Re:Interview #002:
The Big Book (C)rime | The Amazon Noir Crew

Amazon Noir (2006), by Alessandro Ludovico, Paolo Cirio, UBERMORGEN.COM

About one year after the release of Google Will Eat Itself the artists Paolo Cirio, Alessandro Ludovico, Hans Bernhard and Lizvlx (both UBERMORGEN.COM) foxed out Amazon, the second global Internet player. The results of the Media/Art-event called Amazon Noir — The Big Book Crime were presented on the 15th of November 2006. Amazon Noir can be positioned within the actual discussion of property rights for non-material goods and their use/violation by new technologies on the Internet. With the rising popularity of the World Wide Web during the past 15 years and the emerging new ways of interaction and publishing systems like peer-to-peer-technologies, it is easy for the single individual to circulate creative and digitalized goods as contemporary commodities. The call of the Open-Source-movement for the free flow of information is opposite to law systems which neither work in a standardised way nor on a global level. One of the consequences is the development of user-based ways of organising property rights like Copyleft, Creative Commons or the GNU-licence. All those alternative models for the protection of property rights, in spite of the inherent freedom of those models, are strictly based upon the use of the private property rights. As references in Sabine Nuss’ book “Copyright & Copyriot” each Open-Software-licence works with the author’s exclusive power of disposal, using this right in an inverted way and placing it to everyone’s disposal under predefined circumstances.

With Amazon’s Search-Inside-the-Book-feature, introduced in autumn 2003, the—at a first glance—convenient and friendly online-bookstore acts within a yet undefined area between marketing and the whole sphere of copyrights for texts. With this feature, the customer is enabled to search in entire text-passages of books—the bookseller’s aim, of course, is to get the customer to purchase the goods. This kind of apparently perfect useful customer service is not only problematic for authors whose individually copyrighted works, such as short fiction, essays, and poems, appear in collections or anthologies because of the significant risk to get copied, but it is also blurring the edges of the already rather complicated system of copyrights comprising the needs and wants of editors, marketing and wholesalers. It seems that with the rise of new business areas, the (law) system lacks behind the progress of the market.

Even if the Net Art-project Amazon Noir is not a critique on copyright in general, it concentrates its attention on the relevant discourse. With a special software, which made use of the Search-Inside-the-Book-feature, entire books where partially downloaded, lateron recombined and in this way republished to a broad public via communication networks over the past few months. Amazon Noir is based upon a plot, situated in the 1940/50ies Film Noir genre and crime fiction. The authors describe it the following way: the bad guys steal copyrighted books from Amazon.com, using sophisticated robot-perversion-technology. A massive media fight and a brutal legal fight escalate into an online showdown at the center of the story. Daily shoot outs with the global massmedia are followed by hardly resistable kickback-bribes from powerful Amazon.com. Betrayal, blasphemy and pessimism split the gang of bad guys. In the end, the good guys win and drive off into the blistering sun with the beautiful and seductive femme fatale, the massmedia.

Crime, thievery, betrayal, the bad and the good guys and a final showdown with the blistering sun: Amazon Noir refers in its title, narration and visualisation to the 1940/50ies Film Noir and crime fiction. Why did you settle your newest project in this genre and who are the good guys, honestly?

Ubermorgen.com: Dating back to “the digital hijack” with etoy—using movie scripting and film plots are very usefull aesthetically and technically for digital actionism (media hacking). Noir is symptomatic for labeling art forms in retrospect. We were also dealing with German Expressionism at the time and from there it is not far to Film Noir. The combination of the two is best described in the dialogue of Amazon Noir.

Alessandro Ludovico: A supposed “crime” related to books could refer recursively to Noir (that is a tale about crime in a certain style), so it was the perfect genre to involve in such a project. The good guys won in the end. But this is not happening in any Noir, as you probably know, and the twists are always possible.

Paolo Cirio: The hype of the spin against piracy that come from media propaganda is ever focused on the criminalization of downloading and sharing content under copyright. The main controversial consequence of increment of sharing of content is the lucrative exploiting by the corporations, like actually Napster or the big business of the devices for playing MP3 and DviX. So we are the worst guys of the scene: we have done a big crime and in the end we have betrayed our action, with a deal with the enemy. It’s a representation of the actual ambiguity about copyright issue, where in any case it seems that anything has a right moral or ethic roots.

Despite all storytelling, Amazon Noir is a socio-technical piece/process of art. What is the coding background of the “sophisticated robot-perversion-technology” ab/using Amazon.com’s Search-Inside-the-Book-feature? Did you select the books acccording to certain criteria?

Ubermorgen.com: No, the books were auto-selected by keywords—we entered a list of 23 keywords to the machine, from then on it was tripping by itself. The books were then selected, downloaded, stored and redestributed by the machine.

Alessandro Ludovico: And some of the selection was surprisingly fitting into the core project spirit. For example “Steal this book” by Abbie Hoffman turned out as one of the first results.

