putting aside for the moment the propriety of using Wikipedia as definitive proof of anything, the problems with doing so I’ve mentioned before, it’s of course ironic that there’s a lot of hullabaloo surrounding using free content in a book about the economics of free.  It probably bears mentioning, that Wikipedia, like many organizations, such as Gawker media, publishes under the CCL which means that contributors allow their work to be freely used, so long as the use is attributed and that the derivative work is then allowed to be freely used:  “To grow the commons of free knowledge and free culture, all users contributing to Wikimedia projects are required to grant broad permissions to the general public to re-distribute and re-use their contributions freely, as long as the use is attributed and the same freedom to re-use and re-distribute applies to any derivative works.”  (Source)  For Mr. Anderson, the issue appears to be whether there was proper attribution of the material allegedly lifted, and as a logical extension, whether he would then allow the use of the material he used in a free manner.  It’s a fascinating dilemma in many ways.  To me, anyway.

Perhaps the biggest reason why I find myself so fascinated by the whole thing is that I recently read Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, published in 1992 (yeah, I know Amazon is saying 2000, but that’s just for the edition to which I linked), and it was incredibly prescient in almost all respects (okay, so we don’t have rat-things …. yet, or burbclaves …. yet) except for one area.  In Snow Crash, people pay–sometimes, a lot–for information.  I also recently listened to the book-on-CD of Douglas Adams’ quasi-posthumous work, The Salmon of Doubt.  One of Mr. Adams’ suppositions as he was writing at the end of the 90s was that individuals would be willing to make micropayments for content.  That is clearly not the case today. Somebody pays for the information, but it seems rarely to be the end-user.  At least in the dead-tree media days, subscribers would defray some of the cost of publication, but these days the cost is almost exclusively placed on advertisers and content-generators willing to receive little to no compensation for their work, all in the name of trying to get noticed in some form or fashion.  Gawker, to its credit I think, has pointed out the way this can be problematic.  (This is not to say that Gawker Media, as shown by Gizmodo’s call-for-intern, is paying its interns splendiferous salaries.)

As we move along in this terrible economy, it really does make me wonder what the end game will be.

Oh, and to satisfy the FTC, links to Snow Crash and The Salmon of Doubt, are not made as part of Amazon’s affiliate program.  And if you don’t like Amazon, here are links to B&’s site for the respective works:  Snow Crash; The Salmon of Doubt (MP3 download).  I am not part of an affiliate program with B&N, either.