Just Do It - Be Neoliberal!

Intellectual theft as a curatorial method
Or: How capitalist exploitation is disguised as a "left-wing" strategy

Open Letter, July 3rd, 2005

( -- Thanks to a lot of friends and colleagues 
and to Florian Cramer for an almost instant 
English translation ;-) --)

For the exhibition "Just Do It - The Subversion 
of Signs from Marcel Duchamp to Prada Meinhof" at 
Lentos Museum in Linz, Austria, the three 
curators Thomas Edlinger, Florian Waldvogel and 
Raimar Stange have produced a catalogue 
consisting of (sometimes very long) passages from 
texts by different authors. The authors were 
neither asked for their permission of the 
reprint, nor do the texts bear any attribution, 
i.e. they cannot be matched to single authors. 
The catalogue thus appears to consist of one 
long, continuous text.

The only ones named in this catalogue are Lentos 
Museum as the editor and the three curators of 
the exhibition.

The publication is commercially distributed.

The last page of the book contains, under the 
headline "Thanks", an impressive list of people. 
It remains unclear however if those are the names 
of the authors whose texts were used, people who 
supported and collaborated in the exhibition or 
even commercial sponsors. The authors who are 
named here did not know that they would be put on 
that list.

In most general terms, this is a misunderstanding 
and even an abuse of the concepts of "culture 
jamming", "appropriation" and "subversion of 
signs". Those practices are not a general license 
for serving yourself with the work of your 
colleagues, but - mostly in the field of net 
activism - a strategy of appropriating symbols 
(trademarks, corporate identities, logos) in 
order to subvert the authority of large 
corporations. They are about the critical, 
artistic alteration of ruling codes, not 
uncritical postmodern recycling, and they are not 
meant to free lazy curators and critics from 
doing their work.

In the case of "Just do it", the misunderstanding 
does not seem to be based on a lack of knowledge, 
but an intentional carreerist camouflage strategy.

A few elaborations:

1) In fields where free distribution of works is 
more important than commercial use - like in free 
software, the sciences, certain areas of art and 
other volunteer work - proper attribution and 
crediting people is indispensable and part of 
fair ethics. After all, the authors have no gain 
from their work except public recognition. The 
"Just Do It" book is even too cheap for that. If 
the editors had been consequent, they should have 
left out their own names, too, instead of taking 
credit for the texts themselves.


2) According to [continental European] copyright 
laws, proper attribution is an indispensable 
right of every author. There can be no doubt that 
an illegal act was committed here that could be 
brought to

3) Yes, there are pseudonymous and anonymous 
publications like those of Luther Blissett. But 
it is solely upon the author to choose such a 
form of publication, not upon some editor. 
According to both legal and ethical rules, it is 
an editor's duty to get a permit from an author 
for every kind of use, including secondary uses, 
unless there are other contractual agreements or 
license rules. The exhibition itself documents 
that artist transgress these rules. But if 
editors and curators do the same and claim the 
same artistic freedom for themselves, they 
shouldn't mind being called manipulators (just 
like the artists).

4) Authorship involves responsibility, with the 
author's signature at its visible expression. 
Without attribution, all texts are devaluated.


5) The catalogue doesn't declare its text a 
collective, anonymous work, but implicitly 
ascribes it to the curators. This way, they - 
respectively Lentos Museum - cash in their value. 
Other authors can no longer be identified and get 
purged from history like in Stalinist media. 
Since the readers get the impression that the 
texts were written by the curators, this is not 
simply suppression of names, but
plagiarism. Unlike in artistic plagiarism, it's 
not a (weaker) individual borrowing from an 
institution, but an institution taking from 
individuals, similar to a professor who publishes 
the research of a student or assistant under his 
own name in an academic journal.


6) The people listed on the "Thanks" page of the 
catalogue are being recuperated since at least of 
the authors I know had not been contacted and 
negotiated with in advance. This (fictitious) 
list suggests a quality standard that increases 
the reputation of the curators and the editor.

7) The authors were removed from the economic 
value chain of the catalogue publication on full 
purposes. In a private e-Mail message to me, the 
curators said that including them would have 
prevented the publication as a whole because it 
would have become too expensive. They thus 
testify to a quite disturbed sense of right and 
wrong, putting their economic freedom above the 
legal rights of the producers.

8) With their behavior, the curators demonstrate 
that they don't understand "appropriation": It's 
not about saving money for publishers. And not 
about using other people's work to increase your 
own reputation and market value.

9) Since Lentos Museum has refused to react so far, I propose the following:

- all money made from the sales of the book will be donated to the Free
  Software Foundation Europe or the Creative Commons project.

- the curators give back their honorarium and donate it to Creative Commons,

- the remaining copies of the book will be given away for free and the
  manuscript will be put online as a freely downloadable PDF file.

- Lentos Museum and the curators will be anonymized on all related
  websites and printed matters, just like the authors before.

10) Copyright gives me all means for stopping the 
distribution of the book. Since I don't mind 
giving away my texts when a minimum of ethical 
rules are being obeyed, such as attribution of 
author and source, I will draw one consequence 
from this unpleasant experience: I will attach a 
license to all my texts which unmistakably 
explains the fair play rules for their use, and 
let a lawyer handle all infringements.

Inke Arns


Dr. Inke Arns

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