Rob Myers
Since 2003
Works in United States of America

Rob Myers is an artist and hacker based in the UK.

I have been creating images of the contemporary social and cultural environment through programming, design software and visual remixing since the early 1990s. My work is influenced by popular culture and high art in equal measures. My interest in remixing and sampling has led to my involvement in the Free Culture movement. I have been involved in the public consultation regarding the Creative Commons 2.0 and CC-UK licenses. All my visual art is available under a Creative Commons license.

My interest in programming has led to my involvement with the Free Software movement. I developed the Macintosh version of the Gwydion Dylan programming language compiler. All my software is available under the GNU GPL.
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Invisible Influenced

Data Visualization is the Socialist Realism of Neoliberalism.


The Rematerialization of Art

Selling new media art may not seem radical to Rhizomers. But in the broader artworld "there are new media artists who are actually selling" is a point well worth making. I applaud "Holy Fire" for not only making that point but engaging critically with it.

New media art (and net art) has never been outside the market (you have to buy a lot of equipment and services to make and experience it) but it has been outside the art market. This was part of what made it interesting as art (where it didn't make it just academic). And this was always going to make it ultimately irresistible to the art market. New media art is in danger of being the new spraycan art.

Moving new media art into the economic hyperspace of the art market is not really rematerialization. Quite the opposite. It takes something that is sociologically and aesthetically solid and melts it into the economic air. If new media art is to survive in the art market as anything other than the reified forms of the subculture that produced it then we need to set the terms of engagement. I think that "Holy Fire" helps to do this.



Warhol had trouble with patent infringement. He commissioned some 3D photos (based on the flowers series he'd already lost a copyright lawsuit over) using a Japanese system that infringed on a US patent at the time and then tried to import them.

Economic systems that punish individual achievement are even worse than those that fail to reward it. The current patent system has that effect in software and business methods. It also produces perverse incentives in medicine. Art method patents are a clear parallel to business method patents and so fall under the same general critique whatever the relative merits of other kinds of patents.



** Regarding the idea that an artist applies for a patent because they are worried about people stealing their work.

It is important to recognize that, by the inventor's own admission, this is a patent on an artistic process intended to exert control over other artists.This is a restriction on use of an artistic process announced on an arts web site, to a community of artists. We cannot ignore the content based on the form.

** It would be useful if those who object to this proposed use of a patent would be more specific as to whether there is something special they object to when artists apply for patents, or whether they are simply against patents in general and by all inventors.

There is more than one kind of patent: medicine, software, business method, manufacturing process, mechanism, someone even tried for a story patent the other year. These are clearly not the same kind of patent, and one does not have to believe that they are all equally valid.

There is more than one practical reason why one might oppose a given class of patents. Medical patents are killing people in the third world. Software patents make maths patentable, breaking the US constitution. Business method patents allow intangible things to be patented.

There is more than one reason to believe that patents can be valid. One can believe that they are indeed a strange new form of property. Or one can believe they are a legal construct. Or one can believe they are a product of the constitution (if one is American). Or one can believe they are a means to encourage disclosure, and a reward for doing so. One can believe that they are an economic incentive. One can believe that they are a limited monopoly. One can believe that they are an alienable, claimable right over one's invention. One can believe some, all, or none of the above.

There is more than one ideological reason why one might oppose some or all kinds of patents. One might be criticizing property in general if one accepts patents as property. One might think that they lead to market inefficiencies. One might oppose monopolies of all kinds. One might believe studies that show that first adopter advantage is sufficient. One might oppose government intervention in the economy. And so on.

One need not accept that all patents of all kinds are valid. There are many reasons why a particular patent of a particular kind might be problematic. They might be obvious. There might be prior art. They might be socially or economically harmful (a recent FCC decision hinged on this). They might be trying to apply a particular kind of patent to something they were not intended to. The effects of large numbers of patents of a particular kind held by a few actors might be harmful where a single patent is not. This is not an exhaustive list.

All of this shows that there are no simple binary oppositions to be had in considering patents. In particular there is no simple binary opposition between believing that patents are a form of property and are valid, or believing that they are a form of property and invalid.

** But for the purposes of this particular discussion I would simply ask why a single artist, likely with modest resources and competing with large companies with much stronger legal, technical, and funding resources, is the best place to fight a battle against all patents? For the duration of this battle, can't we allow the marginal protections patents afford the "little guy" while the general war against patents is waged against the "big guys?"

It is not the best place. It is the place that has intruded into Rhizome. I oppose IP Maximalism elsewhere, so I don't see why I shouldn't oppose it on an arts web site that I'm a member of.

When a large corporation comes onto Rhizome and announced their intent to start restricting artistic freedom through patents I will oppose them here as well.

IP Maximalists *always* plead for protection for the little guy. It is like landlords pleading for stronger eviction law so they can empty up properties to house the homeless. It's chutzpah, not ethics, and examining recent legal history shows just how well small patent holders do against large patent portfolios.

** Ummm, see that computer sitting in front of you? The one you use to make pieces? It's full of patented technology. Are you going to stop using it? Do you expect the art-world to shun your pieces if you don't? Or is this again a special (negative) case? That it's OK to use patented technology to make art, so long as the patent isn't held by an artist?

None of the patents on my laptop were taken out specifically to control my ability to make art with it. So this really doesn't compare. And we have already established that you don't have to oppose either all kinds of patents or none.

Rather than accepting the harm of hardware patents and seeking to extend this to art, I support free hardware projects and work to prevent the harm of patenting wherever it arises.

Including in art.

And rather than accepting the harm of restrictions of artistic freedom and seeking to extend this to the rest of society, I support free culture projects and work to prevent the harm of restrictions of artistic freedom however they are expressed.

Including through patents.



If an artist is worried about people stealing their work, they need to talk to the gallery about getting security guards or improving the locks on the windows and doors. If an artist has confused "stealing" with people being inspired by their work, they probably shouldn't exhibit their work. Nobody is forcing them to. And if an artist has this confusion and still wants to exhibit their work while trying to force their audience, including other artists, to behave in a particular way then that isn't something anyone else should feel particularly bad about ignoring.

Coca Cola either won't care about an artist's idea or will have much more expensive lawyers and a much larger patent portfolio than than them. If receiving power and control over others is an acceptable substitute for participating in artistic society then politics or HR are probably better career options than art is.

Artists such as Picasso used the mass media and industrial manufacturing techniques in their work from the start of the 20th Century. What if they had infringed on an art method patent? We would not be discussing them now, and they would not have gained reputations that can be invoked in the name of IP Maximalism. The Mona Lisa has not become less valuable due to the endless millions of reproductions of it. Thomas Kinkade's work has not become artistically any better through reproduction either.

A world in which an artist asserts their authority (what authority???) over others is a world in which others are entitled to authority over them. Unless an artist feels that they will be one of the bosses in this brave new artistic culture they probably shouldn't try to bring it about. And if they do feel they will be one of the bosses, they are concerned with matters quite outside of what actually creates the value of art.

A mediaeval guild system of secret methods and masters is a poor fit to the open space of the Internet or to contemporary artistic society. It is not a solution to any actual problems faced by artists or society. And by trying to afford a few artists an economic advantage over their peers it furthers the cause of controlling and exclusionary legal creep in society as a whole.