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The end of the free Internet?

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The forgotten half of the 'free' quote

Part of this change has to do with the long-forgotten part of the famous "wants to be free" quotation: "On the one hand, information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable," said writer Stewart Brand at the Hackers' Conference in 1984. "The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other."

Somehow, only the second half stuck.

"Free distribution of premium content is like eating your babies. You will give value away until you go bust," says a recent report from Group M, the media-buying agency of the international media and advertising giant WPP. The report calls people who use search engines to find news or information "useless tourists" who don't pay their way and have little value, even to advertisers.

Others are less sure that the Inter­net has hit a "time to pay up" moment. "I can make one prediction," said Arianna Huf­fing­ton, founder of the popular Huffington Post website, at a recent panel discussion of the future of the news media. "Pay walls are not going to work."

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