The culture of free!

The world of IT is a relatively fast moving one. New trends and technology come thick and fast, and with every new trend or technology there follows a host of new terms, phrases, acronyms, and of buzz words.
One term that I have heard cropping up more and more lately, is “the culture of free”. It’s fairly easy to guess what this term might relates to, but why has it started to crop up now, and is a ‘culture of free’ a good thing, or could it have a downside?
While today’s internet generation may not remember, there was a time when you had to purchase browser software. Then one day someone came up with the idea of giving it away free, and a culture was born, and it didn’t stop at software, web based services (file sharing, storage, instant messaging, email and social networks) soon followed suit, and more recently data owner’s have started to share their data freely too.
There is even a ‘Culture of Free movement’, founded by Lawrence Lessig (a lecturer at Stanford University and author of ‘Free Culture’. The movement which is often associated with Creative Commons, promotes the freedom to distribute and modify creative works, using the Internet as well as other media. Lessig and his followers object to overly restrictive copyright laws, often completely rejecting the concepts of copyright and intellectual property altogether, claiming it creates a “permission culture”. Others, most prominently Andrew Keen, (an academic, author and technologist) criticizes the ‘Free Culture’ ideals, referring to them instead as the ‘Cult of the Amateur’.
When you think about it, the internet is fundamentally built on a culture of free, with all of its knowledge freely available, but blogger Leo Babauta, points out – we must distinguish between “free” as in you don’t have to pay for it, and “free” as in you are free to distribute and use the information.
So why would bloggers, photographers, film makers, citizen journalism, musicians, illustrators or authors, use things like creative commons licensing to distribute their work freely? Well they’re working on the premise that reaching a larger audience may bring returns in other ways, whether its through donations, public speaking engagements, lucrative commissioned work or just improving their profile.
Can there really be a downside to free? After all everybody likes getting something for nothing and the people giving it away seem happy. Well I guess the answer to that depends on your point of view. Some would argue that when things are given away freely it erodes their value and others would argue that the ‘culture of free’ is eroding the very skills and standards that we have spend decades building up. buzzword

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The culture of free!

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