© Piet Mondrian, 85 Waterloo Street Warrenton VA 20186, USA

15 Oct 2018 | 863 words | copyright art united states business travel

On the 16th of July 2015, a couple of hours before flying back to Amsterdam i rented a car in downtown Washington D.C and drove for a about an hour to Warrenton, VA to take a photo of a residential property located on one of the main thouroughfares of the small town:

85 Waterloo Street Warrenton VA 20186, USA

So what triggered my interest in this rather unremarkable building in an unremarkable town? The house on Waterloo Street was home to HCR international, a company that since 1998 has been managing the copyright in the works of the Dutch born artist Piet Mondrian (1872 - 1944). As a result the name of the company featured prominently in the copyright notices alongside reproductions of the works of Mondrian on Museum websites and exhibition catalogues all over the world.

I had developed an interest in HCR international when we were working on the “Wiki loves Art/NLpublication in 2010. During the work on the book i became aware of the somewhat dubious reputation that a certain Hillary Richardson (presumably the H and the R in HCR international) had among museum curators who dealt with works by Piet Mondriaan. Apparently Ms Richardson was rather demanding when it came to providing permission for preproductions of Mondrian’s works. Not only was she known for asking high royalty rates (see this 2015 NY Times article for examples), she was also known to be very specific with regards to the copyright notices. According to a 2011 art magazine article, HCR generally demanded that copyright notices are placed vertically alongside any reproductions, that Mondriaan name must be written with one ‘a’ (the original Dutch spelling is with ‘aa’). Evidence from around the web also seems to indicate that she insisted that HCR international is named in all copyright notices.

So how did the copyrights of the most famous 20th century artist from the Netherlands end up in a residential house in Warrenton, Virginia? Like many other artists from continental Europe, Mondriaan had to flee from the Nazis. During a short stay in Paris in 1934 he became friends with the American artist Henry Holtzman. In 1940 Holtzman arranged for Mondrian’s passage from London to New York City, where he rented an apartment-studio for Mondrian. During the next three and a half years he was one of Mondrian’s most intimate associates.

When Mondriaan died of pneumonia in 1944 he willed his estate (including the copyrights) to Holtzman. Holtzman continued to live for a considerable period but eventually died in 1987. His estate, including the Mondriaan copyrights, fell into the hands of his three children, who set up the Mondrian/Holtzman trust. In 1999 they hired the art historian Hillary Richardson to manage the copyrights on behalf of the trust and, as a result, from 1999 onwards HCR international managed Mondriaan copyrights from the House in Warrenton, VA.According to its website (2015 version), the Mondrian trust…

… aims to promote awareness of Mondrian’s artwork and to ensure the integrety of his work. We intend to carry forward his legacy and influence a new generation of artists by managing and encouraging copyright use for Mondrian’s artwork. The trust grants licenses and copyright permissions to those whishing to reproduce Mondrian’s images.

In reality, as evidenced by the way that Ms Richardson operated, it is fairly clear that HCR international was not primarily concerned with Mondrian’s artistic legacy and integrity but rather interested in bringing in licensing revenue. In an email exchange between Ms Richardson and me in 2010 she declined an to contribute to our publication because “Mondrian is keeping me very busy!”.

Things changed when the Mondriaan copyrights expired on the 1st of January 2015. When i contacted Ms. Richardson again in early 2015 to see if she would be willing to talk about how  the fact that Mondriaan’s work was now in the Public Domain, she declined pointing out that because of the expiration of the Mondriaan copyrights, she was no longer working for the trust:  

Dear Paul Keller, Thank you for your inquiry. Due to the expiration of Mondrian’s copyrights worldwide–except for many in the US and in Spain, I decided not to renew my contract with the Mondrian Trust for the limited rights. That has given me the opportunity to consult for a producer of educational art apps and to use myart historical background researching works in private collections here in Washington, many of which span several centuries and cultures. They are new and rewarding challenges after 16 years working withMondrian’s incredible images …

That email was singend off with a new adress for HCR international:

HCR International 4100 Cathedral Avenue Washington DC

So when i visited the house on 85 Waterloo street in July 2015 both the Mondriaan copyrights and HCR international were no longer residing there. Still, looking at the house on that hot summer day, I could not stop but wondering how Mondrian, the 20th century icon of modernist abstract art, would had felt knowing that more that half a century after his death his copyright would be administered from a small residential property in rural Virginia.

