Arnold Kling

Information Wants to be Free

Arnold Kling, Great Questions of Economics
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In this interview, Brewster Kahle points out that his Internet Archive of the Web as it existed at various points in time holds 100 terabytes of data, at a hardware cost of $400,000. To put this in perspective, he says,

So if all books are 20 TBs, and 20 TBs are $80,000, that's the Library of Congress. Then something big has changed. All music? It's tiny. It looks like there're only one million records that have been produced over the last century. That's tiny. All movies? All theatrical releases have been estimated at 100,000, and most of those from India. If you take all the rest of ephemeral films, that's on the order of a couple hundred thousand. It's just not that big. It allows you to start thinking about the whole thing.

Kahle is arguing that it is feasible to make all of the content ever produced accessible to everyone at a remarkably low cost. The obstacles are more institutional than economic. For example, authors and publishers are not going to hand over copyrighted material at no cost.

Discussion Question. Assuming that we could figure out a way to compensate writers and artists, would there be large social benefits to making the world's books, musical recordings, and films available to everyone at little or no cost?

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