What is anything worth in a Free world?

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Yes, I'm still pondering Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson. (See my other blog.)

This week Twitter was hacked. Someone on Twitter's staff had their Gmail account opened by someone who shoudln't have access. Then, because we are all so connected, the hacker was able to access stuff like Google Docs and anything else that we all find google-icious.

And from what I see now, TechCrunch published online some of the hacked (stolen) documents, and Twitter states,

"We are in touch with our legal counsel about what this theft means for Twitter, the hacker, and anyone who accepts and subsequently shares or publishes these stolen documents."

Well, going back to Free, I'm wondering what value intellectual property has when the product is free. If Twitter is free to use, and not publicly traded, then what is the current value of its corporate secrets or intellectual property?

Twitter must have value as a company. They have investors who probably hope to turn their investments into yachtfuls of money. But what is the intellectual property value of free in dollars? Do you have a right to keep competitors from stealing something even if if's free? Does something that's free have any monetary value at all?

I know that free isn't always free. A bowl of free chocolates on a sample table doesn't give me permission to eat the same brand of chocolates that are for sale in the candy aisle.

But Twitter is one of those free things that Anderson says is changing the world. Online things cost virtually nothing, and thus, can be given away.

So is the dollar value of what Twitter had stolen? What is value of my property if I use free online services and suddenly find my property has been stolen? Does anything have value if we all treat it like it's free?

I don't have an answer right now. Like I said, I'm pondering.