More pictures of the house and Warrenton, VA in this flickr album

New Horizons (leaving Kennisland)

27 Sep 2018 | 731 words | work kennisland copyright future

For the last eleven and a half years Kennisland has been my professional home and base of operations (first high above the the Keizersgracht and since 2015 as part of Spring House). Today we have announced that it is time for me to leave to make place for the next generation to take over the helm at Kennisland. The past decade has been an amazing ride during which I have learned and grown a lot. Over the years I have had the opportunity to work with lots of amazing people both at KL and all over the world1 on making the world a little bit of a better place.

Most of my contributions in doing so have focussed on fairly nerdy and technocratic issues. The most impactful - and hopefully lasting - change that we have managed to achieve is that we have convinced large parts of the cultural heritage sector to embrace digitisation as a chance for radical openness instead of seeing it as a threat (or, even worse, as a business opportunity). We have changed many organisations internal policies from closed by default to open by default and at this moment it feels that there is enough momentum in the direction of open access to collections and other data for it to sustain itself.

But changing internal policies of public institutions is not enough if they operate in a legal environment that is stacked against them (and against individual users and creators). This is why, over the last six years or so I have spend an ever increasing amount of my energy to fight for better copyright legislation in Europe. As I am preparing to leave Kennisland this fight is nearing its logical conclusion, and the jury is still out to determine in how far our attempts to change things for the better will be successful. Right now it is not looking particularly good, but as the saying goes, it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.

I will focus my remaining time at Kennisland on continuing this fight and I am optimistic that we still have the chance to move the needle in the right direction. Even if the end result of this round turns out to be disappointing the struggle for a legal environment that prioritises the interests of individual creators and the general public over the interests of profit driven intermediaries (both legacy entertainment industry and our new platform capitalist overlords) will continue for the foreseeable future.

It is somewhere in this space that I see my post-Kennisland future to unfold but at this point in time it is too early to say what I will be doing next2.

Reflecting about my time at Kennisland also means to look at the darker moments: During my tenure at Kennisland, the Netherlands has become a more selfish and closed society that has shed lots of traits that once made it an attractive environment to operate in. Over the years we have seen a decimation of a support system for a vibrant, experimental and optimistic cultural sector. The feeling of embracing the future and shaping it through experimentation that was still very much present when I started at Kennisland is largely gone, displaced by a sheepish admiration for disruptive innovation that cherishes individual responsibility above collective imagination and solidarity.

But the darkest moment of my time at Kennisland was the fact that no matter how hard we put up signs, organised campaigns and tried to ignore the inevitable logic of the destructive carnage in Syria, we lost Bassel (R.I.P). Thinking about Bassel and the never-ending carnage in Syria puts whatever I managed to achieve during my time at Kennisland into the perspective of the world around us ever so slowly getting more unhinged.


  1. This is not the moment for thanking everyone who needs to be thanked but among all the people who have influenced me over these years two absolutely stand out: Chris & Jill. Without either of them and the strange magic of complementary characters between us i would not be where I am right now. Thanks! ↩︎

  2. While I have no definitive plan for what I am going to do next I have lots of ideas for future endeavours and I am still open for suggestions. If you have any ideas or plans that you want me to be part of, please feel free to get in touch↩︎

Twice as fast = twice as nice

So today the dutch railways (NS) ran a one-time Amsterdam Berlin intercity service that was 27 minutes faster than the usual 6 hour 30 minutes Amsterdam Berlin intercity service. They achieved this by omitting all stops between Amsterdam and the German border (Hilversum, Amsersfoort, Apeldoorn, Deventer, Amelo and Henglo). According to the NS it should be possible to further reduce travel time to four hours by aquiring engines that are capable of running 200 km/h on the Dutch and the German railwys (right now there is a change of engine in Bad Bentheim that takes about 15 minutes) and by skipping most stops on the German side (Bad Bentheim, Rheine, Bad Oeynhausen, Minden, Wolfsburg, Stendal and Berlin Spandau). The main obstacle against this badly needed upgrade of the Amsterdam Service? According to the Volkskrant all these little places insist on having the train stop in their stations.

Still the NS seems to be fairly determined to upgrade the line and bring the travel time down to four hours1, which would make it roughly competetive with direct flights between Amsterdam and Berlin. Four hours between Amsterdam and Berlin would mean an average speed of 160 km/h which is nice compared to the current average of 98 km/h but it is a far cry from the 200 km/h reuired to qualify as a high speed rail service. By comparison i have recently had the pleasure to travel on the so called Zon Thlays (a dedicated summer weekend only service that connects Amsterdam with the south of France) which runs the 1244 km from Amsterdam to Aix en Provence in 6 hours 47 minutes (an average speed of 187 km/h including a 15 minute crew rest stop at Paris CDG Airport, required by labour regulations). This is nearly twice as fast and makes the 6 and a half our drudgery of the current Amsterdam Berlin service even more unbearable. It brings Marseille within 7 hours of Amsterdam which feels quite amazing in more than one way (both of them being old port cities on opposite sides of the continental European land mass that culturally feel much further apart that a 7 hour train ride).

