Curatorial Concept

>> exhibition proposal

online pilot launch:
Acer Digital Art Center. Taiwan
December 9, 2001

onsite premiere:
Ars Electronica, Linz
September 7-12, 2002

Joint Curation:
Shu Lea Cheang
Armin Medosch
Yukiko Shikata

  Curatorial statement:
Kingdom of Piracy <KOP> is an online, open work space to explore the free sharing of digital content - often condemned as piracy - as the net's ultimate art form. Commissioned by the Acer Digital Art Center [ADAC] in Taiwan for ArtFuture 2002, <KOP> was designed to include links, objects, ideas, software, commissioned artists' projects, critical writing and online streaming media events. Hailed as the first international online exhibition sponsored by Taiwan's computer giant Acer Group, a pilot website <> was launched in December 2001 and presented with a press conference at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipai, Taiwan.

In April 2002 the leadership and direction of ADAC changed. At about the same time a major anti-piracy initiative was launched in Taiwan. <KOP> became a politically sensitive issue in Taiwan and by May, the curatorial and artists' FTP access to the <KOP> server was denied. By mid-June, <> was taken offline. ADAC demanded editorial rights to artists' links and requested a change of the title, Kingdom of Piracy. The joint curatorial team rejected this demand and sought ways of preserving the project as both a Taiwanese initiative and an International online art project. Through the efforts of ADAC's former director Ray Wang, <KOP> server access at ADAC was resumed. However, an IP address was assigned, the use of the domain name is denied.

  Curatorial concept:

In the emergent information, or immaterial, economy, Intellectual Property (IP) - copyrighted content and patented ideas - constitutes the central resource of many of its biggest industries, from IT to entertainment, pharmaceuticals and biotech. The definition of Intellectual Property Rights in the digital domain has emerged as one of the central struggles to shape the culture of the information society.

Less than a decade ago, the Internet promised free and unlimited exchange of digital cultural goods. In recent years, however, the spectre of "piracy" has been replacing this utopia. In the wake of this shift a repressive regime is being installed to clamp down on what is seen as a threat to the information economy. Content industries employ armies of lawyers to shut down peer-to-peer file sharing networks and write laws preventing any and all circumvention of copyright protection mechanisms. The latter is aimed to bolster the relatively new approach to enforce copyright through special software, known as digital rights management systems (DRMS) which should make the unauthorized copying of ebooks, music and video files impossible. These systems fundamentally change the nature of ownership. Culturally important, even essential, notions such as fair use are being eroded in favour of total control of the owners over the uses of their content.


In this brave new world, the buyer receives a limited license to use a file rather than "owns" a record, video or book. The balance of power shifts to companies that hoard big libraries of copyrighted material. These companies, mostly big multinational conglomerates, have recently been brandmarked as 'data lords', because they can control how we can see, hear, read, process digital content that we legally own.

The rigid enforcement of intellectual property rights worldwide through patents, copyright, anti-piracy laws is resisted by a loose but growing alliance of scientists, researchers, free software and open source developers, artists, lawyers and teachers. They fear that the barriers for innovation are being set too high by the data-lords. By building digital and legal fences around information, the costs of access for educational, scientific and artistic institutions and practices are becoming prohibitive. As a consequence intellectual life and radical innovation are in danger of being choked in the interest of a few who control how existing information can be used for the creation of new one.


The purpose of Kingdom of Piracy <KOP> is to consider the law and order provisions surrounding intellectual property in the context of geographical and cultural borders, and to examine the changes and challenges presented by them to artists and cultural producers world wide.

Contrary to frequent claims, intellectual property rights are not universal. They have no history in Asia, for example. Demonstrative destructions of millions of pirated CDs and DVDs in China, part of the spectacle of the country's entry into the WTO, do not change the fact that much of the Asian continent is still operating on its own terms. The burst bubble of dot-commerce in the early 21st century has plunged Taiwan and Asia's electronic supply industries into recession, keeping the divide between Western and Eastern economies as wide as ever.


The Kingdom of Piracy is everywhere where there is radical innovation: on the fringes and in the mainstream high-tech economies, from Asia to Eastern Europe to the data havens of Sealand and hackers' garages in Silicon Valley. The digital commons is bathing in millions of MP3s and an endless supply of warez. Codes for appropriation, cut-and-paste, replication, sampling and remixing have long been established as artistic practice.<KOP> challenges artists, writers and practitioners to use these techniques to question, contribute to, analyse and otherwise address this growing Kingdom. It also asks them to become intimately involved in the processes of the Kingdom itself, a place in which all productions are part of an innately collaborative, derivative and intimately interconnected environment of intellectual 'properties'.

Kingdom of Piracy <KOP> invites allied crews of hackers (in the sense of Eric S. Raymond "A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities") and artists to plug into the supply lines of digital abundance. The<KOP> site is an active public sphere for global file sharing, de/scrambling and digital culture jamming. Commissioned works are engaged in artistic acts of "piracy" as a strategy for intellectual discourse and poetic intervention, but not as any endorsement of piracy as a business model.