Tactical Watermarks

Pedro Sá Couto

Tactical Watermarks is an online republishing platform that exists in both the clear and dark web. I actively make use of digital watermarks as a means to explore topics such as anonymity, paywalls, archives, and provenance. While the primary intention of analogue watermarks was to leave traces of authenticity, marks of quality or even aesthetic enhancements, digital watermarks are being used as a way to create accountability for users. Through this platform, I describe and document ways of living within and resist a culture of surveillance in the realm of publishing.

I am motivated by all the invisible individuals behind extra-legal publishing platforms, from curators, the ones who host, upload and even download material. Through the act of watermarking, I embed layers of information often dissolved within the processes of sharing texts. I experiment on how the process of adding stains can be twisted and revived. Stains are what I call user patches or marks that are difficult to remove and that do not play an active role in archives.

In this platform, users can upload and request different titles. While talking with members from the Library Genesis forum, I understood the need to create a tool that allows people to share watermarked pdfs in a safe way. My platform is NOT a library, and it is also NOT an archive. I don't keep the files or intend to archive them. What I open is a space to de-watermark files, and append new anonymous watermarks with the technical and personal regards around sharing specific texts. In the end, these stories will circulate alongside the main narrative. This is an automated republishing stream that spreads these new and unique files to Library Genesis.

Tactical Watermarks (2020). License — Copyleft: This is a free work. You can copy, distribute, and modify it underthe terms of the Free Art License http://artlibre.org/licence/lal/en/

Pedro Sá Couto is a media researcher, hacker and graphic designer from Porto, Portugal. His research focuses on surveillance in the realm of publishing, while questioning authorship, protecting users’ identity and revealing hidden processes required to subvert surveillance in physical and digital media.