Wednesday, April 29, 2009

J.S.G. Boggs Which Bill is the Copy? (or How Much Does An Idea Weigh? One Pound?)

J.S.G. Boggs is considered a fine artist by some and a counterfeiter by others. Through his work he tries to call into question what we consider "real" and what we consider a "copy". He makes life size drawings of money using high grade currency paper and India ink. He then makes purchases with his "money", always informing the vender that his bills are not legal tender, but exchanging them based on their "face value". He typically waits 24 hours to allow the person who accepted the bill to "contemplate what had just transpired and the dual nature of money". Then Boggs sells the information regarding the whereabouts of the bill to the highest bidder who then gets to purchase the phony from the original recipient. His work usually ends up hanging in a museum or gallery, framed, along with all the accompanying "residue" from the transactions: articles such as receipts, ticket stubs, packaging, etc.

Although he is always certain never to pass his bills of as legal tender, Boggs' artwork has gotten him into trouble in a number of countries. The Bank of England prosecuted him for counterfeiting British currency. At his trial he held up an "authentic" British one pound note and called it a copy (because it is really a print made from an original plate), then referred to his "counterfeit" as an original (because it was hand made by him).

Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of Wired magazine, "When copies are superabundant, they become worthless, while things which can’t be copied become scarce and valuable. What counts in the end are “uncopyable values,” qualities which are “better than free.”
While it isn't practical for artists to go to the lengths Boggs does in order to be paid for their work, Bogg's sets an example of how in our digital reality creators must seek reward for their "uncopyable values" rather than their easily copyable work. It's not as straightforward as the pre-digital concept of protecting work from unauthorized copying, but in the digital reality it's necessary to move beyond that mode of thinking into an unexplored world of copyright 2.0.