CODE : "The Free Art License : for art not to be stopped".

First of all, I would like to thank Tina Horne, Antoine Schmitt and Pierre Amadio for the translation of my text. And also Nicolas and Laurence from Constant association for their help. And thank too Bronac Ferran for inviting me and of course, thanks to my mother and father.

I will start by talking about the birth, in France, of the « copyleft attitude » movement, and will follow up by giving the reasons for the creation of the Free Art Licence, and explain its usefulness. I will end with a few reflexions related to contemporary art, and to creation in general in the digital age.

° It is the widespread use of the Internet, and the observations of the community of programmers who make and use free software, which is at the origin of the artistic movement « CopyLeft Attitude ». When I first grasped the notion of copyleft, I realized that it could also be applied to artistic creation. To authorize the copying, distribution and transformation of objects : this echoed much of the research carried out in contemporary art over the last 20 years. But it had never been formulated in such a real and relevant way by the artists as it had been by the programmers with the GNU project. I immediately discussed it with artist friends involved in a magazine called « Allotopie » (its name is a pun on « everywhere » and « utopia ») and we started work.

Before going on, I have to render unto Caesar, not what belongs to him, but what he deserves: as you probably know, « copyleft » is a word invented by Richard Stallman to designate the free software created under the General Public Licence. I think I’ve heard somewhere that it wasn’t actually him who was the source of this pun, but a friend of his… As you see, one can never be sure of paternity… There may even be a strange, cloven-hoofed animal behind all this ? …

Anyway – In Paris, in January 2000, we organized a series of meetings and debates between artists, programmers, lawyers and various members of the art world, to spread information about the notion of « copyleft » and of free software. The idea was to see how relevant this notion could be to artists and to creative work in general. For the first time, free software programmers and contemporary artists got to know each other and realized that they had much in common – So much so that, for example, Eric S. Raymond’s « How to be a hacker » could easily be transformed into « How to be an artist ». Which I did, with the permission of the author, by exchanging certain words specific to programming for words relating to art.

In March 2000, we set up a workshop-exhibition-meeting to experiment with open artworks, and to draft a licence inspired by the GPL. I must say we were not able to do this very quickly nor very easily, and we only finalized it in July 2000, with the help of the two first lawyers in France to be interested by the GPL: Mélanie Clément-Fontaine and David Géraud.

What _is_ the Free Art licence ?

It’s very simple: the Free Art Licence is a licence designed for use by artists, that permits the copying, distribution and transformation of work. It prevents any proprietory control of the work: which means leaving your work of art open-ended and free. It can be applied to any kind of art work, digital or otherwise, music, sculpture, text, etc… It’s a tool: it enables work to pass through the hands of various artists without being stopped, or fixed. In this way, the creation may nourish other artists and authors. As André Malraux was fond of saying, ‘Art is fed by art’. Art is not only a finished product, it’s also a raw material that can be re-used in other creations.

Thus, a collective creation may happen. It’s open, free, egalitarian, fraternal. It’s about sharing. This tool, the Free Art Licence, aims to encourage collective creation by abolishing definitive authoritarian control.

In France, we have the ‘droit d’auteur’ (author’s right) which is slightly different from the anglo-saxon copyright; but as time passes, the French ‘droit d’auteur’ is coming to resemble copyright more and more, to the benefit of the producer and the middleman. The artists and the public are the losers. The notions of public service and the public good are being co-opted by marketing imperatives. Creation itself becomes merchandise in the hands of the ‘cultural engineers’ (yes, that’s what we call the middlemen in France) who work for a culture dominated by greed. It is generally acknowledged that the time has come to redefine author’s rights and copyright, and copyleft seems like an idea in tune with the current economic and artistic situation.

° Now I would like to get a bit more specific and explain how the powerful combination of free software, the internet and artistic creation will have repercussions not only for artists, but also for contemporary culture.

Don’t get me wrong, when I say ‘artist’, I mean any type of creator, however far from the Art-Academy tradition. To accompany the ‘Man without Qualities » defined by Robert Musil we can now joyfully announce an « art without qualities » – Art which is both banal and extra-ordinary in terms of its original definition.

When we think ‘art’, let’s also think cooking, walking, talking, even idling (which is a more complex art than most people would believe). Those we call « artists » have no monopoly on art.

Just as politicans have no monopoly on politics. We all are creators. All of us, authors of multiple creations, we are all creators of the society in which we live and of the life we lead. Each one with the others, each one against the others. Our creations are both political and artistic.

The difference between those two is beginning to blur. Because Culture has become a prime value, claimed by both art and politics; a value discussed and disputed.

In this post-democratic era, politics and art are made by Everyone. The role of the professional in art and politics today is to demonstrate the validity of the ordinary, and to make sure that daily creation takes place under the right conditions.

