Letter to the Superior Court of Quebec Regarding

Letter to the Superior Court of Quebec Regarding

Charles Stankievech
19 January 2016

To the Superior Court of Quebec:
I am writing in support of the online community and library platform called “” (also known under additional aliases and
urls including “,” “,” and most recently
“”). It is my understanding that a copyright infringement lawsuit has been leveled against two individuals who
support this community logistically. This letter will address what
I believe to be the value of to a variety of communities
and individuals; it is written to encompass my perspective on the
issue from three distinct positions: (1) As Director of the Visual
Studies Program, Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design,
University of Toronto, where I am a professor and oversee three
degree streams for both graduate and undergraduate students;
(2) As the co-director of an independent publishing house based
in Berlin, Germany, and Toronto, Canada, which works with international institutions around the world; (3) As a scholar and writer
who has published in a variety of well-regarded international
journals and presses. While I outline my perspective in relation to
these professional positions below, please note that I would also
be willing to testify via video-conference to further articulate
my assessment of’s contribution to a diverse international
community of artists, scholars, and independent researchers.

Essay continuing from page 49

“Warburgian tradition.”47 If we consider the Warburg Library
in its simultaneous role as a contained space and the reflection
of an idiosyncratic mental energy, General Stumm’s aforementioned feeling of “entering an enormous brain” seems an
especially concise description. Indeed, for Saxl the librarian,
“the books remain a body of living thought as Warburg had
planned,”48 showing “the limits and contents of his scholarly
worlds.”49 Developed as a research tool to solve a particular
intellectual problem—and comparable on a number of levels
to exhibition-led inquiry—Aby Warburg’s organically structured, themed library is a three-dimensional instance of a library that performatively articulates and potentiates itself,
which is not yet to say exhibits, as both spatial occupation and
conceptual arrangement, where the order of things emerges
experimentally, and in changing versions, from the collection
and its unusual cataloging.50



Saxl speaks of “many tentative and personal excrescences” (“The History of
Warburg’s Library,” 331). When Warburg fell ill in 1920 with a subsequent fouryear absence, the library was continued by Saxl and Gertrud Bing, the new and
later closest assistant. Despite the many helpers, according to Saxl, Warburg always
remained the boss: “everything had the character of a private book collection, where
the master of the house had to see it in person that the bills were paid in time,
that the bookbinder chose the right material, or that neither he nor the carpenter
delivering a new shelf over-charged” (Ibid., 329).
Ibid., 331.
Ibid., 329.
A noteworthy aside: Gertrud Bing was in charge of keeping a meticulous index of
names and keywords; evoking the library catalog of Borges’s fiction, Warburg even
kept an “index of un-indexed books.” See Diers, “Porträt aus Büchern,” 21.


1. supports a collective & semiprivate community of
academics & intellectuals.
As the director of a graduate-level research program at the University of Toronto, I have witnessed first-hand the evolution
of academic research. has fostered a vibrant community
of thinkers, students, and writers, who can share their research
and create new opportunities for collaboration and learning
because of the knowledge infrastructure provided by the platform.
The accusation of copyright infringement leveled against the
community misses the point of the research platform altogether.
While there are texts made available for download at no expense
through the website, it is essential to note that these texts
are not advertised, nor are they accessible to the general public. is a private community whose sharing platform can only
be accessed by invitation. Such modes of sharing have always
existed in academic communities; for example, when a group of
professors would share Xerox copies of articles they want to read
together as part of a collaborative research project. Likewise,
it would be hard to imagine a community of readers at any time
in history without the frequent lending and sharing of books.
From this perspective, should be understood within a
twenty-first century digital ethos, where the sharing of intellectual
property and the generation of derivative IP occurs through collaborative platforms. On this point, I want to draw further attention
to two fundamental aspects of
a. One essential feature of the platform is that it gives
invited users the ability to create reading lists from available texts—
what are called on the website “collections.” These collections
are made up of curated folders containing text files (usually in
Portable Document Format); such collections allow for new and
novel associations of texts, and the development of working
bibliographies that assist in research. Users can discover previously unfamiliar materials—including entire books and excerpted
chapters, essays, and articles—through these shared collections.
Based on the popularity of previous collections I have personally
assembled on the platform, I have been invited to give

