theft, Ida Hiršenfelder

narrator Ida Hiršenfelder
term theft
published 25 August 2016, Ljubljana, Slovenia
affiliated institution MG+MSUM

The artists fighting for the right to share, distribut and experience cultural contents outside the boundaries of local economies, politics, or laws is not limited to the present time. The arguments, which condemn the existing copyright laws as opposing the idea of the commons, are as old as Marx’s argument on the Theft of Wood, and Working-Class Composition. The argument states that in the case of claiming ownership over fallen trees the law is nullified, when applied to the exclusive advantage of particular interests of an isolated group. This means that the interest of the public is transformed into private compensation. By applying the category of theft where it ought not to be applied one exonerates it. The call of various initiatives in the copy-left movement with hactivists and artist alike follows this argument. The piracy and theft is not an act of violence but rather an act of kindness, it is aimed at promoting the allowance of cultural ambivalences, and it delineates from antagonisms when sharing imaterial cultural property. In these movemet initiated by activists and artists alike, the right to share and willful renounce the market value of a cultural product is to allow for collaborative i.e. collective modes of creating. The creators of open codes do not disown their work only allow for it to change, grow, enhance.


The copyright claims to protect the rights of the creators. What it does is protect the property of the rich and successful. To prove a point in the dispute of the so called collective agreement of GEMA (Gesellschaft für musikalische Aufführungs [Society for Musical Performance in Germany]), the artist Johannes Kreidler subverted the autocratic system of copyright laws in his multimedia theatre piece product placements from 2008.


If one wants to register a song at GEMA, one has to fill out a form for each sample one uses, even the tiniest bit. At the time when the work by Kreidler was made (2008) GEMA strictly stated that: “The widely believed notion that 8 or 4 bars may be used without permission is incorrect.“ Thus, every copied bar should be reported and accounted for. With this instruction the bureaucratic machine of GEMA denied the right of remixing digital artworks and denied the right of the musicians to promote the idea of sharing. In the product placements, Johannes Kreidler pushed the concept of the culture of non-sharing to the extreme by creating a 33 second-long computer generated noise composition using 70.200 musical quotations i.e. samples. In some way, he created the most illegal sound art piece in the history. To officially register his new composition, he prepared the required 70.200 forms and announced to deliver them to GEMA on 12 September 2008 to demonstrate the need for reforming the copyright collecting agency. He demonstrated a completely absurd amount of administrative work in an effort to comply with their outdated registration requirements in the time of digital reproduction. He proclaimed that music does not exist on it’s own. It is connected with the politics of technology, consumption behaviours, market fluctuations, and economic value of art. He considers his action as a multimedia theatre including a video announcement, essay, sculpture, performance, and mass media discussions. One of his statements was that the aesthetic question can never be identical to a legislative question, seeking autonomy of his work. The action with international acclaim forced GEMA to officially state that not every bit of music must be registered in a form. This only proved that GEMA interprets the copyright law and the idea of intellectual property theft differently however it may suit it, while the artists must abide by its laws. GEMA treated intellectual property in the same way as material property, being completely oblivious to the new cultural context of the digitally produced artworks. The most urgent question that concerns also SAZAS (similar organisation in Slovenia) is the idea of quantitative value measures of artworks. A member of GEMA earns as much money as there are users, i.e. like clicks on Youtube but makes no effort to recognise the cultural value of less popular, experimental artworks. The answer is obvious, the majority is stealing the right of artistic minorities to exist, share, and enjoy the fruits of the social surplus.


The question over ownership of digiatally produced artworks was also provoced by Ljubljana based radio-art collective radioCona (Brane Zorman and Irena Pivka) 88.8MHz in their 2008 Temporary Project Radio For Contemporary Arts emissions. RadioCona explicitly stated that it supports regulated copyright, though it does not support the obstruction of creativity that takes place through the implementation of the copyright laws in force at present. In practise, this happens rather easily; for example, one cannot perform one's own artistic work in a public space without having to pay the reimbursement to a collective organisation SAZAS of which an experimental sound-art platform can never benefit because it simply never reaches enough audience compared to the pop culture. The experiment by radioCona was rather simple and humorous. They made a field recording of singing birds, then played it on the radioCona. Before each emission they posed a question: who is the creator of this recording, and thus the property owner of the piece: the birds, the one who recorded the sound, the one who played it on the radio, or the one who was listening.

Tags: digital piracy, shadow libraries, theft, regulation of the commons, artistic hacking, hacktivism, open licencing, copy-left, creative commons