User:Pedro Sá Couto/Graduate Research Seminar/Thesis Outline 06

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Thesis Outline


The human being always felt the need to extend itself. From wearing clothes to protect us, to developing agriculture tools to become more productive, and the use of medicine to increase our immunity system. We have created the web, originally it was conceived and developed to meet the demand for automated information-sharing between scientists in universities and institutes around the world (“The birth of the Web | CERN,” n.d.) and now being a part of it is a demand for being public, to create an audience and to have a bigger reach. What started as being a way to connect us, spread knowledge easily and globally also contributed to mass surveillance. It arose the opportunity to start creating more precise data on the subject and this also impacted how academic publishing and book publishers started to be able to use strategies that used to provide provenance to media within archives and shaped them to create accountability on the subject.

The internet as a carrier of digital media changed how we share music, books, video and other media. In publishing the integration of digital watermarks is becoming more and more popular to fight the fast paced spaces opened to share pirated material. The research on watermarks is currently being shaped in order to strengthen them, embedding robustness with respect to compression, image-processing operations, and cryptographic attacks (Shih, 2017). How can publishing bypass surveillance? What are the alternative forms of communication that can be built to subvert surveillance in physical and digital media files?

Thesis Statement

Systems are put in place to create forensic evidence on the ones who print and share a publication. Watermarks can be used outside the context of generating profit, as a tactical way to publish while taking advantage of from their power to infiltrate and exploring them as a means to expression. Watermarks are able to create relations and communities, may display user signatures, aesthetic enhancements, marks of quality or obscure previous identification traces left.


Start – Digital surveillance is increasing accountability

We are expanding our online footprints

Argument 1: Government surveillance demands us to get digital and more liable

Example 01 : We don't carry an identity card anymore because governments created digital versions of them that may be stored on our smartphones, we give our fingerprints to centralized companies with nothing more than the promise that it will be easier to unlock an everyday device. It is almost mandatory to get digital, from passport checkpoints at the airport to exhaustively detailed residency permit requirements. Without acknowledging it we are becoming more responsible and easily accountable for our imprints. "[P]olicy affecting our everyday life is moved further from our ability to influence, affect or even understand it. At the same time, the increased use of surveillance and monitoring technologies makes the individual more vulnerable to, and accountable to, these very organizations that are themselves becoming less accountable to the surveilled populace." (Mann, 2003)
Example 02 : "The second challenge is determining the legal rules for access to these data. As the kinds of electronic data collected by mobile technology grow richer, the number of service providers proliferates, and business models evolve, it becomes more challenging to identify with certainty the legal guidelines governing law enforcement’s ability to lawfully obtain and use such data." (Balkovich et al., 2015)


PART 1 – Bridging between Surveillance and Publishing

Historically print was used to bypass censorship. What strategies can we find that are related to techniques already used in the past? What deprecated publishing channels can we find that have been reused? What modes of communication were developed to circumvent surveillance? How memes became a form of expression of shared ideas in a community and what led to a need to start watermarking them? I will be comparing how traces used to be applied in analog libraries where the main intention was to attribute provenance to a medium with the contemporary overview of imprints as a way to create liability for the users.

Point A: Alternative publishing channels became fundamental to engage locally, spread information and freely publish thoughts

Argument 1: Parallel publishing streams

Example 01 : Efforts like the underground press were a strategy to cope with a repressive post-war press. Publications were produced without official approval, illegally or against the wishes of a dominant (governmental, religious, or institutional) group. (Miles, 2016)
Example 02 : Overcoming repressive power structures in the press. In Portugal during the Salazar dictatorship from 1933 till 1974. The Lapis Azul stands out as a symbol of censorship during the Estado Novo regime. What media were used to create political discourse within this context?
Example 03 : Factsheet 5 was a periodical featuring brief reviews of zines, along with contact information. Mike Gunderloy founded the publication in 1982 and published 44 issues through 1991
Example 04 : Zines are self-published media, either with original or appropriated images and texts with small-circulation and a small print run.
Why are these so important for communities?
What roles do they take?
Why do we need to preserve the opportunity for them to be created?

Argument 2: Memes as a tool to free speech

Memes function as a virus, an easy way to propagate an idea. But they are used by both left and right wings to spread ideas and political agendas “Memes play a distinct role in protest; they seem to be to the resistance of today what “political posters” were to yesterday” (Metahaven, 2014)

Example 01 : Lama Meme in China "When pronounced one way, it refers to an innocuous mythical animal that is apparently related to the Bolivian alpaca. However, when pronounced another way, it means ‘fuck your mother’ (肏你妈)" (Wu, 2019)
Example 02 : Left parties are watermarking memes so that they cannot be monetized.
How does this impact the meme culture by its self?
Why is this happening?
What is the right-wing approach to the situation?