In the Memory Hall of Reproductions
Several photographs document how the Warburg Library was
also a backdrop for Warburg’s picture panels, the wood boards
lined with black fabric, which, not unlike contemporary mood
boards, held the visual compositions he would assemble and
re-assemble from around 2,000 photographs, postcards, and
printed reproductions cut out of books and newspapers.
Sometimes accompanied by written labels or short descriptions, the panels served as both public displays and researchin-process, and were themselves photographed with the aim
to eventually be disseminated as book pages in publications.
In the end, not every publishing venture was realized, and
most panels themselves were even lost along the way; in fact,
today, the panel photographs are the only visual remainder of
this type of research from the Warburg Institute. Probably the
most acclaimed of the panels are those which Warburg developed in close collaboration with his staff during the last years
of his life and from which he intended to create a sequential
picture atlas of human memory referred to as the Mnemosyne
Atlas. Again defying the classical boundaries of the disciplines, Warburg had appropriated visual material from the
archives of art history, natural philosophy, and science to
vividly evoke and articulate his thesis through the creation of
unprecedented associations. Drawing an interesting analogy,
the following statement from Warburg scholar Kurt Forster
underlines the importance of the panels for the creation of
Warburg’s panels belong into the realm of the montage à la Schwitters or Lissitzky. Evidently, such a


guest lectures at various international venues; such invitations
demonstrate that this cognitive work is considered original
research and a valuable intellectual exercise worthy of further
b. The texts uploaded to the platform are typically documents scanned from the personal libraries of users who have
already purchased the material. As a result, many of the documents are combinations of the original published text and annotations or notes from the reader. Commentary is a practice that
has been occurring for centuries; in Medieval times, the technique
of adding commentary directly onto a published page for future
readers to read alongside the original writing was called “Glossing.”
Much of the philosophy, theology, and even scientific theories
were originally produced in the margins of other texts. For example, in her translation and publication of Charles Babbage’s lecture
on the theory of the first computer, Ada Lovelace had more notes
than the original lecture. Even though the text was subsequently
published as Babbage’s work, today modern scholarship acknowledges Lovelace as important voice in the theorization of the
modern computer due to these vital marginal notes.
2. supports small presses.
Since 2011, I have been the co-founder and co-director of
K. Verlag, an independent press based in Berlin, Germany, and
Toronto, Canada. The press publishes academic books on art
and culture, as well as specialty books on art exhibitions. While
I am aware of the difficulties faced by small presses in terms of
profitability, especially given fears that the sharing of books online
could further hurt book sales; however, my experience has been
in the opposite direction. At K. Verlag, we actually upload our new
publications directly to because we know the platform
reaches an important community of readers and thinkers. Fully
conscious of the uniqueness of printed books and their importance, digital circulation of ebooks and scanned physical books
present a range of different possibilities in reaching our audiences
in a variety of ways. Some members of may be too

comparison does not need to claim artistic qualities
for Warburg’s panels, nor does it deny them regarding
Schwitters’s or Lissitzky’s collages. It simply lifts the
role of graphic montage from the realm of the formal
into the realm of the construction of meaning.51
Interestingly, even if Forster makes a point not to categorize
Warburg’s practice as art, in twentieth-century art theory and
visual culture scholarship, his idiosyncratic technique has
evidently been mostly associated with art practice. In fact,
insofar as Warburg is acknowledged (together with Marcel
Duchamp and, perhaps, the less well-known André Malraux),
it is as one of the most important predecessors for artists
working with the archive.52 Forster articulates the traditional
assumption that only artists were “allowed” to establish idiosyncratic approaches and think with objects outside of the
box. However, within the relatively new discourse of the
“curatorial,” contra the role of the “curator,” the curatorial
delineates its territory as that which is no longer defined exclusively by what the curator does (i.e. responsibilities of classification and care) but rather as a particular agency in terms of
epistemologically and spatially working with existing materials and collections. Consequently, figures such as Warburg

Kurt Forster, quoted in Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, “Gerhard Richter’s Atlas: Das anomische Archiv,” in Paradigma Fotografie: Fotokritik am Ende des fotografischen Zeitalters,
ed. Herta Wolf (Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2002), 407, with further references.
One such example is the Atlas begun by Gerhard Richter in 1962; another is
Thomas Hirschhorn’s large-format, mixed-media collage series MAPS. Entitled
Foucault-Map (2008), The Map of Friendship Between Art and Philosophy (2007),
and Hannah-Arendt-Map (2003), these works are partly made in collaboration
with the philosopher Marcus Steinweg. They bring a diverse array of archival and
personal documents or small objects into associative proximities and reflect the
complex impact philosophy has had on Hirschhorn’s art and thinking.


poor to afford to buy our books (eg. students with increasing debt,
precarious artists, or scholars in countries lacking accessible
infrastructures for high-level academic research). We also realize
that is a library-community built over years; the site
connects us to communities and individuals making original work
and we are excited if our books are shared by the writers, readers,
and artists who actively support the platform. Meanwhile, we
have also seen that readers frequently discover books from our
press through a collection of books on, download the
book for free to browse it, and nevertheless go on to order a print
copy from our shop. Even when this is not the case, we believe
in the environmental benefit of; printing a book uses
valuable resources and then requires additional shipping around
the world—these practices contradict our desire for the broadest
dissemination of knowledge through the most environmentallyconscious of means.
3. supports both official institutional academics
& independent researchers.
As a professor at the University of Toronto, I have access to one
of the best library infrastructures in the world. In addition to
core services, this includes a large number of specialty libraries,
archives, and massive online resources for research. Such
an investment by the administration of the university is essential
to support the advanced research conducted in the numerous
graduate programs and by research chairs. However, there are
at least four ways in which the official, sanctioned access to these
library resources can at times fall short.
a. Physical limitations. While the library might have several copies
of a single book to accommodate demand, it is often the case
that these copies are simultaneously checked out and therefore
not available when needed for teaching or writing. Furthermore,
the contemporary academic is required to constantly travel for
conferences, lectures, and other research obligations, but travelling with a library is not possible. Frequently while I am working
abroad, I access to find a book which I have previously

and Malraux, who thought apropos objects in space (even
when those objects are dematerialized as reproductions),
become productive forerunners across a range of fields: from
art, through cultural studies and art history, to the curatorial.
Essential to Warburg’s library and Mnemosyne Atlas, but
not yet articulated explicitly, is that the practice of constructing two-dimensional, heterogeneous image clusters shifts the
value between an original work of art and its mechanical
reproduction, anticipating Walter Benjamin’s essay written a
decade later.53 While a museum would normally exhibit an
original of Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia I (1514) so it could be
contemplated aesthetically (admitting that even as an etching
it is ultimately a form of reproduction), when inserted as a
quotidian reprint into a Warburgian constellation and exhibited within a library, its “auratic singularity”54 is purposefully
challenged. Favored instead is the iconography of the image,
which is highlighted by way of its embeddedness within a
larger (visual-emotional-intellectual) economy of human consciousness.55 As it receives its impetus from the interstices


One of the points Benjamin makes in “The Artwork in the Age of Mechanical
Reproduction” is that reproducibility increases the “exhibition value” of a work of art,
meaning its relationship to being viewed is suddenly valued higher than its
relationship to tradition and ritual (“cult value”); a process which, as Benjamin writes,
nevertheless engenders a new “cult” of remembrance and melancholy (224–26).
Benjamin defines “aura” as the “here and now” of an object, that is, as its spatial,
temporal, and physical presence, and above all, its uniqueness—which in his
opinion is lost through reproduction. Ibid., 222.
It is worth noting that Warburg wrote his professorial dissertation on Albrecht
Dürer. Another central field of his study was astrology, which Warburg examined
from historical and philosophical perspectives. It is thus not surprising to find
out that Dürer’s Melencolia I (1514), addressing the relationship between the
human and the cosmos, was of the highest significance to Warburg as a recurring
theme. The etching is shown, for instance, as image 8 of Plate 58, “Kosmologie bei
Dürer” (Cosmology in Dürer); reproduced in Warnke, ed., Aby Moritz Warburg:
Der Bilderatlas Mnemosyne, Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. 1, 106–7. The connections


purchased, and which is on my bookshelf at home, but which
is not in my suitcase. Thus, the platform acts as a patch
for times when access to physical books is limited—although
these books have been purchased (either by the library or the
reader herself) and the publisher is not being cheated of profit.
b. Lack of institutional affiliation. The course of one’s academic
career is rarely smooth and is increasingly precarious in today’s
shift to a greater base of contract sessional instructors. When
I have been in-between institutions, I lost access to the library
resources upon which my research and scholarship depended.
So, although academic publishing functions in accord with library
acquisitions, there are countless intellectuals—some of whom
are temporary hires or in-between job appointments, others whom
are looking for work, and thus do not have access to libraries.
In this position, I would resort to asking colleagues and friends
to share their access or help me by downloading articles through
their respective institutional portals. helps to relieve
this precarity through a shared library which allows scholarship
to continue; is thus best described as a community of
readers who share their research and legally-acquired resources
so that when someone is researching a specific topic, the adequate book/essay can be found to fulfill the academic argument.
c. Special circumstances of non-traditional education. Several
years ago, I co-founded the Yukon School of Visual Arts in
Dawson City as a joint venture between an Indigenous government and the State college. Because we were a tiny school,
we did not fit into the typical academic brackets regarding student
population, nor could we access the sliding scale economics
of academic publishers. As a result, even the tiniest package for
a “small” academic institution would be thousands of times larger
than our population and budget. As a result, neither myself
nor my students could access the essential academic resources
required for a post-secondary education. I attempted to solve this
problem by forging partnerships, pulling in favors, and accessing
resources through platforms like It is important to realize

among text and image, visual display and publishing, the
expansive space of the library and the dense volume of the
book, Aby Warburg’s wide-ranging work appears to be best
summarized by the title of one of the Mnemosyne plates:
“Book Browsing as a Reading of the Universe.”56

To the Paper Museum
Warburg had already died before Benjamin theorized the
impact of mechanical reproduction on art in 1935. But it is
Malraux who claims to have embarked on a lengthy, multipart project about similitudes in the artistic heritage of the
world in exactly the same year, and for whom, in opposition
to the architectonic space of the museum, photographic
reproduction, montage, and the book are the decisive filters
through which one sees the world. At the outset of his book
Le Musée imaginaire (first published in 1947),57 Malraux argues
that the secular modern museum has been crucial in reframing and transforming objects into art, both by displacing
them from their original sacred or ritual context and purpose,
and by bringing them into proximity and adjacency
with one another, thereby opening new possible readings


and analogies between Warburg’s image-based research and his theoretical ideas,
and von Trier’s Melancholia, are striking; see Anna-Sophie Springer’s visual essay
“Reading Rooms Reading Machines” on p. 91 of this book.
“Buchblättern als Lesen des Universums,” Plate 23a, reproduced in Warnke, Aby
Moritz Warburg: Der Bilderatlas Mnemosyne, Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. 1, 38–9.
The title of the English translation, The Museum Without Walls, by Stuart Gilbert
and Francis Price (London: Secker & Warburg, 1967), must be read in reference
to Erasmus’s envisioning of a “library without walls,” made possible through the
invention of the printing press, as Anthony Grafton mentions in his lecture, “The
Crisis of Reading,” The CUNY Graduate Center, New York, 10 November 2014.


that was founded to meet these grassroots needs; the
platform supports a vast number of educational efforts, including
co-research projects, self-organized reading groups, and numerous other non-traditional workshops and initiatives.
d. My own writing on While using the platform, I have frequently come across my own essays and publications on the
site; although I often upload copies of my work to myself,
these copies had been uploaded by other users. I was delighted
to see that other users found my publications to be of value and
were sharing my work through their curated “collections.” In some
cases, I held outright exclusive copyright on the text and I was
pleased it was being distributed. In other rare cases, I shared the
copyright or was forced to surrender my IP prior to publication;
I was still happy to see this type of document uploaded. I realize
it is not within my authority to grant copyright that is shared,
however, the power structure of contemporary publishing is often
abusive towards the writer. Massive, for-profit corporations have
dominated the publishing of academic texts and, as a result of
their power, have bullied young academics into signing away their
IP in exchange for publication. Even the librarians at Harvard
University—who spend over $3.75 million USD annually on journal subscriptions alone—believe that the economy of academic
publishing and bullying by a few giants has crossed a line, to the
point where they are boycotting certain publishers and encouraging faculty to publish instead in open access journals.
I want to conclude my letter of support by affirming that is at the cutting edge of academic research and knowledge
production. Sean Dockray, one of the developers of,
is internationally recognized as a leading thinker regarding the
changing nature of research through digital platforms; he is regularly invited to academic conferences to discuss how the community on the platform is experimenting with digital research.
Reading, publishing, researching, and writing are all changing
rapidly as networked digital culture influences professional and
academic life more and more frequently. Yet, our legal frameworks and business models are always slower than the practices

(“metamorphoses”) of individual objects—and, even more
critically, producing the general category of art itself. As
exceptions to this process, Malraux names those creations that
are so embedded in their original architecture that they defy
relocation in the museum (such as church windows, frescoes,
or monuments); this restriction of scale and transportation, in
fact, resulted in a consistent privileging of painting and sculpture within the museological apparatus.58
Long before networked societies, with instant Google
Image searches and prolific photo blogs, Malraux dedicated
himself to the difficulty of accessing works and oeuvres
distributed throughout an international topography of institutions. He located a revolutionary solution in the dematerialization and multiplication of visual art through photography
and print, and, above all, proclaimed that an imaginary museum
based on reproductions would enable the completion of a
meaningful collection of artworks initiated by the traditional
museum.59 Echoing Benjamin’s theory regarding the power of
the reproduction to change how art is perceived, Malraux
writes, “Reproduction is not the origin but a decisive means
for the process of intellectualization to which we subject art.


