The New York Times has announced that its metered paywall will go into effect on March 28, costing readers $15 per month to read more than twenty articles in a month’s time, with the price going up a bit for the use of the Times mobile application. On day one, at least, opinion on the web seems widely negative—although, perhaps it’s just that the angriest people are the ones that we tend to hear from first? (I’m looking at you, Cory Doctorow.)

The Guardian, whose management has long defended the free-for-all model, is conducting a poll on its website, asking readers about the Times online, “Will you become a subscriber?” I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised that the “No, I’ll read my 20 free articles and move on” would get a whopping 93 percent, with only 7 percent (as of this writing) voting for “Yes, its news and opinion are a must-have.”

Even if people agree with the overall concept, though, the actual price seems to rub them the wrong way. Nieman Lab’s Megan Garber notes that, given what we already knew about the Times’s plan, none of the particulars revealed today is surprising—“Other than the prices, which, wow.” At $15 a month, that’s still much cheaper than a yearly print subscription, which can run you as much as $700 or $800 per year, depending on the particulars, as David Folkenflik points out. But Rob Pegoraro, a Washington Post blogger, says he’s a fan of the Times but still asks, “Too much? Too soon?” John C. Abell of Wired’s Epicenter blog asks perhaps a better question, though: “If The New York Times can’t, who can?”

Then there’s the insidious and ubiquitous whine, “information wants to be free.” Frank Rich, who left the Times for New York Magazine after three decades at the Grey Lady, recently defined journalism’s biggest dilemma as “How to make money when information wants to be free.” (Some speculated at the time that the reason Rich left his old position was the impending paywall.) And Howard Kurtz writes, about the paywall’s side-door access from search engines and social media:

On the downside, it cuts into potential revenue if lots of people decide they’ll just Google and tweet and cheat-sheet their way to the Times stories and video they want without having to reach for the checkbook. (Don’t they have a responsibility to support the journalism they enjoy? I’d say yes, as a card-carrying media type, but the Net has spawned a strong information-wants-to-be-free ethos.)

There it is again. And here: The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal points out that there’s already a workaround on Twitter for cheats and cheapskates who don’t want to pay for the Times, similar to the ones we saw when The Daily launched, and reports that the developers of that workaround have declared:

“The New York Times paywall begins March 28. But you can access articles for free if they’re posted to Twitter…” messages posted to the account read. “Can you guess where they’ll be posted? ‘Information wants to be free’ - Stewart Brand.”

Later in the post, Madrigal writes:

(Quibble: Out of respect for Brand, it should be noted that his full assertion is much more nuanced than this truncation would suggest.)

Thank you! It’s irritating how often the “information wants to be free” phrase gets thrown around as a short hand argument against paywalls, or pay-fences, or any model that charges readers for content in any way. As Chris Anderson wrote in his book Free: The Future of a Radical Price, “This is probably the most important—and misunderstood—sentence of the Internet economy.”

The phrase is typically attributed to Stewart Brand, from the first Hackers Conference in 1984, and he was speaking about a tension inherent in software sharing and proliferation—not in proprietary news production. Brand later wrote of the phrase, “Since then I’ve added nothing to the meme, and it’s been living high, wide, and handsome on its own.”

There’s a big misunderstanding here. Journalism is not mere “information”; it is a product, created by people at some expense. No one would say “groceries want to be free” and use that as an excuse to steal steaks. Or I guess some people might, but those people would be jerks, and also criminals. “Information wants to be free” does not mean “journalism wants to be free,” or, more to the point, “journalists want to work for free.”

I like the way the Free Software Foundation puts it:

“Free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer.”

If we want to keep getting quality news, someone has to pay for it. We, as readers, don’t have a “right” to free anything. Journalists, though, do have a right to get paid for their intellectual labor. If simple traffic and advertising isn’t doing the trick, then that money has to come from somewhere else. No aphorism is going to deliver us from that basic truth.

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Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner