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Minds of Concern: Breaking News (Knowbotic Research), 2002

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The Legal Bug

For the 2002 exhibition «Open_Source_Art_Hack» at the New Museum curated by myself and Jenny Marketou, Knowbotic Research proposed the work «Minds of Concern: Breaking News». For it, they created a jukebox interface that would select at random the URL of an NGO or cultural organization. It then performed a port scan [42] , which their legal counsel had determined was, in fact, legal, even under the restrictions of the recently passed Patriot Act, as long as there was no attempt to «enter» the server through any identified security weakness. «Minds of Concern» did not publicly identify the sites it scanned, and viewed it as a kind of public service, warning under-resourced organizations about potential vulnerabilities. It turned out, however, that the New Museum’s internet service provider had a clause in their commercial contract with the museum, which prohibited port scanning for any reason. The museum and curators were unable to provide the necessary support to fight the ISP or find an alternative, and the project was shut down. Knowbotic then added in large


vinyl letters on the walls of the installation: «_Legal Bug_Artistic_Self_Censorship_» making explicit, the ultimate—and immediate— consequences of such «benign» legal bugs, about which the «New York Times» wrote: «The dispute calls attention to one of the very points the piece is intended to make. Because the lines between public and private control of the Internet are not yet clearly defined, what artists want to do may be perfectly legal, but that does not mean they will be allowed do it.» [43] The legal bug is an insidious restriction of the public sphere.

The Digital Commons

To an extent, the legal bug can also work in reverse. Lessig helped establish the organization Creative Commons in part to use the legal system to ensure that intellectual property could be reused under conditions spelled out in a creative commons license. As they put it, «Creative Commons defines the spectrum of possibilities between full copyright—all rights reserved—and the public domain— no rights reserved. Our licenses help you keep your copyright while inviting certain uses of your work—a some rights

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