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404 - Legal Protection Fault

Short report by Sandra Fauconnier about Jon Ippolito's talk on intellectual property and the preservation of electronic art at Copy the Rights!

Jon Ippolito's presentation for Copy the Rights! emphasized the preservation aspects of copyrights attached to electronic artworks. Ippolito showed an example of an Internet artwork - Shredder by Mark Napier, an alternative browser that 'scrambles' and deconstructs the web pages that are viewed in it. He then attempted to guess what is going to happen with artworks like these in, say, 2013; in a rather humorous and ironic way he enumerated the possible error messages that might show up when trying to view this artwork 10 years from now. The work could become inaccessible for various reasons:

– it becomes legally forbidden to view the online artwork (e.g. because of copyright legislation);

– the work's code has become obsolete and inaccessible because the artist has used closed standards such as Flash or Java;

– the art market might have evolved in such a manner that more and more electronic online artworks become part of private collections and thus inaccessible for the large public;

– the artist might have designed the work for specific platforms or browsers which have become totally obsolete.

Ippolito criticized the fair use principle in US copyright legislation because of its vagueness; he then listed a series of suggestions that might be more appropriate solutions to the problematic scenarios listed above.
First, he strongly defended alternative economic models that circumvent copyright legislation: Creative Commons or the creation of a so-called "Digital Sanctuary". Ippolito also described a system of deferred rights, where the artist agrees to transfer the right to access to his/her source code to a trusted institution at the time of his/her death - this might be a very useful model when an artist is protective of the uniqueness of programming code or, as another example, video masters like in the case of Bill Viola; this system of deferred right ensures that the work still can be preserved in the best manner possible. This can happen via conservation escrow (giving the source code to a third party) or conservation easement (handing the source code over to a public trust after the artist's death).
Jon Ippolito then made a strong case for the use of open standards by digital artists - a practice that he tries to promote via his new Open Art Network initiative. He explained the general criteria for these open standards - transparency, recombinacy, annotation, circulation and attribution. Through the Open Art Network, Ippolito attempts to stimulate new ethics in the online art community, ethics that run similar to the ethics in the open source community.

Finally, Ippolito gave a short overview of the preservation paradigms being developed by the Variable Media Network, an initiative that attempts to define a medium-independent framework for the preservation of multimedia artworks. Artists are interrogated about their work via an elaborate questionnaire and are requested to think about the best strategies for preserving their work, such as emulation, migration and reinterpretation. Unfortunately, these strategies can't be applied when the artist's work is created with proprietary code...

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