Does the internet want to be free? 1

In light of the renewed artist resale rights debate in Aotearoa, this exhibition asks what property looks like in the Digital Age. Are current notions of intellectual property useful to the art being produced across non-traditional media? Arguments over artists’ property rights are based on a conventional secondary market model, where protections and equity stakes are only financially significant for well-established artists. What this debate excludes is the exponentially growing reality of artists working with digital media, whether producing work for online consumption or sharing their practice through social media for traction. How might their rights be tangibly enforced in a landscape of blatant copyright violation?

Domestically, net art is typically a medium only explored as a component of an artist’s larger practice, due to the necessity of securing revenue through object- and gallery-based media. The use of blockchain technology—best known as the digital substrate Bitcoin operates on—is becoming increasingly diversified; arts professionals across the globe are recognising its potential as a decentralised and transparent online registry, where art can be authenticated and ownership of digital property transferred. Importantly, this radical technology is accessible to emerging artists, cutting out the need for a middleman or extensive CV. Moreover, IP and resale rights are more enforceable through this transparent ledger, which would enable digital artists to monetise their creations.

There is one salient problem for this otherwise seamless innovation; the internet was made to be free. The core principles of the internet and its ‘image anarchism’ exist in diametric opposition to the art market’s value system, not least because its property is for the most part dematerialised.2 However, with the rise of paywalled content (Netflix, Patreon) and the rampant monetisation of data, it is plausible that digital content creators can expect to make a notable income from their work in the foreseeable future.3 If IP legislation has not anticipated the internet’s new direction, should emerging artists be taking matters into their own hands?


Please note: any proceeds made through this site will go directly to the artists.

1 Title derived from Rachel O’Dwyer’s paper, “Does digital culture want to be free? How blockchains are transforming the economy of cultural goods,” in Artists Re:thinking the Blockchain, edited by Ruth Catlow, Marc Garrett, Nathan Jones, and Sam Skinner (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2017), 304-316.


2 Brad Troemel, ”Art After Social Media,” in You Are Here: Art After the Internet, edited by Omar Kholeif  (Machester: Cornerhouse, 2014), 36-43.


3 Paddy Johnson and William Powhida, “Related Utopias—Bitcoin Economies and the Art World,” Explain Me, 2 May 2018, audio, 1:34:00,