It's certainly not a new idea to point out that making certain things free can have tremendous benefits in both business and society, but it's always good to have another example. Copyfight points to an interesting Financial Times article from James Boyle comparing weather data in the US and the EU. In the US, weather data is available for the "cost of reproduction." Having that data (which is, now, a commodity) lets plenty of people, companies and researchers build more value on top of that data -- which is exactly what's happened. In contrast, over in Europe, weather data is protected by copyright -- which, you'll recall is only there because we're told it helps create the right business models to build businesses. Except, that's not what happened. The US has used that weather data to build a thriving private industry which simply doesn't exist in Europe -- because all that data is so expensive. In fact, a study shows that while the EU invests 9.5 billion euros in weather data to get a return of 68 billion euros, the US invests 19 billion euros and gets a return of 750 billion euros (they're not spending euros, of course, but since it's the Financial Times, that's what they're using to compare apples to apples). That means, the US is getting much more value, and building a much bigger industry, even with "free" data. It's more evidence to show to those who insist that there is no way "free" can help business grow. When people recognize that free, commoditized products become inputs, rather than the final output of a product, suddenly the economic scenarios look much brighter for "free" things. However, we still have people insisting that once things become free or commoditized there's no way to make money.
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