Patrick Lichty on 28 Aug 2000 14:38:40 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Corporate Free Speech Project Begins!

August 28, 2000

Contact: Patrick Lichty  (

Does Commerce Endanger Free Speech? 
Corporate Free Speech Art Project Questions Existence of Free Market of Ideas
on the Internet

Patrick Lichty is one of the millions who uses the Ebay online auction
community. As he was cleaning out his basement, he thought that he would sell
some collections of toys, comics, and teenage collection of comics and Playboy
magazines online to clear his shelves.  The toys sold well, as did some
memorabilia, but as the publications went online, something unusual happened. 
He noticed that the publications, any of which had R-rated material, (where the
advertisements had no nudity and were clearly marked ‘over 18 ONLY’), were
relocated from the ‘Magazines- Men’ to the ‘Adult  Everything Else’ category,
which is usually reserved for the most sexually explicit of materials.  The
relocation happened intermittently, and upon review, Lichty noticed that the
first category contained many issues of hard-core pornography, all of which
seemed to slip past the Ebay censors.  This was puzzling to him, and queries to
Ebay were met with silence.

In response, Lichty has created a piece of ‘net-art’ he calls the “Corporate
Free Speech Project”.  For three weeks, Lichty, who uses the Ebay user name,
‘Meanmrmuffin’, will offer images of inoffensive subjects like pastries,
stuffed animals, and family pets coupled with ambiguous language designed to
activate keyword based searches that Ebay content police might use to find
questionable material, such as ‘ass’, and ‘dick’.  These ‘online artworks’, as
he calls them, will be offered to the highest bidder as a series of signed
printouts and a CD, documenting the ‘installation’. 

“It isn’t that I’m questioning the existence of online auctions like Ebay,”,
remarked Lichty, “It’s that I’m concerned about the elimination of public
spaces, or commons, by the expansion of commercial spaces like e-commerce and
shopping malls. To me, it seems ludicrous that one can be arrested for
protesting at a shopping mall.  If you come to buy, you’re a customer.  If you
voice any dissent, you’re a trespasser.”  Projects like the Corporate Free
Speech Project, he states, are designed to highlight the erratic and often
hypocritical nature of content control on the Internet and online spaces, as
well as the abuses of power that retailers and other corporate concerns exert
on the population at large.

These concerns are nothing new.  In the last year, filtering technologies such
as the AOL parent controls showed that they frequently eliminated seemingly
unrelated topics such as the Democratic National Party, but still allowed
access to sites such as the NRA website.  Combined with instances such as the
‘decision to not stock’ music from retailers whom the artists were critical of,
the questions of whether corporate interests can regulate the freedom of
expression through exercising of company policies are becoming more prevalent. 


Lichty is asking supporters of the project to write with their comments to his
website, to the media, and especially to Ebay, possibly even in the
tongue-in-cheek style which pervades the Corporate Free Speech Project. The
goal is to bring the issues of free expression to a larger audience, and to
encourage commercial interests such as Ebay and physical marketers to consider
more thoughtful policies in regards to the regulation of expression in
‘private’ spaces. 
-       Patrick Lichty is a conceptual artist that actively questions the
of digital culture though installations examining freedom of speech,
intellectual control, and the questions of creativity in the age of computers
and the Internet.  The Corporate Free Speech Project is a three-week
installation on Ebay that questions the community conduct policies of online
and other commercial spaces.

Patrick Lichty

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