Information wants to be free, said Stuart Brand, adding in a less well reported codicil that it also wants to be expensive.
One of the most expensive bits of free information today has been the identity and nature of a parliamentary question, to be asked in the House of Commons about gagging orders imposed by a court on the Guardian newspaper. Although the Guardian was comprehensively barred from reporting on the question in any way whatsoever - part of a trend towards ever more draconian judgements that prevent people even knowing such orders exist - it did say that the order appeared to contravene the 1689 Bill of Rights. Which is admirably curt on the subject:
"That the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament;"
As the paper put it: "The Guardian is also forbidden from telling its readers why the paper is prevented – for the first time in memory – from reporting parliament. Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret."
The Internet hates secrets. Fortunately, while the Guardian couldn't say anything, other people could get at the parliamentary questions and republish them - and then tell each other about what they'd found. The most notable conduit for this was Twitter, which spread the news each step of the way among its constituency of journalists, social media addicts and, lest we forget, the chap on the Clapham databus. Enough people felt angered by the whole business to push the #trafigura hashtag to the top of the trending topics, thus promoting the name of the company at the heart of the matter.
Over the past 24 hours, the news about the injunction and the injuncted material was more effectively distributed across the planet than any army of PR merchants and marketing gurus could have hoped to have achieved - a slamming wave of ire before which lawyers and judges were entirely helpless. And indeed, hours before the Guardian was due to challenge the injunction in court, the lawyers responsible for gagging Parliament caved in.
It will be a while before the implications of the Trafigura affair are fully absorbed: if nothing else, it will make litigous parties think twice before issuing the sort of absolute injunctions which have been growing in popularity even as their powers to hide from scrutiny have increased.
But there is no doubt that the events of the past day have been profoundly democratic, entirely in keeping with the Bill of Rights' sweeping away of kingly powers and its assertion of the primacy of openness among the governors of the people. In a parallel universe, attempts to muzzle parliament might be seen as treasonable - but while we'll never have libel lawyers hearing the axe being sharpened in the Tower, the end result - a chilling effect on the silencers - is just as welcome, and welcomingly just.