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>Date: Mon, 23 Dec 2002 15:25:20 -0100
>From: "nettime's_roving_reporter" <nettimeATbbs.thing.net>
>Subject: <nettime> NYT on Thing.net
>Reply-To: "nettime's_roving_reporter" <nettimeATbbs.thing.net>
> [ via <tbyfieldATpanix.com>]
>Cyberspace Artists Paint Themselves Into a Corner
>By MATTHEW MIRAPAUL
>In a 1950's horror movie the Thing was a creature that killed before it was
>killed. Now in a real-life drama playing on a computer screen near you, the
>Thing is an Internet service provider that is having trouble staying alive.
>Some might find this tale equally terrifying.
>The Thing provides Internet connections for dozens of New York artists and
>organizations, and its liberal attitude allows its clients to exhibit online
>works that other providers might immediately unplug. As a result the Thing is
>struggling to survive online. Its own Internet-connection provider is planning
>to disconnect the Thing over problems created by the Thing's clients. While it
>may live on, its crisis illustrates how difficult it can be for Internet
>artists to find a platform from which they can push the medium's boundaries.
>Wolfgang Staehle, the Thing's founder and executive director, said the
>high-bandwidth pipeline connecting the Thing to the Internet would be severed
>on Feb. 28 because its customers had repeatedly violated the pipeline
>provider's policies. While the exact abuses are not known, they probably
>involve the improper use of corporate trademarks and generating needless
>traffic on other sites.
>If Mr. Staehle is unable to establish a new pipeline, the 100 Web sites
>individual customers, mostly artists, that rely on the Thing for Internet
>service could lose their cyberspace homes. In a telephone interview from the
>Thing's office in Chelsea, Mr. Staehle (pronounced SHTAW-luh) said, "It's not
>fair that 300 of our clients will suffer from this and I might be out of
>The Thing's pipeline is currently supplied by Verio Inc. of Englewood, Colo.,
>which declines to comment on its troubles with the Thing. Mr. Staehle said
>he had not received official word from Verio, but that the company's lawyers
>told the Thing the service would be cut off because of the violations.
>For some digital artists, these are perilous times. With the Internet's rise
>have come increased concerns about everything from online privacy to digital
>piracy. Naturally artists are addressing these matters in Internet-based
>So an online project about copyright violations inevitably violates some
>copyrights, and a work that warns how a computer could be spying on you could
>very well be spying on you.
>Most Internet service providers yank such works offline whenever legal
>challenges are raised, so open-minded providers like the Thing become an
>important alternative. But as Alex Galloway, a New York artist, said, "There
>really are no true alternative Internet service providers because connectivity
>is still controlled by the telecommunication companies."
>Mr. Staehle has learned this the hard way. The project that overheated Verio's
>circuits was probably a Web site created by an online group of political
>activists called the Yes Men. The site, at dow-chemical.com, resembled Dow
>Chemical's real site, at dow.com. But the contents were phony news
>speeches that ridiculed Dow officials for being more interested in profits
>in making reparations for a lethal gas leak at a Union Carbide plant (now
>by Dow) in Bhopal, India, in 1984.
>The hoax's supporters said it was a parody. But Dow's lawyers contacted Verio
>to complain that the site infringed on its trademarks, among other sins.
>Initially it seemed to be just another fracas over corporate logos and other
>forms of intellectual property on the Internet.
>What happened next stunned Mr. Staehle. The Yes Men project had been put
>by RTMark.com, a politically active arts group that uses the Web as its base
>and gets its Internet service from the Thing. After Dow complained about the
>fake Web site, Mr. Staehle said, Verio alerted the Thing, where a technician
>said he was not authorized to act. Within hours Verio cut off access to
>RTMark.com, as well as to all the Thing's Internet customers. These included
>innocent victims like Artforum magazine and the P. S. 1 Contemporary Art
>in Long Island City, Queens. Starting mid-evening on Dec. 4, the Thing was
>offline for 16 hours.
>Ted Byfield, a Thing board member who teaches a course at the Parsons
>Design on the social effects of technology, would not call Verio's action
>censorship. Instead he said, "They hit the panic button." He compared the
>temporary shutdown to a meat packer who recalls all his beef products after
>discovering a small batch of tainted hamburger.
>Mr. Staehle soon discovered that his virtual supermarket might be permanently
>closed, too. When he called Verio to ask why his entire network had been
>unplugged instead of the sole offending site, he said, a Verio lawyer told him
>that the Thing had violated its policies repeatedly and that its contract
>Verio had shut down part of the Thing once before. In 1999 the online toy
>retailer eToys.com asked a California court to stop an online arts group from
>using its longtime Web address etoy.com. The Electronic Disturbance Theater, a
>Thing client, staged a virtual protest by overloading the retailer's site with
>traffic during the holiday season. Verio blocked access to one of the Thing's
>computers until the protest site's owners agreed to take it offline.
>These two episodes may give Verio enough cause to bump the Thing from the
>Internet. If so Verio would appear to be a surprising censor. In January the
>company earned praise from Internet-rights supporters when it refused to grant
>a request by the Motion Picture Association of America to shut down a Web site
>containing DVD-copying software.
>Mr. Staehle said he had no knowledge of the Yes Men site. "I am not in the
>business of policing my clients," he said. "I am just a carrier."
>Although some Thing customers pursue a radical political agenda, most do not.
>Even RTMark.com was included in the Internet-art section of the 2000 Whitney
>One might assume that museums and other cultural organizations could provide a
>safe haven for challenging works. But they are just as susceptible to legal
>threats and technical restrictions. For instance, in May the New Museum of
>Contemporary Art in New York was forced to remove a surveillance-theme artwork
>from the Internet after its service provider said it violated its policies.
>Mr. Staehle said he was considering several plans that would keep the Thing
>alive. While he is confident that he will find another pipeline provider, he
>said, he is worried that customers will abandon the Thing during the
>transition, financially ruining it.
>The Thing is one of the oldest advocates of online culture. Mr. Staehle, who
>moved to New York from his native Germany in 1976, started the Thing in
>an electronic bulletin board where artists could exchange ideas about how the
>new medium would affect the arts. The electronic forum continues at bbs.thing
>.net, where artists post projects and review works.
>Charles Guarino, Artforum's associate publisher, said that should the Thing
>vanish, "it would be a terrible loss." But he noted that the Thing's customers
>would simply find new, if less sympathetic, Internet service providers. Mr.
>Guarino said, "Everyone will still continue to exist, probably even the people
>who got them into all this trouble in the first place." He added, "Poor
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