This question has been a rallying cry of many activists regarding digital information on the internet. The term free has been used to mean both without cost and unconstrained in distribution.

One of the earliest uses was by Stewart Brand talking to Apple's Steve Wozniak at a hacker conference back in the 80's:

"On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. 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."

The very nature of the internet and the World Wide Web facilitates the easy replication and sharing of pretty much any type of digital content. The hard thing is actually stopping that from happening, as many musicians, movie studios and other media types have been made painfully aware. Napster was the first major breakthrough in making free information a "product" (that is, if a free piece of software that enables you to trade music you didn't pay for can be called a product).

And therein lies the rub. If media content has no actual commercial value online, why would artists invest their blood, sweat and tears to create it? While many do it for the sake of their art, they need to eat too. This is equally true about the information that makes up an individual’s online identity. And, while not as poignant as the plight of struggling artists or privacy violations, the intellectual property of corporations is just that, their property.

The good thing is that this is not a zero sum game. Wide distribution of digital content is a great idea for songwriters, newspapers, and even movie studios ― if they get some value in return. Working out that balance has been a struggle, to say the least, but it seems to be trending toward an actual digital marketplace. I own a pretty huge library of digital music, and I got none of it from file-sharing sites. I subscribe to online news outlets, and I stream video from a couple of providers. Online distribution of digital content is the present and the future. But if we want it to continue, we need a rational digital marketplace where valuable content is traded for something of value to the owner of that content.

Information can be free, and sometimes that is good for all involved. But you really do get what you pay for, and if you want a content-rich future, pay the people who deliver the content to you.