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"Nine Eyes" and the problem of free information

The name of Jon Rafman‘s blog, Nine Eyes, refers to the nine lenses on the car-mounted camera used to create Google street view. This roving camera captures a nearly 360 degree view of every street the car drives down, from Mexico to Iceland to your front door (just try it if you don’t believe me). While Google’s goal is to amass a comprehensive interactive, photographic map of the world, the project has accidentally spawned a diary of random events that Rafman, through what must have taken hours upon hours of searching, has isolated and compiled into his blog, a book and now “Free,” an exhibition at the New Museum.

From the New Museum: “Free explores how the internet has fundamentally changed our landscape of information and our notion of public space.” The idea of free information sharing is particularly relevant to Rafman’s work. Google paid someone to drive the car and operate the camera, but Rafman got the images for free. Granted, he had to search for them, and it’s tough to find some of the moments he tracked down – I tried – but the fact remains that he didn’t take the photographs himself. But neither, really, did anyone. The Google camera is automated. It’s always on, snapping away, without consideration for lighting or composition or the fact that four school boys have dropped their pants and are mooning it from the sidewalk.

Mooning and giving the middle finger are hands down the most popular human responses, or perhaps reflexes, to the Google cam, but Rafman managed to find some pretty amazing and real moments like a house on fire, the aftermath of a car crash, a man taking a nap in the middle of the road as well as bizarrely well-composed images like these three men on Segways (below). Does it matter who owns these images? Should Google, for example, make a percentage of Rafman’s book sales? Not that Google needs the money, but it wasn’t Rafman who invented the nine-lense camera and drove it around. That doesn’t make his abilities as a curator any less valuable. The images he’s gathered are, frankly, amazing, and his blog is positively addictive. Besides, aren’t Google’s street view images in the public domain? But if using information in the public domain is fair game, what’s to stop anyone from taking a YouTube video of someone’s baby and using it for their art and, perhaps, monetary gain? If you’re willing to put a video of your baby on the Internet for all to see, should you get a say in the manner in which that video is used? How much do we value our privacy, and where do we draw the line?