Pirate Cinema is one of most brilliant reaction to the blind 'war on piracy' armed by the copyright-funded industry. Organizing temporary gatherings with specific screenings and themes, you let people reappropriate cultural products in the shape of moving pictures. There are also parallel phenomena overseas like the so called 'Guerrilla Drive-In'. But, you also elegantly play with the (senseless) ephemeral border between public and private projections. Fragmenting and spreading the broadcast practice of copyrighted content would in the end legitimate its people driven use? And eventually break out the capital energies of copyright control forces?
Pirate Cinema is very much a celebration of the legitimate, as opposed to the legal. It is built on the existing infrastructure of file-sharing - the largest archive of cultural artifacts in the history of mankind - but it extends it into a real, social, public space. Pirate Cinema is, in a way, a bridge, or a translation effort, between two co-existing worlds: the distributed, collective and incredibly advanced practices of file-sharing, and the story, the discourse, the communities of, and the problem with, cinema. This problem is Intellectual Property, and we're just a very minor, but hopefully exemplary part of the solution.
Textz.com was a historical net art effort where you put radical and famous texts of philosophy/art/literature of different ages in a free to download web environment. But in 2004 you faced a threatening of imprisonment and a fine of 2.300 Euro after being sued for the publication of two texts by Adorno by their copyright holders. How did you survive that? What's the site condition (and its many texts archive situation) now?
I survived by ceasing all communication with the copyright holder. In the end, a law firm is just a business: they divide potential profit by negative publicity, make an assessment, and then simply move on. Textz.com has been completely rebuilt, using an entirely steganographic approach, but even though it is technically public (under the somewhat cryptic URL textz.com slash md5 hash of "war"), it currently doesn't perform very well under load, and I still haven't had the time to rewrite the database. On the other hand, I have worked a lot on an application of the textz.com approach to movies, 0xdb.org, which has just been launched - and this is, in so many ways, so much more exciting, also in terms of functionality, that I may keep my focus on it for a bit longer.
The installation 'The Conceptual Crisis of Private Property as a Crisis in Practice' was a single screenshot in which you encrypted (using steganography technique) the whole content of the massive novel 'Cryptonomicon' by Neal Stephenson. When I saw it I was so enthusiastic that in a review I wrote "(the work) had an invincible ability to spread and manipulate real-world artifacts, making it immune to any kind of censorship." Do you think this would still be true?
The power of "conceptual steganography" is enormous, and it still hasn't been explored much at all. The general idea - to create an image that contains a novel, a book cover that contains the actual text of the book, or a video that contains video editing software - opens up extremely interesting possibilities. (The second-generation textz.com, even though never officially released, is based on a crypto script that not only transforms book covers into text, but actually serves its own website.) Immunity against censorship - real world steganography - is one thing. But a completely different thing is steganography as a conceptual artistic practice: What would an image that contains a novel actually show? What would the code look like? Could the code be the image, and the image the code? And so on...
One of your most controversial experiments was to code with steganography an illegal copy of Final Cut into a video file. This is a different type of action because the application code was 'sleeping' into its own potential output. After being decoded it resurrects from its (coded) ashes as a phoenix. Do you think that the spreading of temporary diluted code into other type of data (resurrecting it later) would definitively legitimate the 'anonymous sharing' concept?
At least Apple didn't sue me for it. So I'm actually working on an update, a high-definition version of the video that can be transformed into Final Cut Studio 2, the latest iteration of the software. Since HD can hold so much more information, the video won't even get much longer (even if we sacrifice, for aesthetic reasons, some of the bandwidth, we're still under five minutes). Final Cut was a good choice, probably. Even though it is entirely possible to embed Microsoft Office in a Word document or Excel sheet, I'm quite happy that I didn't go that way.
Talking about piracy you once met two outstanding crews of the contemporary sharing scenario: the Swedish Pirate Bay and Piratbyran (Pirate Party). Do you think time has come to strategically ally and definitely globally conspire against the copyright lobbies? What's your opinion of these two different efforts, one incredibly successful and still unchallengeable (the bay) and the other (the party) that failed its election main goal?
We have formed multiple alliances, in different contexts (piratecinema.org, oil21.org, stealthisfilm.com, etc.), and it is safe to say that the - very, very particular - Swedish situation has been of an enormous value for many people around me. Piratbyran (the Pirate Bureau) has been incredibly successful, not only in giving Swedish file-sharers a voice, but also in asking the right questions at the right time, bringing the movement up to speed, allowing it to make whole leaps forward (in terms of politics and theory). The Pirate Bay, quite obviously, are the Beatles of the Copyright Wars: our grandchildren will read about them in their history books (in case there will be grandchildren, and in case there will be history books). I'm a bit more reserved about the Pirate Party; these parties now exist all over Europe, but I'm extremely sceptical that advances in piracy will be made in the medium of parliamentary democracy.