Now most of the service runs on dedicated high speed lines (with the notable exception of the bit between Antwerp and Brussels which the Belginas refuse to upgrade, in their own petty version of the i-want-the-train-to-slow-down-and-call in-my-little-village described above) and it does not make any sheduled stops between Brussels and Valence, bypassing Paris to the east (see routemap below). The trip feels like a triumph of infrastructure over time and it illustrates that if we ever want to get Euroepans of their addiction to low cost flights we will need to substantially invest into better high speed rail infrastructure.

There is no good reason why people should be able to fly across the continet, destroying the climate in pursuit of the next city trip if we had infrastuctire linking major cities that would allow travelling 1200 km or so within 6 hours (think breakfast in Amsterdam, dinner in Marseille). Now such infrastructure does not come cheap2, but given the climate destroying effects of our addiction to cheap short haul air travel, there are little alternatives.

The most logical source of the required investments would be a suracharge on intra EU airline tickets. A modest €20 per ticket would bring in €12,5 billion per year (based on the 626 million passengers of national and intra EU28 passengers identified in the 2016 air transport statistics). To make the point that people should take the train insteard of the plane it this surcharge should be inreased to €100 per ticket for routes that compete with trains services that take 4 hours or less such as Amsterdam-Paris (1,26M passengers in 2017 = €101M extra ), Paris-London (1,07M passengers in 2017 = €86M extra) and many others. Over time such surcharges could result in substantial funds that can be invested into building a better high speed train infrastructure (think Japan) and in the short run they would make train operators on existing high speed connections much more competetive.

Given the political clout that the airline business has (they have succesfully resited the idea of taxing jetfuel for decades) such a measure would require a lot of political will to enact, but given the untenable trajectory that we are on when it comes to airtravel, there may be little other choices. The only other alternative would be for people to actually travel less. While undoubtably better, it is quite a hard sell on generations raised on cheap jet-fuel and the idea that multiple city trips per year are a basic human right.

Route of the direct Thalys service from Amsterdam to Aix en Provence


  1. Which is probably an unrealistic excpection. This 2018 study by engeneering firm Royal HaskoningDSV (commissioned by Natuur en Milieufederatie Noord-Holland) comes to the conclusion that without upgrading the track the measures described above would result in a retuction of travel time of 46 minutes only (page 32). This would mean five hours and 38 minutes total travel time which is not much better than the current situation. The same study calculates that upgrading the route to proper high speed infrastructue would reduce total travel time time to 3 hours and 4 minutes (page 36, note that this tiem includes transfer to and from the train station) ↩︎

  2. The above-quoted Royal Haskoning study claculates the cost of buliding a HSL network that connects Amsterdam with most mayor metropolitan centers within a radius of 750km to be €78 billion. Such a network would consist of 3310 km of new HSL infrastructure (which, of course would be only one part of a Europe-wide HSL network). ↩︎

CARNE Y ARENA

06 Dec 2017 | 907 words | art exhibition review vr migration mexico united states

In retrospect the whole process of actually getting to experience Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s situated VR installation CARNE Y ARENA at the Fondazione Prada in Milano now looks like a privileged white man’s version of what the protagonists of the installation have gone trough: The almost overwhelming uncertainty if i would ever manage to get there (the result of overwhelmed web servers that could not keep up with the demand for the microscopic amount of tickets available), the realisation that a group only travels as fast as it’s weakest members (an object lesson taught by a group of Filipino women who boarded the flight to Milano with way too much carry on luggage causing the worst boarding mess that i ever experienced) and the ability of those whom you have entrusted with your fate to extract extra compensation (the taxi diver who needed to be bribed into accepting payment by credit card).

While CARNE Y ARENA is primarily described as a possibly genre-defining Virtual Reality experience, the actual VR element (as in the 3D environment projected through the headset) is probably the least interesting bit of it, even though the cinematography is stunning and the choreography of the actions unfolding around you is equally master-full.

