Information Wants to Be Free
As the Americans learned so painfully in Earth's final century, free flow of information is the only safeguard against tyranny. The once-chained people whose leaders at last lose their grip on information flow will soon burst with freedom and vitality, but the free nation gradually constricting its grip on public discourse has begun its rapid slide into despotism. Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he deems himself your master.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. In any case, Alice doesn't want to limit access to it through copyrights or patents or anything of the sort. 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. Having questioned Alice about potential confidants, the decision is made, that she must die and her research with her. 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 Twenty Minutes into the Future (or Like Reality Unless Noted) settings tend to end with the villain realizing he Can't Stop the Signal even if he manages to stop the idealistic character. Super Trope of Withholding the Cure. Compare Keeping Secrets Sucks. Contrast Digital Piracy Is Evil and Endangering News Broadcast (when an info should be made secret from the public for a good reason).
—Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri, Commissioner Pravin Lal, "U.N. Declaration of Rights"
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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 an effective cure for cyberbrain sclerosis (a phenomenon where people with electronic brain implants would have parts of their organic brains harden, essentially the future version of alzheimers and AIDS), but various people with ties to nanobot companiesnote suppressed the discovery (they didn't outright kill the scientist, just discredited him and arranged a media blackout) so that they could continue selling expensive nanobot treatments which (at the time) were much less effective.
- This is the main conflict of Gundam Unicorn and the Laplace Box: It contains the original draft of the colonies' charter, stating that they were always meant to be free from the Earth governments. Meaning that Zeon was right all along!
- 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?".
- Doctor Strange: The Oath is all about the battle between a corrupt pharmaceuticals company and Strange's attempt to effect a cure through magical means. The primary antagonist is another mage/doctor who was bought by the company and acts as if he half-believes their official line that medical research must proceed at its own "natural pace."
- In Unknown (2011), the assassins' 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).
- Handled with all the subtlety of a speeding truck in the first film, making it another example of Older Than They Think. Dillinger and Master Control locked down all information and user access on our side of the screen, and it took the form of a totalitarian state on the other side of the screen. The User-Believer Programs frequently speak of their longing for a "free system" while Sark and Master control speak of "control" and "order." The lockdown is also why Alan and Lora decide to team up with Flynn in order to get Tron online in the first place.
- 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 steal his head so the cure won't be given to the public. On the flip side, the underground resistance fighting the corporations want to share the information for free.
- The Saint with Val Kilmer. The female lead has invented cold fusion, thus solving the world's energy problems. Naturally, many folks want this information quashed.
- "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.
- Printcrime, a short-story by Cory Doctorow, is about a corrupt, corporatist regime trying to supress the use of a new type of 3D printer. They are about as successful as you would probably expect.
- The Lost Symbol has the antagonist trying to destroy all evidence of scientific research proving Noetic Science.
- Ayn Rand's short story Think Twice has an inventor who wants to exploit his invention as he sees fit, while his financial backer wants to give it away to the public essentially for free. The backer is later murdered, and the prime suspect is the inventor.
Live Action TV
- A running theme in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the security vs. privacy debate, as well as the control vs. freedom of information debate. Interestingly, despite Whedon being liberal, the show mostly comes down in favor of the security and control of information sides. The message seems to be that it's easy to demand freedom of information when you're not responsible for its consequences.
- An episode of Touched by an Angel revolved around a retired engineer who developed 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.
- An episode of Sliders had the heroes hit a world close to ours but suffocating under a dictatorship. They manage to distribute a copy of the otherwise-unfamilar Bill of Rights by outright email spam.
- Though it's hard to believe that there would be public access to the Internet in J Edgar Hoover's fascist America, or that he'd manage to repress all copies held outside the USA.
- Inverted in The Lone Gunmen episode "Like Water for Gasoline". Langley, Byers and Frohike are trying to find an experimental prototype water-powered car before an agent of an oil company, who presumably intends to destroy it. It turns out that the agent wants to see it mass-manufactured, and its original creator hid it away because he realized that freedom from oil would ultimately mean more cars and more consumption - his "miracle" would accelerate corporate devastation of the environment rather than stop it.
- But played straight and cranked Up to Eleven any other time. They are three underground journalists who allied themselves with Fox Mulder and not only work on exposing the alien conspiracy, but many of the more mundane unsavory dealings of corporations and government.
- Mage: The Ascension: The Virtual Adepts practically breathe this trope.
- They do include a variant on that theme. The Cypherpunks believe that information doesn't want to be free; it wants to flow, travelling to the places where it is most useful. Truly free information would be like a flood, where the user is overwhelmed by massive amounts of information that is not relevant to him/her at the time. Meanwhile, information that is useful could be drowned out by the information that isn't.
