Amazon Noir

The "Amazon Noir" crew (Paolo Cirio, Alessandro Ludovico, Ubermorgen.com) stole copyrighted books from Amazon in 2006/2007 by using sophisticated technology coded by Paolo Cirio. A subliminal media fight and a covert legal dispute escalated into an online showdown with the heist of over 3000 books at the center of the story.

Amazon Noir

Amazon Noir

On Amazon, the leading online bookseller, the "Search Inside This Book" function allows customers to look through PDF versions of books within the company's site. Unfortunately, you can only see a few pages. How annoying it is to have to stop browsing after four pages or so when you know the whole book must exist in electronic form on Amazon's servers. (Amazon requires that a complete scan of each book be provided). The annoyance becomes even greater once you realize that Amazon's "Search Inside" function is playing a part in the fight over access to electronic versions of all books. Google and Amazon have been active in this fight for some time. Who will be the one in possession of the content and technology to offer people online access to book collections? Amazon and Google already have the infrastructure in place.

But in 2006 Amazon Noir appeared on the scene. It was a project of Übermorgen -- Hans Bernhard and Lizvlx (both known as etoy) -- together with Alessandro Ludovico (editor-in-chief of the magazine Neural) and the programmer and activist Paolo Cirio. They hacked the "Search Inside This Book" service using software they had written. They sent the system countless queries until they cracked its security and were able to harvest the scans of 3,000 or so books, of which they made PDFs. They publicized the action, sparking heated discussions in the media, while Amazon tried to buy them off. In its own publicity materials, Amazon Noir presented the action as a dramatic adventure story, with bad guys (the Robin Hoods of Amazon Noir) and good guys (Amazon). The story makes clear once again how closely issues of copyright and access to information are tied up with business interests. It shows that it is not purely a question of the law but of investment, the building of infrastructure, and the development and delivery of technology that could end up as the de facto determinant of how, and at what price, we access knowledge in the future. As things stand now, Amazon and Google are hard at work determining the technocultural structure of the future. Amazon Noir justifiably makes an issue of this, presented in a dramatic way.

Amazon Noir was shown as an installation in the exhibition of DEAF07.

Amazon Noir (DEAF07) from V2_ on Vimeo.

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