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The “information should be free” controversy has been raging for the last several years with no signs of resolution. Big money rests on the outcome. Google argues their right to collect it, categorize it, archive it, and grant admission for others to get to it. A decade ago newspapers claimed they owned electronic rights of articles they’d published, authors kicked and screamed about copyright violations, and the courts refereed and ruled.

Today, social network sites and their users are bickering about who owns personal data dumped there, and the government may again have to weigh in.

Those who create information have no clout because they can’t agree. The determining viewpoint (as in many things) comes down to money:  Is the information that someone wants for free depriving its creator of money? That’s not easy to determine.

Some examples…

Bloggers or article writers may or may not care if you reprint their information as long as you leave the copyright line intact. Their goal is readership and publicity. The wider their distribution, the better. With a large readership, they have opportunity to sell other products or services, or raise awareness for other viewpoints, causes, or organizations (whose supporters pay them for their blogging time).

I get that.

But book authors make their living from royalties. When people download pirated copies of books and recordings for “free,” they are stealing products and depriving authors of income in the same way as those who buy designer knockoffs or jewelry off the black market.  No doubt, these same people would report a robbery if someone broke into their garage and stole their manufacturing plans for a new boat model, broke into their architectural firm and stole house plans, or broke into their restaurant chain and stole secret recipes.

Yet they think nothing of stealing information downloaded as books, articles, audio or DVD recordings at pirated sites.

If the creator of information (blogger, book author, article writer) hangs a sign out that reads, “Free—take one,” by all means, I’m first in line. (Just like my husband on Saturday mornings in the grocery store—pop that sample in his mouth, and he munches away.) But I don’t consider free access to another person’s creative works and personal information a first amendment right.

As an author, I’m cautious about what I “publish” to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Are you?

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