Created By: JCCyC on February 28, 2011 Last Edited By: JCCyC on July 16, 2011
Troped

Information Wants To Be Free

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Trope
The Evil Empire versus The Hero. (Or not.)

Alice has something she wants to share with the world. A scientific advancement, most often. She's going to go public and make the world, perhaps, a little better. Maybe it's the cure for a disease, a solution for world hunger or an abundant source of energy. Maybe it's of alien origin.

But... uh oh, Bob doesn't like it. You see, he has ties to a big business that stands to lose a lot if that invention is released to the general public. If only Alice wasn't so into this "free for everybody" nonsense, they could do some business exploiting the oppressed masses like he has been doing with much success so far. Alice must die, and her research with it.

It is the quest of the heroes to save Alice's precious information and release it before the Big Bad can usurp it or destroy it. In the process, they may find out there were those with similar discoveries who were Killed to Uphold the Masquerade.

Plots following this trope in 20 Minutes into the Future (or Like Reality Unless Noted) settings tend to end with the villain realizing he Can't Stop the Signal even when he manages to stop the idealistic character.

Super Trope of Withholding the Cure. Compare Keeping Secrets Sucks. Contrast Digital Piracy Is Evil.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • Sand Land concerns the efforts of the main characters to find an oasis in a world that's nothing but desert. They're opposed by the king and his government who control the only other source of water.
  • This is the reason for Laughing Man's struggle in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. A scientist found the cure for cyberbrain sclerosis (a phenomenon where people with electronic brain implants would have parts of their organic brains harden), but the evil corporation hid that fact from humanity so that they could continue selling expensive nanobot treatments that only hinder the plague's progress.

Comics

Film
  • In Unknown, the assassin's goal is to prevent the open-source release of a new variety of corn on behalf of agribusiness giants.
  • In Antitrust, the Big Bad Corrupt Corporate Executive acquires code for his Killer App through multiple crimes, up to and including murder. The good guys, upon exposing him, release the source code online, accompanied by an e-mail saying, "Human knowledge belongs to the world".
  • In Tron:Legacy, Sam Flynn stages an undercover operation to release the source code of Encom's operating system to the public (he's the main stockholder of the company, it's legal for him to do so).
  • The movie Johnny Mnemonic tells us about a man with a cybernetic brain implant designed to store information. The information he's hired to keep turns out to be the cure for a global disease, while Big Pharma thugs want to kill him so the cure won't be given to the public.

Literature

Live Action TV

Mythology
  • The Greek hero Prometheus stole the secret of making fire from the Olympian gods and, as you could say, put it in the public domain for all mortals to use. Zeus was not amused. He got better though.

Web Comics
  • Early on in Schlock Mercenary, the mercenaries are attacked repeatedly by the F'sherl Ganni Gatekeepers, due to experimenting with (and holding the patent for) the 'Terraport', a method of Faster-Than-Light Travel that far outstrips the unwieldy 'stargates' that got the F'sherl Ganni their name. Finally, Admiral Brea figures out that there's a way to stop the attacks: Release the Terraport into Open Source, essentially spreading the technology freely across the galaxy, and removing the Gatekeepers' reason to specifically target Targon's Toughs.

Needs More Examples I think we have a healthy number already. Enough people agreeing with the new title and I'll launch, mmmkay?
Community Feedback Replies: 26
  • February 28, 2011
    akrolsmir
    "The Green Leopard Plague", a short story by Walter Jon Williams (available here) features this regarding hunger; the main character uncovers the history of how the invention of photosynthesis in humans to combat hunger was suppressed by regimes who used it as a weapon.
  • February 28, 2011
    Kayube
    The manga Sand Land concerns the efforts of the main characters to find an oasis in a world that's nothing but desert- they're opposed by the king and his government who control the only other source of water.
  • February 28, 2011
    BlackDragon
    Not QUITE sure if this counts under this trope, but...

    Early on in Schlock Mercenary, the mercenaries are attacked repeatedly by the F'sherl Ganni Gatekeepers, due to experimenting with (and holding the patent for) the 'Terraport', a method of Faster Than Light Travel that far outstrips the unwieldy 'stargates' that got the F'sherl Ganni their name. Finally, Admiral Brea figures out that there's a way to stop the attacks: Release the Terraport into Open Source, essentially spreading the technology freely across the galaxy, and removing the Gatekeepers' reason to specifically target Targon's Toughs.

    ...like I said, not entirely sure if it fits under the tenets of the trope, but it IS The Good Guys using an 'Open Source Release' to fight The Bad Guys, so... you be the judge.

