Monday, July 20, 2009

The legal foundation of net-based art

Dear Ursula,

quite some time has elapsed since our last blog entry.
Over the last months, I have been reflecting quite a lot about the actual CONDITIONS of net-based art creation, such as funding, the technological architecture of the medium and then, most interesting to me: the legal basis of online art.

I organised an Upgrade! Event on the beginning of June, which focused on the concept of unrestrained sharing and free culture. Together with the Transmediale festival, we have invited the Spanish activist group eXgae to give a workshop and a film screening of their outstanding annual event The Oxcars.

The preparation of this workshop inspired me to do a research on the topic, which I want to share with you. And then of course I have some specific questions about copyright and sharing for you and I am curious to hear your position as an artist.

Internet law is created by courts around the world right now. The commissions who work on the subject must do their best to derive the solution of legal disputes in the net from preexisting jurisdiction frameworks. This whole process is still in the making and until now the leading principles of intellectual property and commerce in the net are in a state of constant revision.

These issues are essential for everyone in the media art field, as future decisions might directly affect the work of artistic and cultural practitioners. This starts with service provider liability, copyright, commerce guidelines, content restrictions and ends with web site development legal issues in general. However, most people I know are generally not or only very little informed about the current development in this field.

What’s the situation in the U.S.? Is this discussed more often in your country?
"There has never been a time in history when more of our 'culture' was as 'owned' as it is now. And yet there has never been a time when the concentration of power to control the uses of culture has been as unquestioningly accepted as it is now," writes Lawrence Lessig in his famous book "Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity (2004)". The book is also available as a free online audio book here:

I think this statement by Lessig is really crucial not only for our work, but practically for everybody who uses the web as a resource for knowledge and contents of any kind. What do we have to know when we upload data or take contents from the web? What are our actual "rights" when we call ourselves "right owners"? Which instruments can we use as an alternative to proprietary software? Here is just a brief overview of possible sources which might be helpful in finding answers:

The Creative Commons
"The Creative Commons project was founded in 2001. In December 2002, Creative Commons released its first set of copyright licenses for free to the public. Creative Commons developed its licenses - inspired in part by the Free Software Foundation’s GNU General Public License (GNU GPL) — alongside a Web application platform to help you license your works freely for certain uses, on certain conditions; or dedicate your works to the public domain"(

Free Software Movement
"Free software or software libre is software that can be used, studied, and modified without restriction, and which can be copied and redistributed in modified or unmodified form either without restriction, or with minimal restrictions only to ensure that further recipients can also do these things and that manufacturers of consumer-facing hardware allow user modifications to their hardware. Free software is available gratis (free of charge) in most cases.” Richard Stallmann started the free software movement in 1983 with the aim to satisfy the need for and to give the benefit of "software freedom" to computer users."
(source: Wikipedia /

There is quite a number of collectives and groups who produce free software for various kinds of artistic use, such as:

GO TO 10 (a collective of international artists and programmers, dedicated to Free/Libre/Open Source Software (FLOSS) and digital arts):, or

Blender (a 3D graphics application released as free software under the GNU General Public License):

FLOSS manuals: they make free software more accessible by providing clear documentation that accurately explains their purpose and use): an independent software ateliert which provides free software for artistic use):

For everybody who like to take found footage from the web and (re)use or sample it for their own artistic work, there are some really interesting free content databases for music and video:

Quite a number of artists is focussing on this topic as part of their artistic practice, for example the open music video project "music from the masses" by Matthias Fritsch / Germany. You can watch it directly at YouTube:

Or the "copy it right-project", which was initiated by Phil Morton, now continued by jonCates / Chicago.
Phil Morton stated: "First, it’s okay to copy! Believe in the process of copying as much as you can; with all your heart is a good place to start - get into it as straight and honestly as possible. Copying is as good (I think better from this vector-view) as any other way of getting ‘there." Read the whole manifesto here:
COPY-IT-RIGHT suggests that the availability of resources is, as jonCates puts it, "not simply for study, but also for creative cultural uses by artists." More infos here:

But it's not just the artworld who deals with these topics: also the academia around the world starts to shift their attention to digital rights. The CC Monitor project for instance is an ever-growing online platform, which contains "automatically collected data, graphs, research and collectively written commentary on the global adoption of Creative Common licenses." The aim of the project is to establish a "valuable online resource for the Creative Commons community, for researchers, the press, and other third parties." (
On July 14th 2009, the initiator of CC Monitor, Giorgos Cheliotis, held an intersting lecture at Harvard University: Mapping the Global Commons: A Quantitative Perspective on Free Cultural Practice. More infos here:
Here are some of his key questions: Where in the world are people using Creative Commons licenses? How much content is licensed under Creative Commons and what are the individual, social and cultural factors that influence adoption? Also, what happens after content is made available for remixing under an open license? What kind of ‘cultural flows’ emerge from ad-hoc, large-scale remixing activity and how do these vary under different incentives for production?
I would be especially interested to hear more about the cultural flows which evolve out of remixing and reusing. I am not sure how much research has been done on this field so far, but I certainly think that this is a great topic for the cultural studies.
Since I wrote about art and science now, I would like to get back to the political dimension of this topic. Did you hear about the Pirate Party in more than 30 European countries? The Pirate Party wants to fundamentally reform copyright law, get rid of the patent system, and ensure that citizens' rights to privacy are respected. The party was founded by Rickard Falkvinge in Sweden in 2006 and since then spread out all over Europe. Since June 2009 the German pirate party even holds one parliament seat!
Is there anything similar going on in the U.S.?
If we consider all this, it gets clear that the place where net-based art actually resides is in a state of constant change. There is an increasing need for artists and curators to get more aware of the legal foundation of online plattforms and also about our rights. As a curator, I am asking myself: If I would exhibit a participatory work, say your HTML movement library, how can I make sure that the audience does not change, alter or manipulate your work without permission and do I maybe need an official permission to present such works in public? Honestly, I have no idea about that.
What I would like to hear from you, Ursula: it is quite a common assumption, that net art is based on a tradition of sharing and remixing. What is your opinion on that? Do you want others to re-use your work? If so, under what conditions? Have you ever published one of your works under a Creative Commons Licence?
Questions over questions here ;-)
At the end, I want to share a real inspiring movie about the first festival of free culture in Barcelona: The oXcars!
Have fun and I am looking forward to hearing from you!

Greetings from Berlin,