The battle between the champions of individual freedom and the forces of authoritarian collectivism never ends. However, the battleground has largely shifted from the physical world to cyberspace.
In many ways, Friedrich Hayek anticipated the Internet. In his masterpiece, The Road to Serfdom, Hayek dissects the methods and objectives of socialism. He shows that centralized, top-down planning by experts can never achieve prosperity and inevitably leads to oppression. Hayek built on Ludwig von Mises' theory that constantly changing price signals are essential to the efficient allocation of resources; the “experts” can never possess the knowledge that is distributed among individual buyers and sellers. Plus, the only way that a central economic plan can be successfully implemented is by forcing everyone to obey. You can't have a central economic plan if there are people out there doing their own thing.
The Internet is like the free market. It succeeded as a decentralized, self-organized network. Experts in various specialties contributed to its growth, but there never was a master plan. In fact, the way in which the Internet succeeded and the scale of its success surprised everyone.
However, the forces of authoritarian collectivism don’t give up easily. In the physical world, they have tried both violent revolution and gradual reform to achieve their ends. In cyberspace, the two biggest threats are attempts to regulate the Internet (e.g., “net neutrality”) and a broader movement to limit or even abolish intellectual property rights (e.g., Eben Moglen’s The DotCommunist Manifesto).
The worrisome part is that the enemies of liberty have learned how to disguise their objectives through the clever use of language. Instead of admitting that they want to regulate the Internet they pretend that they are trying to preserve it. Instead of admitting that they want to abolish private intellectual property they pretend they are defending freedom of speech. For example, the Free Software Foundation says “To understand the concept, you should think of ‘free’ as in ‘free speech’, not as in ‘free beer’.”
That’s nonsense. Redistributing someone else’s creation without asking or paying for permission isn't free speech—it’s freeloading.