The Best (Information) Things Are Free

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2 years ago

The Best (Information) Things Are Free

Why is it that people think that paying more for something automatically means it is better? It is rarely true with physical products, and almost never true with information. Don't believe me? Lets break it down.

First, though, let me briefly describe what I think is going on. Basically, I think people are being manipulated by advertisers. Billions of dollars a year are spent pushing consumption, and people generally don't step back and question what alternatives exist. It is hard when everyone and everything around you is intent on getting you to buy something from the market.

Now, part one: why free information is usually best.


Lets start with software, because that is how you are able to read this.

As a software engineer, I have always had a problem with closed source (proprietary) products. All software has bugs, and there's no suffering like repeatedly experiencing a bug that you know you could fix, but are not allowed to.

Moreover, many software products, especially mobile and internet apps, contain spyware and other nefarious sub-routines, that compromise privacy and utility. At the very least, you cannot know, for sure, that any closed source application is free from such.

When you are dealing with important things cough VOTING MACHINES cough FINANCE cough it is absolutely imperative that the software systems open up and prove their trustworthiness to the users.

I won't go into great detail on the software front, because if you aren't technical, it will bore you, and if you are, you're probably already convinced. Open Source has been winning hearts and minds year after year, as basically all devices sold this decade depend on it.

Instead, let me list some of the software I use on a daily basis, which I highly recommend to you all.

For links, view this full-featured version of this post.

I could go on and on, especially when it comes to server-side and peer-to-peer software, but these are completely dominated by Open Source anyway. The bottom line is I don't pay for any software, ever, and I am able to produce high quality everything. I custom make images, audio, video, applications, and more. There is literally nothing you can do with paid software that I cannot reproduce, usually better, with free software.


The best books are not read even by those who are called good readers. What does our Concord culture amount to? There is in this town, with a very few exceptions, no taste for the best or for very good books even in English literature, whose words all can read and spell. Even the college-bred and so called liberally educated men here and elsewhere have really little or no acquaintance with the English classics; and as for the recorded wisdom of mankind, the ancient classics and Bibles, which are accessible to all who will know of them, there are the feeblest efforts any where made to become acquainted with them.

The best books, as Thoreau put it, contain the recorded wisdom of mankind, from the ancients through to more recent writers like Thoreau himself. Can you show me a copyrighted book, which can only be bought, which is better than Walden?

Lets put such subjective judgements aside, however, and go by the statistics. The top fifteen most popular printed books of all time are:

For links, view this full-featured version of this post.

So, the first 14 are all free and in the public domain. This does not even include oral masterpieces like Homer's Iliad, which surely would be at the top of the list. The fact that many of these deal with myths, religion, or philosophy is simply a reflection of people's interests. The most printed fiction books are also mostly free.

I believe that anyone who claims to not like the classics is either not literate enough to really read them, or is simply indoctrinated by the advertising industry to think new equals better.


In one high-profile example, Getty Images was caught selling photographs which the photographer, Carol Highsmith, shared for free under a Creative Commons license.

One day, Getty sent her a threatening letter for publishing her own image. Think about that for a second, and what it says about the predatory environment of intellectual property. Carol turned around and sued Getty for $1 billion in damages. The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

What can you learn from this? Don't just blindly pay for images. Just because some website offers to sell you something doesn't mean you have to buy it.

Wikipedia maintains an excellent list of free image search resources, with tens of millions of images available.


Music is an interesting medium to consider, since it is so incredibly subjective and widely appreciated. Furthermore, it is very participatory, with many people enjoying performance and singing along as much as pure consumption. So, like with software, I will avoid subjective judgments and simply share some resources.

Here are places to get free music:

Additionally, many best selling musicians have recently chosen to release albums for free, including two of my favorites: Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails. It seems that the primary barrier to free music is the obsolete publishing middlemen. If I had to guess, I'd say music will follow the same trend as software toward free sharing and collaboration.


Since video is a very recent technology, only really coming into the mainstream in the last century, it is the least free of the digital media. Still, many films and shows are now public domain, and many newly produced videos (like all of mine) are intentionally licensed as Creative Commons. This is an option on Youtube, odysee, Vimeo and basically all other video publishing platforms.

Wikipedia again gives us useful lists for searching both public domain films, as well as modern open source films.


The industrial and commercial powers that be want us to think that we have to pay for intellectual property, but the truth is that is not usually the case. Do yourself and your wallet a favor and break yourself of the mentality that good things must have a cost.

If you are a creative or generally DIY type of person, I highly recommend learning about Public Domain, Creative Commons, and Open Source. These categories of information are generally free and available for creative uses.

To show you a little of what is possible, here is a video I made using the free and open source resources listed above.


or, if you absolutely must

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Avatar for isysd
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2 years ago