A new method of communications allows Voyager to contact home for 11 minutes each day with live sound and pictures as opposed to the previous sound and data only. Each crew member is given three minutes to use this time on a rotation which is selected by drawing lots. In the holodeck the Doctor edits his holonovel Photons Be Free and, pleased with his work, he saves the file. He plans to use this new method of communication to publish his work in Federation space.
Tom Paris asks the Doctor to let him preview Photons Be Free, set on the fictional USS Vortex a Starfleet ship lost in the Delta Quadrant. The protagonist of the storyâa holographic doctorâwears a huge cumbersome backpack-like mobile emitter to get around and is constantly mistreated by his crewmates. Worse, each member of the crew is a thinly-veiled allusion to an actual crewman but portrayed as being cruel or obnoxiousâfor example The Tom Paris character is a self-serving adulterer, Harry Kim is a hypochondriac and Captain Kathryn Janeway is a tyrant and murderer. As a further homage to the mirror universe Tuvok's character wears a goatee. The senior crew plays through the novel one by one. When Janeway sees the fate of the fictional doctor she orders a meeting. The Doctor, while insisting that the story was not based on his crewmates, claims his novel was meant to highlight the plight of Mark I holograms back home. The Doctor, a Mark I hologram, does not like the fact that the other holograms are now reduced to menial tasks.
Going back to the holodeck to work on his novel, the Doctor discovers it has been replaced by a parody where he is a boorish slacker who drugs a patient, reminiscent of Seven of Nine, to take advantage of her. He confronts Tom Paris who explains that he made it in order to show how hurt the other members of the crew were when they heard the Vortex portrayals of them. This, and a talk with Neelix, convinces him to edit his work so that it is more fictional. He does not wish the entire Federation to see his friends in a negative light. The issue seems to become moot when Admiral Paris from Earth lets Captain Janeway know that Photons Be Free is already being distributed without the Doctor's permission by Ardon Broht, his intended publisher, and people are wondering how fictional it really is.
When Broht refuses to recall the holonovel an arbitration hearing is conducted by long distance. After several days the arbiter rules that the Doctor is not a person under current Federation law but is an artist and therefore has the right to control his work.
Flash-forward to a few months later to an asteroid where several EMH Mark I's perform menial labor. One of them suggests to another that at the diagnostic station they play Photons Be Free.