The Piracy Project

Sissu Tarka, Pirate Affect, 2008

The Piracy Project was initiated by AND Publishing as a result of a threat to close down the Byam Shaw Library at Central Saint Martins school of art in London, where AND is located. AND's website defines the Piracy Project as "an international publishing and exhibition project exploring the philosophical, legal and practical implications of book piracy and creative modes of reproduction." What this means in practice is a series of suggestions to the way we interact with books, all of which are archived on the project's website, as well as distributed and exhibited by AND Publishing.

Could book piracy be considered a methodology? At a time when discussions about book piracy have proliferated mainly as a result of the rising popularity of e-readers (so often described as the publishing industry's saviors), the publishing industry found itself in a position similar to that of the music and film industries, both of which have been fighting piracy unsuccessfully for a long time. Still, somehow, book piracy always seemed a little different. True, it has its quirks, like illegal translations done from a language other than the original or chapters added in to an illegal version. But maybe book piracy seems different because in a way, we have all pirated books. We read PDFs that a university professor scanned from his or her private copy of a book, including their comments in the margins. We try to interpose open pages on Amazon and those on Google Books in order to get the information we are looking for. Somehow, it seems more acceptable; when a professor scans a few chapters from a private copy it is deemed "fair use," and thus not a copyright infringement, because it is done for educational reasons. But the habit of reading scans is imprinted in us. This is one of the ways in which we use books—and books should be used.

What is so different about the Piracy Project? The way it pushes us to interact with books. The Piracy Project is not concerned with stealing or forgery, nor is it directly a comment on questions of scanning, access, and the fair use of printed matter. "Here creativity and originality sit not in the borrowed material itself, but in the way it is handled," is the claim on the Piracy Project's website. And there lies its uniqueness: piracy here is an approach rather than an act. Piracy allows the artist/user/participant (interestingly, the language around the project is not extremely specific) to react to a book, as in Pirate Affect, where Sissu Tarka redesigns the cover of Seth Price's Dispersion, which is available online and created a new host site for the booklet's URL. It allows us to reconsider books, the way novelist Jonathan Safran Foer did when he created a new story by cutting into his favorite novel, Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles in his project, Tree of Codes. It has examples of the way we reuse books, like artist Marysia Lewandowska's contribution to Shadowboxing, published by the RCA Curating Contemporary Art MA students, where she published Giorgio Agamben's text What is an Apparatus with her handwritten marginalia.

Sophie Hoyle, GMC Cut/Up II, 2011

Piracy Project books can become objects, the way London-based artist Sophie Hoyle cut Phaidon's catalogue raisonné of Gordon Matta-Clark's works into cut blocks, making it a sculptural object that echoes the text's subject. Or like Neil Chapman's Proust and Signs, which is a reproduction of the artist's personal copy of Gilles Deleuze's book, complete with binding errors that resulted in some pages being inserted upside down. The enticing thing about these projects is that they make us reconsider what books are to us, the way we use them, and the way we assign their value, that is, monetary, intellectual, and emotional value. All the while offering us new ways of using books.

In early 2012, the Piracy Project is organizing a "summit," where copyright lawyers will assess the project's entire collection and give their account if those objects violate copyright law or could be considered fair use. What will the result of this be? Whether the project will discontinue or be given legal grounds, this is yet another offer of new ways of thinking about books, piracy, fair use, copyright, and the framework under which we consider and make use of publishing and the publishing industry.