Point B: Analyzing strategies that enable access.
Strategies are put together to publish online anonymously. But to do it consistently demands a place to access this material. When we publish material either in a library or an archive we expect that someone will be able to access it. How online spaces are structured plays a key role in who gets to access them. When thinking about extra-legal publishing streams we have to consider how it will shape how others get to this material During this chapter, I will explore strategies as extra-legal libraries and unindexed archives. These resources are able to open gates to access walls. How are they structured and how do they protect themselves and their users?

Argument 1 : Archives and libraries provide spaces to access media that come from alternative channels

Example 01 : Different organizing structures allow different things, from shadow libraries to .onion libraries
01: Library Genesis: Within their context, they seem to distance themselves from the idea of bringing academic research for people without access "If you are from India, Pakistan or Iran, you may have difficulties with finances and be tempted to place such requests, then this answer is for you. There may exist some sites on the net that can help you find certain books upon request, but we simply cannot do this. If you need the book urgently and it's missing in LG, please, do not rely on us and try to get it from some other place." (Library Genesis: Miner’s Hut / Барак старателей • View topic - Sitemap: downloads, services, manuals, FAQ, n.d.)
02: is used by researchers, academics, students, people interested in theory. You can only become a member by invitation. As a member, you not only can upload and download but also request new titles through a messageboard.
03: Libraries like "The library" http://www.libraryqtlpitkix.onion/ and "Clockwise libraries" https://clockwise3rldkgu.onion operate within the invisible web, or hidden web are parts of the World Wide Web. Their content is not indexed by standard web engines, instead, these libraries are indexed in specific web pages just as "http://mx7rwxcountermqh.onion/". In this index, you can find an annotated list of URLs, with a small description of what each of these links is focused on.
Example 02 : Archives that document and organize perishable sensitive information preserving its' digital memory
01: Archives like Cryptome allow publications that are prohibited by governments worldwide
02: Syrian Archive is responsible for collecting, verifying, preserving, and investigating visual documentation of human rights violations in Syria, the Syrian Archive establishes a verified database of human rights violations, and to act as an evidence tool for legally implementing justice and accountability as concept and practice in Syria. (About | Syrian Archive, n.d.)
03: is a project that seeks to create a shared online archive of radical, anti-oppressive, and working-class movements, and the material traces they have left.
MayDay Rooms is an educational charity founded as a safe haven for historical material linked to social movements, experimental culture and the radical expression of marginalized figures and groups. It was set up to safeguard historical material and connect it with contemporary struggle. (MayDay Rooms, n.d.)

PART 2: Appropriation of watermarks

Point A: Appropriation of techniques that were historically used to append imprints able to grant marks of quality and acknowledgment are now readjusted.

Argument 1 : Watermarking as an aesthetic enhancement, a mark of quality to a user imprint.

Example 01 : Chemical Watermarks — "Watermarking originally might have been intended as an aesthetic enhancement, a mark of quality, or a proprietary mark for the papermaker or the wealthy donor or client." (Watkins, 1990)
Example 02 : Digital watermarks — Adding traces that relate to the subject, and more precisely with geolocation, IP address, mac addresses, email addresses. Within this, we can also identify the identification tracking dots used for forensic evidence.

Argument 2 : Library stamps providing a body of evidence for determining both the circumstance and date of acquisition, questioning on ownership and acquisition.

Example 01 : Library stamp — In libraries books were stamped to mark ownership of the book. The relation used to be created between the physical medium and the library also creating provenance to the collection. "While library stamps are a useful aid in determining the history of a collection item, it has been noted that many items were stamped much later than their acquisition date and mistakes are known to have occurred. Library stamps should provide just one piece of a greater body of evidence for determining both the circumstance and date of acquisition. Clues may also be found on bindings, bookplates or inscriptions." (Duffy, 2013)
Example 02 : Digital Stamps — Questioning ownership and acquisition. Relation to the downloader and not to the collection. The relation is intended to be established to its user.
The introduction of the internet changed how we relate among ourselves. I can take an example of how forbidden music used to be smuggled on Soviet Russia. They would write directly onto old X-ray films and make them cross the borders more easily. If we wanted to share a film probably it was recorded with a low-quality camera in a cinema and sold to you already burnt in a CD. We are now able to live share different mediums in a matter of seconds. And these stamps are an attempt to if not target you, at least create some consciousness around the topic.

Point B: Watermarks operate different roles

It is relevant to understand and explore what is like living in a culture of increasing and constant tracking rather than aiming to solve the many problems of surveillance. With watermarks, I will describe ways of living within and resist a culture of surveillance in publishing.

I aim to link my creative response on the case of digital watermarking to what has been happening in parallel within different cultures, from graffiti culture to "crack intros". Watermarks may form a discourse around topics such as anonymity, borders, archives, and provenance. While rethinking watermarks, exploring their hidden layers and aspect of surprise, visibility or invisibility, on different forms of communicating different paths started to open. I find important to acknowledge that watermarks have the power to infiltrate and perform different roles.