Paolo Cirio: The background of our robot-perversion-technology was a system of four servers around the globe, everyone with a specific function: one in USA for a faster sucking of books, one in Russia for injecting books in P2P-networks and two in Europe for schedule the action with intelligent robots. The main goal was to steal all 150,000 books of the Amazon.com’s Search-Inside-the-Book-feature, and then use the same technology of us for stealing books from the Google Print Service. It was just relative of the number of clusters of robots we could use. After the deal with Amazon we can invest money in order to improve our project.

According to a press release from the Edith Russ Haus, Amazon Noir is based upon the tradition of happenings and seen as a performative media event, which includes the reaction of conventional media in its concept. Already any reactions from Amazon.com or any other part of the show: media, press, lawyers, … ? What kind of responses do/did you expect?

Ubermorgen.com: We do not expect anything. The setting is experimental and our research carries us into unknown territories, socially, economically, politically and in terms of media (mass media, Internet, mobile communication). It was striking that the project was fully running on a technical level (underground) and hyped on a mass media level (overground) but there was a vacuum in the middle. We have not released the project until Nov 15 2006—but by then the project was over. This release strategy was totally new to us.

Alessandro Ludovico: We’re not interested in generating a media hype, but in researching and then sharing innovation on both conceptual and technical level. Amazon Noir was an experiment in many senses. Among them the secret exploit of one of Amazon’s most used technology was done via a special software and then the incoming files where framed as results before any public mention. When people have known about that everything was already done.

Paolo Cirio: Yeah, in the evolution of the net-art projects of historic groups like RtMark, CriticalArtEnsemble (CAE), Electronic Disturbance Teather, we are the synthesis of the best of their core style. We play in different stages: on the net, on the old mass media and in the streets. We engage in our show different actors: the audience, media, art and legal system. Every layer of our complex society is in the scenography, because now happenings should be in the anthropological space of our contemporary culture. So I like this quote of “Digital resistance”, of the CAE: “The aim of The Living Theater to break the boundaries of its traditional architecture was successful. It collapsed the art and life distinction, which has been of tremendous help by establishing one of the first recombinant stages.”

Amazon.com, in both senses, deals with books, one of the exemplary non-material good of our time. In the late 1960ies Conceptual Art was controversially charcterised by the term dematerialization. Regarding works like Google Will Eat Itself and Amazon Noir from this point of view, the term dematerialization gets an ambiguous kind of meaning: Are you dematerialising economics by art or even rematerialsing art? Do you see yourself as Conceptual Artists?

Ubermorgen.com: Yes. We see part our work in the tradition of Conceptual Art. For the dematerialising part of your question, click-economy and global finance already work on extremely abstract levels. We love to short-circuit and to lay out very basic instructional text (code) as the core of our projects. The Computer and The Network create our art and combine every aspect of it. UBERMORGEN.COM is metaphysically influenced by Lawrence Weiner and practically enhanced by ever reinventing Madonna, Jean Tinguely, the Nouveaux Realistes and by the hardcore Viennese Actionists.

Alessandro Ludovico: The material/immaterial dilemma is at the base of digital, but after so many dematerialization analysis, now it seems that to re-materialize stuff is an art trend. What we do is to re-materialize digital paradoxes and de-stabilizing potential markets in a “conceptual” economy.

Copyright/left, GNU, Creative Commons, All Rites Reversed—the discussions about the actual restictions of the copyright are multifaceted and emanate from many different points of view. Where do you – as artists, writers, producers of intellectual, non-material goodssee the most striking clash between intellectual property and commodities in their original meaning as industrial property?

Paolo Cirio: The second step of the materialization of the books in printed copy is with Print on Demand technology and the distribution of these in public space of poor countries will be a concrete example of commodities. When a common good has been given to people for free or for a cheap price, the society has won. Every day we see the rampant privatization of commons, as soon as people become more poor and ignorant. The latest movements of CC, Wikipedia, P-2-P free networks, etc. are a needed resistance in a world where the use of cultural content is ever less a right but ever more a business.

Ubermorgen.com: One of UBERMORGEN.COM’s ongoing projects is called Chinese Gold. It mixes up the “virtual” (the game) with the “real” (money). In China there are many Online-Gaming Workshops that hire people to play online games such as World of Warcraft (WoW) day and night. The gaming workers produce in-game currency, equipments, and whole characters that are sold to American and European Gamers via Ebay. These people are called “Chinese Gold Farmers”. The future is now!

One final question to all of you: What was the last book you ordered on Amazon.com? And was it your last?

Ubermorgen.com: Anne McCaffrey, “All The Weyrs of Pern”. Yes, we stopped downloading books the moment the contract (sale of the software) was signed with Amazon USA. Thanks for your Qs. Amazon Noir is a project by UBERMORGEN.COM, PAOLO CIRIO, ALESSANDRO LUDOVICO, 2006

Alessandro Ludovico: Mine was “Amazon.com: Get Big Fast” by Robert Spector.

Thank you for the interview!



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