When conceptual artist Paolo Cirio launched Daily Paywall, a website stuffed with tens of thousands of articles taken from paywalls erected by The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Economist, he was sticking the middle finger up at the establishment. Predictably, it was shut down on a few days after launching in December 2014 under a legal threat from Pearson PLC over copyright infringement.
But Cirio, ever the thorn in the side of the status quo, is celebrating 15 years of “socio-critical Internet art practice” by resurrecting Daily Paywall with over 60,000 free, previously paywalled articles. The site is back on a safe new server, “challenging unfair copyright laws once again by claiming fair use of over 60,000 news articles that should belong to the public.” And, once again, users can earn $1 by responding to a quiz about the article.
“Currently, Daily Paywall offers news articles that are a year old,” Cirio tells The Creators Project. “It would be a shame if the publishers will be so greedy to take it down again. At this point, the project serves as an archive in a public library, [allowing] anyone to look back in history.”
Cirio announced that the pirated content won’t be indexed by search engines for the time being, but it will be available—like any public library—to students, researchers, journalists, cultural producers, and “and anyone who can’t afford the subscription fees imposed by those giant publishers, thereby overcoming economic and linguistic barriers to crucial information.”
Cirio, who resists the term “hacker,” doesn’t consider his artworks to be about either technology or hacking. Instead, he sees them as commentaries on social processes, and how these impact the internet. Today’s information economy ticks him off, so his resurrected Daily Paywall (and other projects) allow him to question systems of control over ownership, labor, and sharing.
Recently returned from the Hacking Monopolism Trilogy exhibition in China, where he presented installations on Facebook, Google, and Amazon, Cirio says that access to information is fast becoming a feudal relationship between publishers and users or readers. He compares information access to the aristocracy of the Middle Ages or worker’s rights in the first Industrial era.
“The way information is distributed affects everything on the personal, social, economic, and political spheres,” Cirio says. “Only those who have means to access and process information gain power over who don’t have that privilege, which is a situation that is creating huge disparities and inequality in society.”
Cirio believes that how information is managed should be one of the primary issues in current political agendas, so that a just and free society can be preserved. Which is why he originally focused Daily Paywall’s content on financial outlets—to, as he says, “stress the concept of reflecting on the value of information, as an economic means and how art can provide other ways to perceive it, thus creating other values and forms of engagement with structures of information.”
As Cirio sees it, there haven’t been enough creative business models that tackle the publishing industry dilemma. They proved their conservatism by taking down Daily Paywall.
But Cirio sees some signs of hope with micropayment apps like Blendle, where users pay for the stories they like, and China’s WeChat, which allows readers to “tip” writers. These apps, in his opinion, prove that paying for an individual entry works well, and such solutions can create a peer-to-peer economy that no longer requires “mega-corporate publishers.”
“And yet, the issues [with the] economy are more structural,” Cirio says. “Instead of looking at the individual industry, I’d rather talk about the independence of the press from the influence of big money and lack of democratic control over political and economic agendas.”
“In 15 years of contemporary art practice I’ve been working on economy, privacy, law, and even fiction since a decade through the lens of Internet,” Cirio adds. “I’m interested in see how art can impact and comment society meaningfully, and today using internet is the way to do so.”
Click here to see more of Paolo Cirio’s work.