Etoy

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etoy.SHARE, 2000

Technologies: 3DS Max, Elm, FTP, SSH Daemon, Lambda print, Mutt, MySQL, Netscape, PGP, Photoshop, PHP, Sendmail

Keywords: collaboration, corporation, hacktivism


In the mid-1990s, the Internet was seen by many to be a great leveler. Because the costs of publishing a Web site were so low, a band of artists could have as visible and far-reaching a presence as a large corporation. Many New Media artists and artist groups took advantage of this aspect of the Web, choosing to represent themselves online (and offline) as corporations or corporate-sounding entities, complete with slick logos and slogans. Among the first to take this approach was a group of European artists who, in 1994, were inspired by corporations with strong brand identities, like Sony and Novartis, and formed a Swiss corporation called Etoy and,in 1995, set up a Web site at http://www.etoy.com.

In its mission statement, Etoy describes itself as a "corporate sculpture" that "crosses and blurs the frontiers between art, identity, nations, fashion, politics, technology, social engineering, music, power and business to create massive impact on global markets and digital culture. Etoy goes where common companies and individuals can't afford or risk to go." Following the model of many business ventures, Etoy raised funds for its projects and issued stock to its shareholders, with stock certificates serving as art objects. Somewhere between a subtle critique and a serious proponent of corporate culture, Etoy combines online projects with performative interventions and ironic actions.

In 1999, at the height of the "dot com" boom, a well-funded online toy merchant called eToys received a complaint from a customer who had mistakenly visited the Etoy Web site and encountered profanities. eToys accused Etoy of trademark infringement, despite the fact that the artist group had registered its Web address two years earlier than the online toy store had registered its own. eToys offered Etoy 516,000 U.S. Dollars to surrender its name, but the artists rejected eToys's monetary offer, prompting the Silicon Valley startup to sue. Rather than capitulating to this spurious litigation, Etoy launched a grassroots counteroffensive, a multifaceted Net art project titled Toywar.

Using the Internet as its battlefield, Etoy created an online game in which sympathetic members of the global New Media art community earned points by attacking eToys, with the goal of driving down eToys's stock price. The game tracked participants and their real-world activities, which included criticizing eToys in online chat rooms and investor forums, corrupting eToys's server logs with false information, and creating anti-eToys Web sites. Popular bands donated MP3s for the game's soundtrack in support of Etoy's cause.

The saga ended in late January 2000, when eToys announced it was dropping the lawsuit. Between November 1999 and February 2000, 1,798 people came to Etoy's defense by participating in Toywar. During this same period, the aggregate value of eToys's stock declined by some 4.5 billion U.S. Dollars. Although it is unclear to what extent the collapse in eToys' market capitalization was the result of Toywar, and to what extent it was due to other economic factors, Etoy nonetheless claims that Toywar was "the most expensive performance in art history."

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