To create implies being attentive. This attention re-formulates expression and liberates it from an authoritarian autism which lies in wait for those creators who try to avoid observation. Because to observe is already the first step towards creation.

So what are we observing today? With the new economy linked to the digital, it is no longer the object itself in which value is concentrated. That which determines the value of an object is that which exceeds it, which surrounds it, which is on its periphery.

This is also visible in recent art history: since the end of the Renaissance, materials used in the production of works of art tend to be « poorer » – less and less valuable – and the forms, less and less sophisticated. Artists take such liberties with their creations that they end up dispensing with the objects themselves altogether. Take, for example, the exhibition of Emptiness by Yves Klein in 1958 , or the « Peelings » by Joseph Beuys, considered as an exercise in sculpture, or with the word « Time » by Ian Wilson in 1963, the « Steps of pedestrians on paper » by Stanley Brown, and the work of Lawrence Wiener which does not require the production of the work of art, etc. One finds such examples in all artistic domains.

There is, therefore, a veritable « economy » that applies to creative work. An economy peculiar to art which even, sometimes – especially when its definition depends on being grounded in the art-object – becomes highly economical! – dispensing with the art-object altogether.

This is why it is important to distinguish between the art-object and the « objective » of art. Artistic creation is not reducible to the object in which it can, for practical and conventional reasons, be manifested. Into the engine that drives art, artists pour an explosive mixture which also contains non-art. The resulting explosion creates sparks and it would be stupid to shield oneself from them. The motor woul
d then be in neutral and all our vehicles at a standstill. I would like to raise a question here which is no stranger to art or politics (we have seen how closely related these two fields are today): Could there possibly be an « economic art » – or should I say an artistic economy? That is to say, an economic practice which, in its technical characteristics, its scientific trappings and its alleged pragmatism, would be a practice concerned not only with liberty, but also with egality and fraternity. These three words, you know, are the three key words of the French Revolution and they are inscribed on every French coin (by the way, talking of coins, I have no idea what we’ll find inscribed on the Euro…!). The problem with our liberal economy is that it is content to stop at Liberty, turning that into a smug and complacent Absolute. But it’s not enough. Because that Liberty ends up spinning round and round – while being obviously, _not_ well-rounded. Aiming at wholeness, it ends up being totalitarian. Clearly one cannot, in this case, speak of economy as art. The art would only happen if that particular liberty were restrained, thus making room for egality and fraternity. Otherwise, it’s a dictatorship, the dictatorship of liberty. This is why liberty must be tempered by a requirement for equality and fraternity. The Free Art Licence, in the field of artistic creation, is attempting to open up this perspective.

This is not utopian. Because when we make art, our feet are firmly planted on the ground. We are not dreamers, we are not out of touch with reality. On the contrary, we are inside the reality of reality, in the very stuff of life and living.

This reality, it’s the floodtide of our desires in relation to matter. Works of the mind run through our bodies. Ideas which float in the air flash through our minds. When an idea finds refuge in a particular body, it can’t live if it is blocked: it stays trapped as in a cage. Creativeness traverses us, transports us. It transforms us too, and we discover that it’s an infinite development of ourselves and of the world. To stop creation because of an economy that is only concerned with financial questions, is to impoverish. After having been seduced by gold for art, must we abandon art for gold? NO. With the Free Art Licence we are creating conditions that will enable art and economy to function intelligently; so that there is a relationship between the economy proper to Art and a feasible art of the economy.

° To finish, I would like to say that today, « Copyleft Attitude » represents around 150 people, mostly French, but also Belgian, Swiss and Canadian. Works of art produced under the Free Art Licence are many and varied: music, photographs, drawings, texts, print publications, audio c-d’s, cd roms, videos, perfomances, etc.

Last month in Paris we held a copyleft party during a Web festival which brought together 8 artists and as many others on-line to create artworks with the public. With permission to copy, broadcast, distribute and transform. We had cd recorders, printers and 8 connected computers. It was, at one and the same time, an artists’ performance, a public workshop, a show and its opposite, an unending rehearsal. Next month another copyleft party will take place in Paris with musicians.

Let’s hold more copyleft parties! You, too, should hold copyleft parties! Let’s create openings for artistic creation! All kinds of creation! We could hold a copyleft cooking party with free recipes, a conversation party with free ideas, a gardening party with free sowing of seeds on free ground, a rambling party with free circuits…..

So that art in all its forms never stops creating… Let’s copyleft each other!

« CODE : the Free Art License : for art not to be stopped .” text of the conference given for CODE ( « Collaboration and ownership in the digital economy.” Queens’ College, Cambridge, organisé par the Arts Council of England, 4-6 Avril 2001.)
Copyright © march 2001, Antoine Moreau
Copyleft: this work of art is free, you can redistribute it and/or modify it according to terms of the Free Art license.
You will find a specimen of this license on the site Copyleft Attitude as well as on other sites.

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