Student review: Digital Prohibition: Piracy and Authorship in New Media Art

November 8, 2012

Author: Carolyn Guertin

Edition: First

Publisher: Bloomsbury/Continuum

Pages: 304

Price: £65.00 and £19.99

ISBN: 9781441106100 and 131904

Carolyn Guertin sees in digital prohibition not only a crisis of the distribution of the products of digital creativity but also a crisis of democracy itself. Intellectual property may have arisen from the aim of protecting artistic innovation, but the powers that prohibit the sharing of copyrighted files enforce a regime of digital censorship that imposes limits on digital artists and consumers alike. This limitation also facilitates the continued domination of a biased, sensationalist digital press, despite the restructured and quasi-universal means of media distribution that the internet allegedly affords us.

Her reading is influenced by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's conception of "multitude", a group that constantly creates the common, that Guertin identifies in recent movements from Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring. It is through the internet that we create our own unmediated popular culture. This conception of the internet relies on a participatory model in which information circulates through a more universalised, horizontal or peer-to-peer structure than the trickle-down hierarchy of traditional media. The digital space thus allows a free play of opinion and creativity. Art is no longer limited to the author/genius model of production but becomes a collective endeavour. But intellectual property owners, collectively represented by large powerful associations, have transnational power in both civil and now criminal litigation against copyright infringers. Guertin rightly argues that these interested parties are fundamentally at odds not only with those who share music or films but also with the entire collective structure of the internet. From this basis she goes on to explore and justify an internet culture in which copyright is viewed not only with a stereotypical irreverence but also as a crucial irrelevance. But while she is critical of the restrictions imposed on the circulation of online information, Guertin is perhaps, like Hardt and Negri, too optimistic about the possibilities for creativity, collective action and, ultimately, emancipation through the repurposing of existing technologies.

In the same way that internet artists borrow from copyright to produce their work (via collaging, sampling and remixing), Guertin borrows from theorists ranging from Marshall McLuhan to Guy Debord to Bruno Latour. This is common practice in media studies, which, reflective of its subject, is constantly appropriating information and flitting between one subject and another. Yet while this is a useful text for introducing many key approaches to digital technology, it should not be read as providing a new theoretical platform.

Who is it for? Trendy media studies students.

Presentation: Generic.

Would you recommend it? A typical account of contemporary media theory with a discussion of digital art practices.

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