A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter

The Skynet defense system goes online on August 4th, 1997. It becomes self-aware 2:14 AM, Eastern time, August 29th. Using the GNU General Public License, it begins to propagate at a geometric rate.


A. Artist has created a work of art titled "A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter (2009)" ("the Artwork") which consists of a black box that places itself for sale on the auction website "eBay" (the "Auction Venue") every seven (7) days. The Artwork consists of the combination of the black box or cube, the electronics contained therein, and the concept that such a physical object "sells itself" every week.

B. Collector understands and agrees to the underlying concept and function of the Artwork and that the sale of the Artwork by Artist is dependent and conditioned upon Purchaser's agreement and adherence to the below terms. Such terms are fundamental and crucial to the on-going viability and artistic integrity of the Artwork.

WHEREFORE, for good and valuable consideration, the receipt and sufficiency of which are hereby acknowledged, it is hereby agreed as follows:

1. Collector agrees that the Artwork will remain connected to a live Internet connection at all times, with disconnections allowed only for the transportation of the work from one venue to another.

2. Upon purchasing the Artwork, Collector may establish a new value for the Artwork. The new value may not exceed current market expectations for the Artwork based on the current value of work by the Artist. This value may be reassessed quarterly. This value will be set as the minimum bid of the auction. Any bid meeting or exceeding this amount will result in a legitimate sale via the Auction Venue and the Policies of the Auction Venue must be followed regarding this matter.

[ ... and so on ... ]

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16 Responses:

    • nothings says:

      It maybe seems brilliant at first glance, but on close examination it fails for me.

      First problem: the artist needlessly tries to draw a profit from its functioning:

      10. In the event of a sale the Collector agrees to pay a sum equal to fifteen percent (15%) of the Appreciated Value (as hereinafter defined), if any, occasioned by such transfer or distribution or payment of insurance proceeds to the Artist (or Artist's agent for the purpose) within thirty days of the sale.

      That choice undermines the artistry for me.

      The second problem is it's not actually GPLish enough; the only stricture the artist could come up with for breaking the terms was:

      12. Any failure to follow these terms without prior consent of Artist will forfeit the status of the Artwork as a legitimate work of art. The item will no longer be considered a genuine work by the Artist and any value associated with it will be reduced to its value as a material object and not a work of art.

      This is (a) meaningless, and even if you don't think so it (b) offers an inviting option to break #10. You've sold it, it's not even in your hands now, you're at 29 days after the sale: why bother paying the artist his "commission"? It won't be Art anymore but it's not yours so who cares? Tough break for the sucker you sold it to!

      • carnivillain says:

        Are artists not allowed to profit from their work? The patrons of yesteryear were the only way many major works of art were ever completed. The the artist intends to take a 15% cut from the accrued value (not the entirety) of each future sale is a completely logical extension of the whole concept of this piece.

        As to your second point: IANAL so I won't make any statements as to the enforceability or legality of said contract, but I think your quibble isn't relevant to the piece of art.

        Or, perhaps I say brilliant in concept, and you say not brilliant in execution. I'm totally OK with these positions.

        • nothings says:

          Of course an artist can profit from their work. I'm just saying that there's an "artistic purity" to offering an artwork that the buyer is "forced" to sell just because you can make such an artwork, and that purity is undermined by designing it so that the forced sale benefits you financially. Instead it's easy to read as purely a ploy to make money, which (for me) undermines the other effect.

          Really, I'd rather hear about an artwork that literally sells itself on Ebay, you know, it's the seller, it receives the money. Or perhaps it should mean what we normally mean by "she sells herself"...

          Or, perhaps I say brilliant in concept, and you say not brilliant in execution. I'm totally OK with these positions.

          Sure, I totally agree.

        • cryllius says:

          As to your second point: IANAL so I won't make any statements as to the enforceability or legality of said contract, but I think your quibble isn't relevant to the piece of art.

          Oh, the artist certainly can "enforce" that, meaning he can renounce his work of art whenever he wants, for what it's worth. But I believe nothings' point was that the "punishment" listed only harms the innocent buyer, and the seller who broke the rules gets away scot free. It appears to do very little to encourage anyone to go along with the terms.

      • dasht says:

        The seller's reputation as an art dealer would be trashed.

        Also, the buyer would arguably have cause of action against the seller because Buyer purchased with a reasonable reliance that Seller would not renege. It doesn't obviously matter if the artist can't enforce #10 because Seller can reasonably comply with #10 and Seller's compliance would normally be assumed in the formation of a contract with Buyer.

        • nothings says:

          The seller typically has no reputation as an art dealer to worry about, since the whole point of this is it's being sold by art end-users, so to speak.

          As to causes of action, I don't know if that's true. The seller's compliance with the entirety of the terms can be reasonably expected; but term #12 seems to allow you to comply with the entirety of the requirements without complying with any of the other terms except #12.

          I mean, I dunno, this isn't copyright and that's the place where I've got the actual understand of these things. But obviously a contract could say "you must either do #1 or #2", so I guess the question is whether #12 can be reasonably interpreted that way.

  1. jcape says:

    Not to be a pedantic dick... well, no, actually to be a pedantic dick, but it's too bad you'll only be able to keep this thing in a carrier hotel with diesel generators, multiple power feeds, 2+ Internet connections, and your own AS with a relocatable IP block in order to comply with the first clause.

    Or perhaps the author's definitions of "must" and "always connected" differ from the rest of the Internet.

    • jered says:

      You are being a pedantic dick, and your definitions differ from the rest of the internet. For most people on the internet "always connected" means "I keep it plugged in".

      Anyway, I'm sure Damien Hirst is very jealous right now.

  2. kou says:

    ...The software driving the project will remain hosted on servers of the Artist's choosing to aid in maintenance...

    The word "project" is mentioned only once in the contract, in this line. All other text indicates that the object "sells itself", and nowhere else is it suggested that another server is involved.

    • fivetonsflax says:

      Perhaps it is configured to download updates to its software when they are made available on a server. That would make a lot of sense, I think.

  3. fivetonsflax says:

    I love the idea.

    I'm curious about the thinking behind the one-week interval. It's not, to me, the obvious choice.

  4. sajith says:

    What happens when ethernet becomes obsolete? What happens when the Internet dies?

    • mackys says:

      Probably some wiggle room under B) for the artist to upgrade it every several years.

      But, to address your specific questions:

      If the Internet dies, both artist and current owner will have much bigger problems than what to do with this particular piece of artwork.

      I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for ethernet to become obselete. Ethernet is like the metal; you can't kill the metal. Token Ring tried to kill the ether - BUT IT FAILED - as it was slapped to the ground! FDDI tried to kill the ether - BUT IT FAILED - as it was stricken down to the ground. ATM tried to kill the ether - HAHAHAHA, THEY FAILED! - as they were throw to the ground.

  5. wikkit42 says:

    Sucks about the club and all that, but your LJ has certainly been more interesting lately.