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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Data visualization art

That's a good way of looking at it. Processing calls its projects "sketches", and there's a tradition of exploratory programming in software development and of prototyping in hardware development.

But I think that the core issue here is that sketches, and often works produced as academic coursework, are being exhibited as finished works. This isn't Impressionism, it's a category error.



Countries with weak intellectual property rights and enforcement such as the US prior to the mid 1970s can be economic powerhouses precisely because they are not hobbled by arbitrary restrictions on what people can think or make. China is in a similar position now, and unsurprisingly the US wants them to respect American IP rights to make them less competitive. So the argument that economic weakness correlates in any way specifically with weak IP law is incorrect.

Individuals are at a disadvantage to corporations with or without patents because of their relative economic power. Without patents, if I invent a new computer, Apple or Sun can simply copy it far faster than I can raise the funds required to make it myself. With patents, if I invent a new computer, Sun and Apple each have thousands of patents they can assert against me to prevent me making my new computer or to charge me for the privilege of making my own invention. In either case the problem is relative economic scale, and the moral high ground of being able to pay the tens of thousands of dollars it costs to draft a patent or the hundreds of thousands it costs to defend a patent is cold comfort for a private individual. The best you they hope for is to sell their idea to one of the big players, in which case they have basically agreed to take on the economic risk of corporate R&D without the economic or social rewards.

It is not bizarre that people can be compensated for benefiting society, but we are artists and if we think of ourselves in microeconomic terms we are clearly insane. Economically, we would make more money and benefit society more as plumbers, or if we suffer white collar delusions of grandeur as accountants.

What would be bizarre would be if people were compensated for preventing others from benefitting society. But that is precisely the practical effect of software and business method patents.



Quoting Jim Andrews <>:

> there should be recourse to overturn patents when the "invention" should not
> be patentable.

There are entire classes of "inventions" that are patentable that
simply should not be patentable. This means that every single
"invention" of this class should not be patentable. To make such
"inventions" patentable then allow some to be overturned is a category
error. Software and Business Methods should not be patentable, the
public harm this does outweighs any private benefit.

- Rob.



Quoting Jim Andrews <>:

> patents are only a threat to dullards.

That is untrue. Patent trolls are a threat to genuine innovators. And
the patentability of mathematics and concepts in software patents and
business method patents are a threat. This is true for both economic
and social implementation of both novel and established ideas.

> because they are quite particular. they're not general enough to be much of
> a concern to inquiring, original minds.

Patents are not particular, they are written in impenetrable legalese.

If you saw your own original creation represented as a patent you
wouldn't recognize it. I know, because I once had to help prepare a
patent for something I had created.

> so don't worry too much about them.

"We programmers are often amazed by the simplicity of the ideas that
real software patents cover--for instance, the European Patent Office
has issued a patent on the progress bar, and one on accepting payment
via credit cards. These would be laughable if they were not so

Sure, don't worry unduly about them. But recognize that any expansion
of patents into areas that affect art, and art computing in
particular, is not a positive thing and should be opposed where

- Rob.



Keeping an artistic process secret is mediaeval. In science, the risk of secretive mediaeval alchemists embarrassing their courtly sponsors led to the publishing and public review system of the modern scientific method. Patents may resemble this but they exact a price for disclosure. A secret process has no legal and economic repercussions for anyone else who succeeds in reproducing that secret process. Patents do. Contrary to Philip's assertion they can easily prevent you from using a particular concept. Such as "adding a third portion of liquid", to give one notorious example of a business method patent. And they prevent you from using that concept even if you have never heard of the patent and have arrived at the concept independently.

The business method patent I mention applies to cereal bars. Now imagine the damage similarly basic and expansive patents could do to artistic practice.

Artists using "intellectual property" laws to chill public and artistic discussion of their work are shooting themselves in the foot in much the same way as the RIAA/MPAA. Nobody loves a bully. If the only interesting thing about an artwork is that it is the product of a patent then the artwork is not very interesting as art. If it is interesting as art it probably doesn't need protecting by a patent.

Patenting artistic processes reflects the ego and tastes of corporate information culture and venture capital, not the culture of art or the broader culture of society. In fact it is opposed to these. Reflecting this ego and these tastes is harmful in business and will be harmful in art. To do so may nonetheless be one of the tasks that faces contemporary art. It is not a task that should be approached lightly or complicitly though.