While the ideas of ‘open access’ and ‘open source’ have been enthusiastically embraced by many academics, activists and computer geeks, artists and professional image-makers have been far less willing to come on board. The proliferation of images in the digital era in which culture has supposedly become free and hence devalued has posed a significant threat to the professional lives of many. Yet calls for the increased protection of intellectual property rights seem like a somewhat futile attempt to return to a pre-Internet era, when cultural goods were more difficult to duplicate – and when it was easier for at least some of them to become precious commodities that secured a high price.
New media writer and activist Cory Doctorow has been promoting a ‘freemium’ model as a solution, whereby a ‘stripped down’ version of a product is made available for free, with a higher-spec one distributed at cost. Getty Images’ decision, announced in March 2014, to allow anyone to embed and share low-resolution version on websites, blogs and social media platforms without seeking permission or making a payment, is an illustration of this freemium approach – even if for some it is first and foremost an example of yet another Internet-age Goliath dancing on the graves of individual media makers.
Video artist and writer Hito Steyerl’s recent project, Is the Internet úäCì@?ù.1HcpiÙîfê¿Dead, 2014, is an interesting intervention into this debate on the instability and openness of images in the Internet era. The artist has designed a two-part edition to accompany her exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in London: a free unlimited digital download and a new limited edition print. As explained on the ICA website,
The source for both editions is a found image of a woodcut print by Utamaro, which the artist has intentionally corrupted by embedding one of her written texts into the image’s source code. The downloadable code reveals this hidden text, from which it is possible to reconstruct the original jpeg image. The limited edition print is a further derivative of this text, printed with silver ink containing silicone; a component of semiconductors.
More information about the ‘original corrupted’ version by Steyerl and its different editions can be found here.