You are also the founder of the Rolux website and its popular mailing list in German, concerning art, technology, and politics defined as 'a potential network for the advancement of the critical minorities'. Its own name derives from Robert Luxembourg, that you also often use as your nickname. Why you chose such a name? Have you ever considered the mailing list structure for the distribution of formally copyrighted content?
As Richard Liechtenstein can tell, Robert Luxemburg basically just appeared out of thin air. First invented as a person that I had various companies ship various goods to, he later served as an after-the-fact founding myth of Rolux, the domain. The Rolux mailing list is now defunct, and as a distribution channel for copyrighted works, I wouldn't count to much on SMTP. There is usenet, most of the post-Napster networks still exist, and there is, above all, BitTorrent. (This is another aspect that makes textz.com, born in 99, historic: Why put a library on a website, when you can download the torrent in under a minute, from the Pirate Bay? (This is not a rhetorical question... but the answer would be different today.))
In your 'Good Questions' lecture/performance you asked: "If intellectual property is just borrowed from the public domain then why can't the public claim it back?" and (one of my favorite) "Why is copying called stealing even though the original does not disappear?" That reminds me your Textz.com motto differently formulated: 'intellectual property is piracy'. In your opinion the plain striking contradiction between the (technically losing) 'necessity of copyrights' that is a substantial part of the industry propaganda, and its technical complete take over, accomplished by some software developers and a huge mass of users, will lead to a rising conflict, or to different temporary levels of mediation?
On a purely ontological level - and that's what "my steganographic work" is dealing with - Intellectual Property is impossible. It is not only an insult as an idea. To defend Intellectual Property - DRM, Trusted Computing, you name it - means to be at war with reality, at war with the basic laws of information, and at war with almost all of today's technical infrastructure. The conflict is there, the becoming-producer of millions of former consumers has begun, and I don't think that this process is reversible. Especially now that it hits the "developing" world, where creative people (and who isn't) tend to have a lot less illusions about their futures as prospering Intellectual Proprietors. At the end of the day, the Intellectual Property Question is the Property Question, plain and simple - and the conflict that we see today is rather just the beginning.
In your 'The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction', you wisely noted that "Around 2000, technical reproduction has reached a standard that not only permits it to reproduce all transmitted works of art and thus to cause the most profound change in their impact upon the public; it also has captured a place of its own among the artistic processes." How this paradigmatic shift relates with the ritual and tradition of the work of art uniqueness?
The uniqueness of the work of art is no longer a theoretical problem, most notably because there is almost no "theory of art" anymore. Scarcity is still an issue, but rather a practical one, under the new paradigm that art is what can be sold as art. Art is being radically modernized, has become the most dynamic of all markets, the old gallery system is being attacked by pension funds, institutional investors are losing against various new players that no longer have any other motives than financial ones. There is a whole sub-prime sector in the arts now, there are highly profitable junk bonds, an inflation of biennals, a million new Chinese art students every year. The uniqueness of the work of art is, in this context, not any more of a question than the uniqueness of a particular type of car, food, fashion item, or any other commodity. Problem solved, in a way, even though solved wrong.
In the very center of Berlin you co-founded the Bootlab, a facility for artists, activists, and people who want to work on independent project with (old/new) media technologies. How much is important for immaterial discourse and practice to have a (local) open physical place to share and meet?
For me, working with computers, actually almost all of my projects in that field, only started to make sense once I had set up these computers in a bar I was running, or later a lab. The benefits of computing in public became so evident after a while that still today I make a distinction between two types of computers: the ones that sit on office desks, a cup of coffee on their side, and the other ones that reside in the dirt, surrounded by empty bottles of beer. Since of course, you want to share and meet: in the city, in public, in person. That's a prerequisite - everything else follows, from there on.
Bootlab seems also to fit some very edge-oriented and experimental cultural tradition of Berlin in breaking reality and building new sense on its debris. You're fond of city's history, so how do you place Bootlab in Berlin time and space?
Berlin has been an extremely fortunate city: it had two heroic - and very different - subsequent decades, the 80s and the 90s. Even Paris only had the 50s, and even New York only the 70s. Looking back on the Zeroes one will conclude that Berlin wasn't lucky for a third time in a row. Since a few years, it is late in Berlin - and this has become absolutely obvious. The explosion of tourism - a new type of tourism: both for leisure and for labor, both on and off the beaten path - has changed the rules of the game. There is no return to cheap rent, to informed and interested audiences, to collective non-profit ventures, to low entry barriers, to the dissolution of consumers and producers, to strange and amazing discoveries. All this has been dying, and should be considered dead. In that sense, it is also late for Bootlab.