from Guy Debord

To the Library Circle
27 June 1963

The printer Bernard communicated to me your letter of 21 June 1963, in which you claim 300 F[rancs] indemnity for the non-observation of the law on artistic property. Issue number 8 of our journal [Internationale Situationniste] did indeed contain, on page 42, a photograph of an inscription on a wall ("NEVER WORK"), which was taken from a post card print by Mr Buffier, whose name was not mentioned and from whom no authorization for reproduction was asked in advance.

It so happens that I am the author of this inscription upon the rue de Seine, the origin of which can be established, if necessary, by ten or twelve direct witnesses: in these conditions, you will understand that, in good faith, I did not believe that I needed to solicit authorization in advance, even if this would obviously have been less onerous than the sum that you now fix (following the schedule established by the Press Union in April 1962 for periodicals printed in runs greater than 10,000 copies, the cost of reproducing a photograph smaller than a half-page is 20 F).

I cannot approve too much of your defense of artistic property, which is too often flaunted. I would like you to note that the photo published in Internationale Situationniste is cropped in such a way that it only reproduces the part of Mr Buffier's post card that concerns the document properly speaking (the inscription itself) and rigorously excludes the characteristics that confer to this post card the artistic aspect that properly belongs to Mr Buffier. Familiar, as I am, with the framing that he has chosen, and, on the other hand, with the title that he has given to this subject, I know that the post cards of this series include, in the lower left of the image, a related inscription that comments upon the meaning of the first ("Superfluous advice"). As far as the third element that one must take into account when considering the artistic responsibility of a photograph, that is to say, the choice of subject, it appears to me that on this point I can claim a creative property that balances or even eclipses the merits of Mr Buffier's artistic tastes, which are limited in this circumstance to a simple choice of reproduction.

To get to the heart of the question of artistic property, let me assure you that I will not make any claims for a part of the proceeds that derive from sales of this post card nor for any indemnities that relate to reproduction without advance authorization, here or there. But there is another aspect, which is more important to my mind. The inscription in question was made, and is now presented without equivocation, by the situationist avant-garde movement (cf. the caption for this illustration, page 42 of our journal),[1] as a serious indicator of the artistic climate of an era, and as a moment in the development of the theories of this artistic movement, which aspire to be taken seriously. In keeping with his personal interpretation of this inscription, which quite justly didn't at all figure in Internationale Situationniste #8, Mr Buffier distributes this inscription under a humorous guise. Mr Buffier's title is, in fact, "Superfluous advice." Inasmuch as it is well-known that the great majority of people work, and inasmuch as work is imposed upon nearly all of these people, despite their strongest repulsions, by a crushing force, the slogan NEVER WORK can in no case be considered as "superfluous advice"; this phrase of Mr Buffier's implies that such a statement of opinion is already followed (without any questions) by everyone, and thus it casts the most ironic discredit on my inscription and, by extension, on my thought and that of the situationist movement, the French journal of which I currently have the honor to edit.

In case this question cannot be settled as you wish it to be, that is to say, amicably, it seems to me that -- forced to prove that the original of this inscription must be attributed to me -- I would be justified in demanding that one curtails the sale of the post cards that present Mr Buffier's fallaciously humorous interpretation, or at least that he prints new ones that recognize the serious intentions of the original author.

As for an amicable settlement, which I prefer, it seems to me that its modalities depend on the position that Mr Buffier adopts when he has been informed of this new information on our rights and reciprocal duties in this affair, which I sincerely beg you to transmit to him.

I ask you, gentlemen, to believe that these are my sincere feelings.[2]

Guy Debord

[1] Translator: that caption reads as follows: "Preliminary Program to the Situationist Movement" -- "This inscription, on a wall of the rue de Seine, can be traced back to the first months of 1953 (an adjacent inscription, inspired by more traditional politics, allows virtually complete accuracy in dating the graffiti in question: calling for a demonstration against General Ridgway, it cannot be later than May 1952). The inscription reproduced above seems to us one of the most important relics ever unearthed on the site of Saint-Germain-de-Pres: a testament to the particular way of life that tried to assert itself there."

[2] This letter never received a response.

(Published in Guy Debord, Correspondance, Volume 2, 1960-1964. Footnotes by Alice Debord, except where noted. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! June 2005. Corrected October 2008.)

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