Does Information Really Want to be Free? Indigenous Knowledge Systems and the Question of Openness

Kimberly A. Christen


The “information wants to be free” meme was born some 20 years ago from the free and open source software development community. In the ensuing decades, information freedom has merged with debates over open access, digital rights management, and intellectual property rights. More recently, as digital heritage has become a common resource, scholars, activists, technologists, and local source communities have generated critiques about the extent of information freedom. This article injects both the histories of collecting and the politics of information circulation in relation to indigenous knowledge into this debate by looking closely at the history of the meme and its cultural and legal underpinnings. This approach allows us to unpack the meme’s normalized assumptions and gauge whether it is applicable across a broad range of materials and cultural variances.

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