- Name dropped and inverted in "The Traitor's Manual" for Paranoia.
In Alpha Complex, information not only doesn't want to be free, it's usually Clearance ULTRAVIOLET.
- In Shadowrun, runners can make good money off pirate radio operators, underground rebellions, or rival governments/corporations from missions involving digging up and airing some corp or government's secret dirty laundry.
- Dr. Alex Mercer in Prototype would have released the secrets of the Blacklight Virus to all of New York City. Blackwatch and its partner, Gentek, weren't about to let that happen. In this case, however, the secret-holder's motives were not at all altruistic, the ultimate goal being simply to become too dangerous to eliminate, get up the nose of the former employers, and failing that, go out with one hell of a bang.
- Parodied in Sam & Max season 2 with the C.O.P.S.'s questionable internet research.
Bluster Blaster: INFORMATION WANTS TO BE WRONG!
- Emma Emmerich in Metal Gear Solid 2 explains that Arsenal Gear's AI, GW, is programmed to censor and filter information that it feels people do not need to know because information flows too freely and can quickly be filled up with garbage information that people don't need to know. Along with stopping the terrorists, you're also tasked in destroying the AI so that freedom of information remains free and not censored.
- Inverted in PAYDAY 2 in the Big Oil heist. A scientist has managed to discover the secret to cold fusion, and the crew is contracted by the Elephant to steal his only working prototype, as fusion energy would spell the end for the oil companies that sponsor the Elephant's career. After the heist is over, the Elephant says that the engine will be safeguarded and mass-produced by the oil companies "when it becomes profitable to do so."
- An underlying theme in Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall, and one that's played with a bit. Although there is a faction in the game that offers to pay you for nearly any corporate secrets you can get your hands on, and promises to make any such knowledge public thanks to their nearly-fanatical adherence to this trope, the player is forced to seriously question whether or not some of the information they recover SHOULD be shared at all. Given that the data they can share can involve things such as research notes on genocidal blood magic or how to subject someone to a Fate Worse Than Death as an enslaved barely-living weapon, the trope winds up generally being subverted.
- 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 'Teraport', a method of Faster-Than-Light Travel that far outstrips the unwieldy Portal Network that got the F'sherl Ganni their name as well as discovering that said Portal Network also works as a series of duplicators allowing the F'sherl Ganni to torture clones of their MILLIONS of users for information then kill them. Finally, Admiral Breya Andreyasn figures out that there's a way to stop the attacks: Release the Teraport into Open Source, essentially spreading the technology freely across the galaxy, and removing the Gatekeepers' reason to specifically target Targon's Toughs.
- Parodied in Freefall, as the trope name is the catchphrase of resident Robotic Mad Scientist Dvorak. First he accidentally invents robot poison and uploads the schematics to the internet. Then someone points out how it be used to kill robots without a trace, and then he uploads that to the internet. It turns out that after his owner died, he mechanized his corpse for a Day of the Dead celebration. Which wouldn't have been too bad, except he uploaded the plans for that as well. It was very memorable.
- In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, when Dean Martin steals Jean Poule's research data to make a monster of his own, he justifies the theft by saying, "But information wants to be free! I had a public duty to steal it!"
- Used in the backstory of Genocide Man, where various hackers that firmly believed this released a lot of information in bio-modification as Open Source. The various genocides and acts of terrorism that followed which made use of the technology that was released led to the development of the United Nations GENOCIDE Project-which not only believes against this trope, but inverts You Cannot Kill An Idea to the most brutal extreme.
- The phrase is attributed to Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand, whose original quote covered both sides' motives:
"On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other."
- Anonymous can be considered this.
- WikiLeaks can also be considered this.
- However, Whatdotheyknow.com is the inversion of this; information is used for slightly safer purposes than the above two.
- The entire Free Software/Open Source movement lives by this trope.
- The users and creators of The Pirate Bay are large proponents of this trope.
- The academic paywalls are (obviously) large opponents of this trope.
- Taking things a step further is Defense Distributed, which produces and hosts CAD files for making fully functional 3D-printed guns. The centerpiece of their project is the "WikiWeapon," which is an open-source handgun made almost entirely out of plastic.
- Ben Franklin intentionally never patented any of his inventions: "as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously"
- This is very much zig-zagged in Real Life and is the source of many heated debates. Indeed, as some experts argue, it opens up a can of worms, such as whether this trope is in practice desirable, let alone achievable or whether unhindered access to information is itself a good thing.
- After Volvo invented the three-point seat belt in 1959, they allowed other car manufacturers to use it for free, believing that increasing the safety of all cars should come before one company's bottom line.