You can’t copy me!, text published on Rhizome.org
Like many people, I like the idea that www is a place where duplication has no limit. Anybody can download a media and re-use it. Sometimes you are faced with legal problems, this is part of the game. But also, I like the idea that there are things you can’t copy.
One of the first things I’m thinking about is conceptual art. It may seem strange, since concepts are at first glance the easiest thing to copy. But in the field of art, this is not true, because when you copy, you generally slightly modify the piece, for many reasons. And conceptual pieces have very little latitude to be modified: if you “add” something, then, following the “less is more” principle, the piece is worse. And if you “substract ” something, then the piece can be even better and you were right to do it. So it’s not copying anymore, it’s the way art evolves. (of course “adding” and “substracting” are not easy-to-deal-with concepts…)
The closer you are to the concept, the less you will be copied, or at least, if you get copied, the other pieces will probably be weaker, in the sense that extra considerations (as more design or more typo games or whatever) will perturbate the concept.
For those who don’t get what conceptual art is, just think about it the other way round: if your piece can’t be easily copied and re-used without any depreciation, then it might well be conceptual art.
An example : selfportrait by Valéry Grancher. I take this piece as an example because there has been a controversy about it. There is a very similar and very interesting piece, which had been done before by alundale (the piece does not seem to be online anymore), but which was not presented as a selfportrait. The piece by Valéry, even though it looks very much like the other one, points out the concept of self in a new way, and by an infinitely thin move, it opens new horizons. This piece was a new start and it was the first piece of the search art project.
Now there is a second way not to be copied, which could be considered as conceptual art as well, but in another manner. If your piece involves so general a field that it can’t be more general (this is not “minimal conceptual” art as before, but “maximal conceptual” art , then, following the principle “you can’t have more than more”, there is no way to copy your piece.
An example : gogolchat by Jimpunk and Christophe Bruno. Gogol is a ficticious character whose speech tends to the sum of all speeches of mankind. There is no way to improve Gogol and you can’t plagiarize this ultimate plagiarist. He is unique. He just exists (well you can still try to find another mankind…).
The third way is quite funny to me. It would be to produce pieces so stupid and contingent that nobody would be interested in copying them.
An example : I can’t think of any right now (actually I do think of a couple of things but I’d rather not mention them as I don’t know whether the authors would appreciate to be listed in this category) but I will try to make such a piece one day.
Finally, the best way of all is not to show your work. If you can’t find me, you can’t copy me! I heard that jimpunk has done such a piece, but of course I have never seen it. If you find it, send me an email.
P.S. As I write these lines, and related to the very topic of this text, there is some legal fuss about another piece by Valéry Grancher: Jerusalem. The organization which owns the Israelian webcam is threatening Computerfinearts.com to demand their ISP to cancel the hosting account because they would violate The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. There is a long list now of such affairs involving net artists and private companies, but it seems they are more and more frequent.
In 2000, the British artist Donna Rawlinson Maclean tried to patent herself. Well, I’m going to do the same: everything I do, every single thought I have, I will copyright, and I will forbid you to use them. You can’t copy me!