When it comes to publishing, how can watermarks create a critical discourse around the right to access knowledge and represent the ones that fight for it?

1 — As a means to expression

(their power of saying that I am here and I disagree)
By commenting on watermarks I am also able to display how it functions as a political mirror to what as been happening to free access to knowledge and information
Adobe Zii uses the quote on its cracked software "why join the navy if you can be a pirate", it is not a reference to the one who cracked it but creates a relation to the actual act of copying, of commenting on the situation and encouraging behaviours

2— Creating relations and communities

Creating parallelism to the tattoo community. As an example, in the Philippines, a feminist tattoo artist is building a community of people that were tattooed by her. With this link, they feel related to each other. They recognize the style of a particular tattoo communicating empathy among themselves.
As a display of solidarity.

3 — Signatures

Code signatures, serial killer signature
Crack intro — Demo scene — This text screen is in many ways similar to graffiti, although the so-called crack-intros invaded the private sphere and not the public space. (Cubitt and Thomas, 2009)
Such signatures referred to as “crackscreens” were customarily included in-game title screens displaying the game name, the logo of the producer, and a graphic that provided the player with a glimpse of the game theme. The signatures were originally simple statements, such as “cracked by ...,” sometimes intentionally misspelt as “kracked by ...” (Reunanen et al., 2015)

4 — Watermarks to obscure

Watermarks that obscure user traces making them accountable, enabling access in this way.
Create parallelism to projects like Secure Drop. Projects like SecureDrop which is a platform that allows sources to submit documents and data while avoiding most common forms of online tracking (Ball, 2014) The creation of spaces to anonymously publish confidential documents.
Anonymizing a file. Watermarking to obscure watermarks left.

5 — Displaying provenance of a medium

A way to translate their users. The flow of texts, downloads and to document the platform on itself.
Adding memory to a collection. — Either with date stamps and referring to a collection time frame.
Materializing the hidden tasks of digitizing a book.

6 — Sensorial Augmentation

Using smell
Creating patterns
Watermarks still have space to digital enhancements
We are also able to establish this vision of watermarking with graphic design. these choices as a book as an object by itself, the choice of paper, how you mark different chapters and creating different rhythms and hierarchies.


Print continues to play its role in publishing. The relation between analog and digital formats demands for tools able to archive perishable material preserving its' digital memory. Print media has had an integral place in modern movements of art and politics (Thoburn, 2016) and still, now we find communities depending on it.

How are we adapting when more strategies are put in place to surveil published material? Tools for archiving may play a key role in documenting safe spaces. How can we rethink the process of creating links between different formats?


About | Syrian Archive (n.d.). Available at: (Accessed: 12 November 2019).
Balkovich, E., Prosnitz, D., Boustead, A., et al. (2015) “The Electronic Surveillance Challenge.” In Electronic Surveillance of Mobile Devices. Understanding the Mobile Ecosystem and Applicable Surveillance Law. RAND Corporation. pp. 1–8. Available at: (Downloaded: 25 October 2019).
Ball, J. (2014) Guardian launches SecureDrop system for whistleblowers to share files. The Guardian, 5 June. Available at: (Accessed: 24 October 2019).
Davis, N. (2019) Scientists invent new technology to print invisible messages. The Guardian, 25 September. Available at: (Accessed: 30 October 2019).
Duffy, C. (2013) A Guide to British Library Book Stamps - Collection Care blog. Available at: (Accessed: 12 October 2019).
Duncombe, S. (2017) Notes from underground zines and the politics of alternative culture ; with a new afterword: Do zines still matter? Portland, Or.: Microcosm Publishing.
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Library Genesis: Miner’s Hut / Барак старателей • View topic - Sitemap: downloads, services, manuals, FAQ (n.d.). Available at: (Accessed: 12 November 2019).
MayDay Rooms (n.d.). Available at: (Accessed: 13 November 2019).
MayDay Rooms » (n.d.). Available at: (Accessed: 13 November 2019).
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Miles, B. (2016) The Underground Press. Available at: (Accessed: 31 October 2019).
Snowden, E. (2019) Permanent Record. S.I.: Henry Holt and Co. Available at: (Downloaded: 30 October 2019).
The birth of the Web | CERN (n.d.). Available at: (Accessed: 8 October 2019).
Thoburn, N. (2016) Anti-Book: On the Art and Politics of Radical Publishing. University of Minnesota Press. Available at: (Downloaded: 13 November 2019).
Watkins, S. (1990) Chemical Watermarking of Paper. Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, 29 (2): 117–131. doi:10.2307/3179578.
Wu, A.S. and Edwards, C. (2019) A cookbook of invisible writing. Eindhoven: Onomatopee.