I thank the visual culture scholar Antonia von Schöning for pointing me to
Malraux after reading my previous considerations of the book-as-exhibition. Von
Schöning herself is author of the essay “Die universelle Verwandtschaft zwischen
den Bildern: André Malraux’Musée Imaginaire als Familienalbum der Kunst,”, April 2012,
André Malraux, Psychologie der Kunst: Das imaginäre Museum (Baden-Baden:
Woldemar Klein Verlag, 1949), 9; see also Rosalind Krauss, “The Ministry of
Fate,” in A New History of French Literature, ed. Denis Hollier (Cambridge, MA
and London: Harvard University Press, 1989), 1000–6: “The photographic archive
itself, insofar as it is the locale of a potentially complete assemblage of world
artifacts, is a repository of knowledge in a way that no individual museum could
ever be” (1001).


of artists and technologists. is a non-profit intellectual
venture and should therefore be considered as an artistic experiment, a pedagogical project, and an online community of coresearchers; it should not be subject to the same legal judgments
designed to thwart greedy profiteers and abusive practices.
There are certainly some documents to be found on that
have been obtained by questionable or illegal means—every
Web 2.0 platform is bound to find such examples, from Youtube
to Facebook; however, such examples occur as a result of a small
number of participant users, not because of two dedicated individuals who logistically support the platform. A strength of
and a source of its experimental vibrancy is its lack of policing,
which fosters a sense of freedom and anonymity which are both
vital elements for research within a democratic society and
the foundations of any library system. As a result of this freedom,
there are sometimes violations of copyright. However, since is a committed, non-profit community-library, such transgressions occur within a spirit of sharing and fair use that characterize this intellectual community. This sharing is quite different
from the popular platform, which is searchable
by non-users and acquires value by monetizing its articles through
the sale of digital advertising space and a nontransparent investment exit strategy. is the antithesis of such a model
and instead fosters a community of learning through its platform.
Please do not hesitate to contact me for further information,
or to testify as a witness.
Charles Stankievech,
Director of Visual Studies Program, University of Toronto
Co-Director of K. Verlag, Berlin & Toronto

… Medieval works, as diverse as the tapestry, the glass window,
the miniature, the fresco, and the sculpture become united as
one family if reproduced together on one page.”60 In his search
for a common visual rhetoric, Malraux went further than
merely arranging creations from one epoch and cultural sphere
by attempting to collect and directly juxtapose artworks and
artifacts from very diverse and distant cultural, historical, and
geographic contexts.
His richly illustrated series of books thus functions as a
utopian archive of new temporalities of art liberated from
history and scale by de-contextualizing and re-situating the
works, or rather their reproduced images, in unorthodox combinations. Le Musée imaginaire was thus an experimental virtual
museum intended to both form a repository of knowledge and
provide a space of association and connection that could not
be sustained by any other existing place or institution. From an
art historical point of view—Malraux was not a trained scholar
and was readily criticized by academics—his theoretical
assumptions of “universal kinship” (von Schöning) and the
“anti-destiny” of art have been rejected. His material selection
process and visual appropriation and manipulation through
framing, lighting, and scale, have also been criticized for their
problematic and often controversial—one could say, colonizing—implications.61 Among the most recent critics is the art
historian Walter Grasskamp, who argues that Malraux moreover might well have plagiarized the image-based work of the

André Malraux, Das imaginäre Museum, 16.
See the two volumes of Georges Duthuit, Le Musée Inimaginable (Paris: J. Corti,
1956); Ernst Gombrich, “André Malraux and the Crisis of Expressionism,” The
Burlington Magazine 96 (1954): 374–78; Michel Merlot, “L’art selon André Malraux,
du Musée imaginaire à l’Inventaire general,” In Situ 1 (2001), www.insitu.revues
.org/1053; and von Schöning, “Die universelle Verwandtschaft zwischen den Bildern.”



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