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Amazon Noir

In 2006, some 3,000 digital copies of books were silently “stolen” from online retailer by targeting vulnerabilities in the “Search inside the Book” feature from the company’s website. Over several weeks, between July and October, a specially designed software program bombarded the ‘Search Inside!’ interface with multiple requests, assembling full versions of texts and distributing them across peer-to-peer networks (P2P).

Rather than a purely malicious and anonymous hack, however, the “heist” was publicized as a tactical media performance, Amazon Noir, produced by self-proclaimed Amazon Noir in Exhibitionsuper-villains Paolo Cirio, Alessandro Ludovico, and While controversially directed at highlighting the infrastructures that materially enforce property rights and access to knowledge online, the exploit additionally interrogated its own interventionist status as theoretically and politically ambiguous. That the “thief” was represented as a digital entity or mechanical process (operating on the very terrain where exchange is differentiated) and the emergent act of “piracy” was fictionalized through the genre of noir conveys something of the indeterminacy or immensurability of the event.

The method by wich the ‘Search Inside The Book’ feature was targated is technically described in this picture of the blue-prints of the ‘core robot’ named Sucker01-12. The books that were stolen were randomly selected by searching for a number of keywords. A list of the books that were stolen can be viewed here.

All our work is done in the open. Our matter is accurate. Amazon Noir was scripted as an auto-generated internet-movie. The whole digital action (media hack) was carried out in the global massmedia, within the art world and on a highly sophisticated technical level in the clandestine matrix Amazon Noir in Exhibitionof our global networks.” [1]

In July 2006 Amazon France and Amazon USA threatend to litigate. The matter was resolved out of court October 30th, 2006. Amazon bought the Amazon Noir software for an undisclosed sum. Both parties signed a non-disclosure agreement.

This work of art generated a huge amount of media attention and fired up the debate on copyrighted digital media forms.

Paolo Cirio: “The hype of the spin against piracy that comes from media propaganda is ever focused on the criminalization of downloading and sharing content under copyright. The main controversial consequence of increment of sharing of content is the lucrative exploiting by the corporations, like actually Napster or the big business of the devices for playing MP3 and DviX. So we are the worst guys of the scene: we have done a big crime and in the end we have betrayed our action, with a deal with the enemy. It‘s a representation of the actual ambiguity about copyright issue, where in any case it seems that anything has a right moral or ethic roots.” [2]


Relations to other artworks

Amazon Noir is both a performance and a technological artwork that fits in the tradition of artworks that actively fight control systems that threaten civil liberties. These culture jamming strategies are used by artist to raise awareness on censorship, corporate hegemony, pollution, discrimination and surveillance. [3]

The artistic use of hacking raises questions on what Lorne Falk calls ‘Technologically Correct’ (TC), and wheter the user or the software is the object of the artwork. [4]

This movement spawned artworks such as Antonio Muntadas’ ‘The File Room’ (1994), wich was created to both support and resist censorship. Just like ®tmark and the Yes Men’s ‘ and WTO imposter performances’ (1999), Amazon Noir used the web as an artistic means of resistance. Randall Packer’s ‘US Department of Art & Technology’ (2001) is another example of semi-legal culture jamming.


Amazon Noir‘s official website can be found here.

The artwork was exhibited in Berlin at Transmediale Festival 2008. Pictures of the exhibition can be viewed here.

More information about the lead artist, Paolo Cirio, can be found here.



[1] Amazon-noir website, <>

[2] The Big Book (C)rime, An e-mail conversation with Paolo Cirio, Alessandro Ludovico, Interview by Franz Thalmair for CONT3XT.NET. (pdf)

[3] Edward Shanken, red. Art and Electronic Media. London: Phaidon, 2009: p. 35

[4] Quoted in Raphael Lozano-Hemmer, “Perverting Technological Correctness” (1996) in Edward Shanken, red. Art and Electronic Media. London: Phaidon, 2009: p. 240