Information Wants to Be Free: Intellectual Property and the Mythologies of Control

40 Pages Posted: 26 Jun 2003

See all articles by R. Polk Wagner

R. Polk Wagner

University of Pennsylvania Law School


This article challenges a central tenet of the recent criticism of intellectual property rights: the suggestion that the control conferred by such rights is detrimental to the continued flourishing of a public domain of ideas and information. I argue that such theories understate the significance of the intangible nature of information, and thus overlook the contribution that even perfectly controlled intellectual creations make to the public domain. In addition, I show that perfect control of propertized information - an animating assumption in much of the contemporary criticism - is both counterfactual and likely to remain so. These findings suggest that increasing the appropriability of information goods may in many cases grow, rather than diminish, the quantity of open information. Further, the benefits of control in fostering coordination and enabling flexibility in arrangements are essential elements of promoting progress in a changing world.

Keywords: intellectual property, copyright, patents, information wants to be free, sharing

JEL Classification: K19, K39

Suggested Citation

Wagner, R. Polk, Information Wants to Be Free: Intellectual Property and the Mythologies of Control. Columbia Law Review, Vol. 103, May 2003, U of Penn, Inst for Law & Econ Research Paper No. 03-22, U of Penn Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 38, Available at SSRN: or

R. Polk Wagner (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
267-433-4431 (Phone)

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