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Because Python is a relatively esoteric language, the artists
hope that the source code, which they've printed on 2,000 T-shirts
and published on a limited edition of 10 CD-ROMs, will be the most
contagious form of distribution.
"The source code is a product of the human mind, as are music,
poems and paintings," explained the epidemiC team, which prefers to
speak collectively -- and somewhat pretentiously. "The virus is a
useless but critical handcraft, similar to classical art."
Adds a member of 0100101110101101.ORG, which also prefers to
speak collectively (and anonymously), "the only goal of a virus is
to reproduce. Our goal is to familiarize people with what a computer
virus is so they're not so paranoid or hysterical when the next one
The artists have created a mini-hysteria over their piece.
More than 1,400 of the shirts have been sold at $15 apiece. And
they've sold three CDROMs, at $1,500 each (the collectors chose to
remain unnamed for legal reasons). Yet the potentially damaging code
is available for free on the artists' home pages.
"In theory, we should get sued," said 0100101110101101.ORG's
spokesperson. "But we've gotten almost no complaints. Well, we've
gotten a few e-mails from security experts who want to know who
these asshole artists are."
Laws like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act state it's illegal to
send damaging code in interstate or foreign communications. But the
artists don't feel liable for any damage caused by "bienale.py"
because they sent a warning to major software and antivirus
companies including Microsoft and McAfee.
"We've explained how to disable our virus, so people should know
how to fix it," said the 0100101110101101.ORG spokesperson.
Not everyone's buying this excuse.
"If a thief leaves a note saying he's sorry, do we feel better?
No," said Jason Catlett, the president of a anti-spam group called
Junkbusters, who has
testified before Congress on Internet privacy issues. "Doing things
that are socially undesirable in the name of art does not redeem the
This isn't the first time artists have adopted annoying practices
to gain attention. Spam, for instance, is emerging as an "art form"
as well; the Webby-winning Net art collective Jodi.org sent 1,039 spam messages
through the e-mail list Rhizome
Raw this January.
Some media art theorists think that an artistic statement about
computer viruses can only be expressed effectively by spreading a
"To talk about contemporary culture you have to be able to use
all kinds of expressions of contemporary culture," said Lisa Jevbratt, who
teaches media art at San Jose State University. "So a virus can be
considered a legitimate art form. Of course, there will be artists
and pranksters doing interesting new things with such forms. But
there will be artists and pranksters whose actions are merely
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