Grasping at Bits - Art and Intellectual Control in the Digital Age

At the turn of the millennium, the international art community has begun to recognize the significance of the Internet as a milieu for expression and critical inquiry of issues such as the globalization of capitalist culture. The increasingly Blade Runner-esque role of corporate culture and 'big money' in global society, and cyberspace in particular raises questions vis-a-vis freedom of expression and the controlling influence on intellectual property by multinational corporations. Artists who critique the expanding role of corporate power make visible the cultural terrain of this power relation, frequently through the subsequent litigation by those very same institutions under scrutiny. In addition, events such as the Leonardo and etoy controversies have brought to light corporations wishing to enforce their brand identity over artistic groups that predate them through the exertion of legal force.

In a 'Golden Age' of global capitalism, brand names and corporate culture are nearly ubiquitous within Western society. The centrality of the media image as identity pervades the whole of our cultural milieu, and calls into question the linkages between the material and the aesthetic as symbols of exchange. In such a society, which increasingly centers itself on the production and consumption of symbolic information, what are the issues of control of the aesthetic object that arise from such a paradigmatic shift? Can any freedom of aesthetic expression be assured in a climate of increasing capitalistic expansion in a 'free' market economy or will such influences signal a cyberspatial 'Tragedy of the Commons' (Hardin)? This essay attempts to view from a critical perspective the matrix of issues surrounding these questions of corporate influence and control of intellectual property. Subsequently, I will speculate upon the possible implications that will derive from the intersection between the aesthetic and the material in the age of the Internet.



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colonization of the New World
conclusion:manifest E-destiny
potential of the object
transparence of hypercapitalism