Oil 21 Perpectives on Intellectual Property

For three days this week I have been attending a workshop and seminar series at the Umeå Academy of Art with the title Oil 21: Beyond Intellectual Property From File-Sharing to Distributed Archiving. It is part of the larger Oil 21 event which recently took place in Berlin:

A project by Bootlab, based on a concept by Partner gegen Berlin, produced in cooperation with Sarai, The Thing and Waag Society, and funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation.

The leaders of the workshop are Jan Gerber and Sebastian Luetgert from Berlin. Jan is a digital code artist and programmer, video artist and software developer. Sebastian is described as

Lives in Berlin, works as an author, programmer and artist. Co- founder of
Bootlab, an independent space for old and new media in Berlin. Various
projects dealing with Intellectual Property, like textz.com and Pirate
Cinema. Recent publications include “Introduction to a True History of the
Internet”, “The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction” and “The
Society of Intellectual Property”.

The third member of the panel today has been Rasmus Fleischer, a founder of the Swedish Piratbyrån (Bureau of Piracy) and researching at the Institute of Contemporary History in Södertörn (southern Stockholm), about music and its shifting conditions in the age of its technical reproduction.

The title ‘Oil 21’ comes from the quote “Intellectual Property is the oil of the 21st century” – by Mark Getty, chairman of Getty Images, one of the world’s largest Intellectual Proprietors. This is seen by the Oil 21 organizers as offering

a unique perspective on the current conflicts around copyrights, patents and trademarks. Not only does it open up the complete panorama of conceptual confusion that surrounds this relatively new and rather hallucinatory form of property – it must also be understood as a direct declaration of war.

The workshop began on Monday with introductions and hearing from the audience in regards to what they expect or desire from the coming week. The majority of the group here has been art students and they seem to understand the relevance of copyright and Intellectual Property (IP) to artistic practice. Considerations of authorship, distribution, rights to material, archiving, the role of institutions (museums, galleries, libraries, education ‘facilities’ and so on) have formed the backbone for the discussions. The readings suggested for the workshop are all online and can be accessed here.

I was absent for Tuesday and Wednesday from Oil 21 as I had to attend classes (on technology in the classroom). I returned to Oil 21 yesterday to watch the film Good Copy Bad Copy (online streamed and download) A Danish film that was funded by the government television network and is distributed with a Creative Commons license. I found this film an interesting gestalt to questions on art and ownership, power and the rights of poorer countries to control content and access cultural markets. The remainder of the day was spent looking at access to digital ‘raw materials’ for the construction of art works and commentary. Although not a technician myself I appreciate literacy in terms of code and I would like to spend more time studying this ‘other’ language.

Today the focus of Oil 21 has been the knowledge and experiences of Rasmus Fleischer as one of the founders of the Bureau of Piracy (BP). I have been following the activities of the Bureau of Piracy since 2003. Something that emerged as interesting from Rasmus’ talk was that the Pirate Bay, the large torrent tracker that is run by associates of the BP, actually began as a server “in a shoe box in Mexico” as a small torrent tracker in late 2003. In 2004 the shoe box with tracker came home to Sweden and from there you can use Google to get the details, as it is all fairly well known.

At the moment the BP is not going away and has adopted more surrealist or situationist tactics to bring some alternative approaches to the discussion around who owns culture and who has access to its products.