  • March 1, 2011
    Aminatep
    This is the reason for Laughing man's struggling in Ghost In The Shell: a scientist found the cure for the cybernetic plague (whatever that one's called), but the evil corporation hid that fact from humanity so that they could continue selling expensive drugs that only hinder the plague's progress.
  • March 1, 2011
    Chabal2
    The comic Toxic Planet is set in an unbelievably polluted future (everyone wears a gas mask all the time). At one point, the oil reserves finally, completely dry up, and the politicians look around for solutions. One Beleaguered Assistant mentions he remembers a scientist who'd found a way to completely eliminate the need for oil. The next panel has a skeleton in a lab coat shackled to the dungeon wall, while the guard asks "You sure this is the guy you want?".
  • March 1, 2011
    Arivne
    Withholding The Cure is a specific Sub Trope of this YKTTW.
  • March 1, 2011
    LogicallyDashing
    Suggest changing the title to Information Wants To Be Free. It's still associated with the open source movement, but doesn't refer to it directly, making it more obvious that the trope isn't really about software per se.
  • March 1, 2011
    VampireBuddha
    An episode of Touched By An Angel revolved around a retired engineer who developed of a device that could split water into oxygen and hydrogen with only a small input of sunlight. He sold it to the president of an energy company, who promptly destroyed the prototype and all the plans so that he could keep making a killing on oil.
  • March 1, 2011
    JCCyC
    @Logically Dashing: you ARE good at titles. I like it better.
  • March 1, 2011
    JCCyC
    I suggest this as the trope image, with the caption "The Big Bad and The Hero, respectively."
  • March 1, 2011
    Earnest
    Compare Keeping Secrets Sucks. Alice may find out there were those with similar discoveries who were Killed To Uphold The Masquerade.
  • March 2, 2011
    TheAngryColossal
    Depending on how you interpret it, could the myth of Prometheus (and other "stealing fire from the gods" myths) be seen as an example of this trope?
  • March 2, 2011
    SilentReverence
    Plots following this trope in Twenty Minutes Into The Future (or Like Reality Unless Noted) settings tend to end with the villain realizing he Cant Stop The Signal despite having managed to stop the idealistic character; in particular if they features a Youtube Analogue.
  • March 2, 2011
    MCE
    In Freefall one the robots invents 'robot poison' and releases the information on the net because information should be free.
  • March 2, 2011
    JCCyC
    @MCE: Could you link me to the relevant strip in that storyline? I'm not familiar with the comic and would like to elaborate on that example.
  • March 2, 2011
    Aminatep
    I am so against this trope picture. Meh. RIAA VS. Piratebay would be actually correct. Both Apple and Microsoft actually support opensource, it's that they decide to not make opensource themselves.
  • March 2, 2011
    JCCyC
    I like the Pirate Bay suggestion. Fits in better with the trope.
  • March 2, 2011
    SilentReverence
    Both MS v/s GNU and RIAA v/s Piratebay are somewhat misleading as comparisons. MS does not care that much about the information being private (they make available some of the best SDK out there after all) as they do about information access being privileged; and it can be argued that Piratebay is not in the Hero Business for Heroistic reasons to begin with. Plus, they do not exactly encompass the trope. I think Pentagon v/s Wikileaks may be a far more concise comparison choice.

    But that's just my opinion. From an audience perspective, RIAA v/s Piratebay is far more relatable, and paints a clearer image in the mind of those who come to see the trope.
  • March 2, 2011
    randomsurfer
    I have no idea who the penguin is in that pic. Just a Penguin and a Caption.
  • March 2, 2011
    Bisected8
    Nitpick with the Ghost In The Shell example; it wasn't a plague. It was an illness called "cyberbrain sclerosis" and was portrayed as being more along the lines of a degenerative illness like cancer (it was a phenomenon where people with electronic brain implants would have parts of their organic brains harden). Also, it was made more of a grey situation, since it's argued that the nanobot treatments were a better choice in the long run because of the benefits of researching them.
  • March 3, 2011
    Aminatep
    Silent Reverence, TPB is an Anti Hero here: the site is just a way of making money from the ads, pretty much
  • March 3, 2011
    halfmillennium
    Is the RIAA well-known enough to international readers?
  • March 3, 2011
    salieri
    ^how about the picture being the pentagon vs wikileaks?
  • March 3, 2011
    Aminatep
    If TPB lawsuit controversy is well-known, then the RIAA also is. After all I am an international troper
  • March 3, 2011
    SilentReverence
    @/Aminatep: thanks for the clarification!

    I think it can be argued that the Pentagon is far more well known than the RIAA (or any of the MAFIAA for that matter), but the "movies v/s pirates" if also far better known as the overall situation, which is what the trope encompasses.
  • July 16, 2011
    johnnye
    Is this too similar to Cant Stop The Signal? There's definitely some overlap.
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