Free Adorno, Free Benjamin

An Open Letter to Jan Philipp Reemtsma, Regarding His "Intellectual Property"

Jan Philipp Reemtsma
Hamburg Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Culture
Mittelweg 36
20148 Hamburg/Germany

Dear Jan Philipp Reemtsma,

you are a man of immense wealth - a wealth that is not limited to the material world, but stretches far into the realm of the intellectual. You have founded and are continuously funding a number of institutions and archives that claim to serve the public by advancing both scientific research and cultural expression. Today, we have to notify you that, just as your material riches are about to increase by another few thousand Euros, you have irrevocably lost the rights to some of your most precious pieces of "intellectual property".

As you, as its president, must be aware of, the Hamburg Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Culture has sued - and obtained a preliminary injunction against - the owner of, who, according to your lawyers, Senfft, Kersten, Voss-Andreae and Schwenn, has caused your foundation damages of more than 2,300 Euros by making available for download two essays by Theodor W. Adorno. Even though, by never paying or even acknowledging these fictitious damages, has given you sufficient time to realize your mistake, you have filed for and obtained a warrant of arrest against the - still undefended - defendant.

Jail time for copying Adorno: that's where you have crossed the line that separates ordinary copyright cases from extraordinary tales of copyright madness - despite, and maybe just because, the formal correctness of your procedure. As an "intellectual proprietor" of Theodor W. Adorno and Walter Benjamin, you should be aware of the power that still emanates from their works: a negative, dialectical, weak and historical power that stretches far beyond the reach of any court of law, and that is impossible to contain in any of your archives. "Intellectually", Adorno and Benjamin will always escape the idea of becoming commodities, and their works, even as the private property they have become, have a peculiar tendency to vanish the very moment you try to get hold of them.

The question of "intellectual property" is not if the producers of creative works should be denied their right to material reproduction through their creative work, or if the temporary owners of such works should be hung by the guts of their lawyers. The question of "intellectual property" is when it will finally be acknowledged that the people have a universal right to the reappropriation of the means of production, that creative works - however privatized and commodified they may have become - are a such means of production, and that their reproduction ist a fundamental and fully legitimate form of production itself.

Even confronted with today's draconic laws against digital reproduction - the state of permanent emergency and institutionalized panic that is the "war against piracy" - people have never ceased to copy, paste, modify, save, upload, download, print and share digital data. In the case of "intellectual property", the power of the factual exceeds by far the power of the law. The people are perfectly aware of the historical fact that no law is ever just given. Law is created though factual struggle, and it erodes through factual struggle. Thus, the critique of "intellectual property" cannot remain individual, sporadic, and theoretical - it has to become swarming, massively parallel, and practical.

We are glad to announce that, effective today, every single work by Adorno and Benjamin that you claim as your "intellectual property" has become part of the very public domain that had granted you these copyrights in the first place. Of course they will not be available instantly, and of course we will not publish them ourselves - but you can take our word that they will be out, in countless locations and formats, and that not even a legion of lawyers will manage to get them back. Maybe it helps if you think of your "intellectual property" as a genie, and of your foundation as a bottling business.

We like non-fiction, and we live in fictitious times. We live in a time where we have fictitious "intellectual property" laws that serve fictitious copyright holders. We live in a time where we have fictitious private institutions that are going to war against piracy for fictitious reasons. Whether it's the fiction of rights management or the fiction of intellectual theft - we are against this war, Mr. Reemtsma. Shame on you, Mr. Reemtsma, shame on you. And any time you got the Arts and the Sciences against you, your time is up.

Thank you very much,

The Berlin Foundation for the Advancement of Production and Reproduction

February 24, 2004

P.S.: We know that German Neo-Fascists have attacked you numerous times for the exhibition on the crimes of the German Wehrmacht, curated by your Hamburg Institute for Social Research, and that they continue to defame you as the "heir of a tobacco company", which not only, and in the first place, perfectly fits an anti-semitic cliché, but also resonates, in many of these defamations, with hints to your "personal responsability for the death of millions of smokers". Please be assured that - even though we don't share your opinion that said exhibition was a "success", and even though tobacco may be just another commodity that kills - we, as a group of smokers who know the Germans and their history, are on your side, no matter what, in defense of society against Fascism. If you side with us in defense of wealth against scarcity is an entirely different question - but we bet that one day you will.