Rather it is the use of the supporting sensory triggers that both makes and breaks the illusion created by the VR headset (the whole experience was probably helped by the fact that as a result of my hurried attempts to get there in time i was thirsty for the duration of the experience): The coldness in the holding cell crates a feeling of being out of control that primes you for the desert scene. The cold, rough desert sand and the unidentifiable scent immediately situate you in the desert. As long as you are “alone” in the desert (and later during the helicopter overpasses) the wind machines complete the illusion created by the VR headset.

Once the exhausted migrants appear the illusion starts getting strained. For me this had little to do with the the fact that they were clearly identifiable as rendered characters (as the Verge complains), or even the fact that you could walk into the characters (according the NYT review this seems to be a feature that i did not recognise as such) but rather the fact that i was unable to physically relate to them within the parameters of the simulation. As the group came under attack by the border patrol my urge was to get closer to the other protagonists and to somehow protect or comfort them. But my attempt to hold on to the foot of a frightened child broke the simulation as there was noting to touch and no-one i could comfort.

In the end the very limitations of the simulation amplify the message. Regardless how much i wanted to identify with the the harassed group of migrants, and as much as i experienced the sensory overload of being alone in the dark desert at the mercy of armed men, the limitations of the technology reminded me of my real status as a distant observer. That divergence between your desire to relate, fuelled by the state of the art manipulation of your senses and your inability to completely escape your situated-ness in the real world creates (or at least it created for me) a very profound understanding what it means to be the other (in this case one of the migrants).

Contrary to what i had expected it is not the technical perfection of the installation that constitutes the empathy machine, but the fact that you are reminded that you are indeed only “virtually present” that delivers the message. As confronting as the last scene, where the simulation finally acknowledges your presence and the border patrol officer approaches you shouting and with his assault rifle aimed at you, may be, it was the fact that i could simply leave that brought home the point that for the migrants this option does not exist.

Still, leaving the desert scene left me shell shocked and i spend a long time watching the video testimonials of the migrant protagonists in the decompression room that constitutes the last part of the experience. It is impossible to tell if these were so captivating because of the state i was in or because of the fact that i was alone with them or because of the accomplished videography and performance or because of all of these aspects combined.

In the end the most interesting question is how this way of story telling can ever scale in any meaningful way. The way it is set up in Milano (individual 15 minute slots) the total capacity is somewhere around 5000 visitors in half a year. There are currently 3 instances of CARNE Y ARENA (the other ones are im Mexico City and in Los Angeles) which seems utterly insufficient to reach anyone beyond a very determined part of the global cultural elites, who are likely the ones who are least challenged in their belief systems by the urgent social message encoded in this technological masterpiece. It is not me who needed the exposure to the desperate realities of migrants fighting for their dignity under the conditions of massive global disparities, rather it is someone my above mentioned taxi driver (who was not even aware of the fact that the Prada foundation is a Museum and not the seat of the eponymous luxury goods company).

Election Day (2017)

15 Mar 2017 | 435 words | elections politics europe netherlands

As i am writing this i am on a flight from Strasbourg back to Amsterdam. At the same time people back in the Netherlands are voting in one of the most contested elections of recent memory. There is a real (although increasingly unlikely) chance that the xenophobic, populist and anti European PVV of Geert Wilders will become the biggest party and that the rest of the political spectrum will splinter into 15 or more parties. The dutch elections are seen as a first test for the future of a united and democratic Europe, to be followed by the French presidential elections in a month where the Front National is currently leading the polls.

Much has been written about how this is due to fact that much of the populations feel ignored, left behind and threatened by immigrants and other outsiders. Looking out of the window of the plane this is somewhat hard to reconcile with the landscape passing 8000 meters below. The regions between Amsterdam and Strasbourg (Alsace, Luxembourg, Limburg, Brabant, South Holland) are some of the richest and happiest on earth. You can see that from above, the fields are lush and green, the tractors draw their GPS guided straight lines across the landscape, the roads and other infrastructure are well maintained, the dutch waterworks proudly face the expanses of the North Sea and the villages and small towns are orderly clusters of individuals houses, surrounded by patches of lawn and other greenery.

To anyone who has ever looked out of a plane window when flying approaching airports in South America, Africa, the Middle East or Southeast Asia this will look like paradise. There can be no doubt that Europe is one of the most fortunate places on earth and there can be no doubt that we have the resources not only to support those who have the privilege to be born here but also those who are looking to come here for a better future.

The political crisis that we are facing and that is driving much of the electorate into the arms of xenophobes and populists like Wilders and Le Pen is clearly not the result of resource scarcity. Instead it is a crisis of resource allocation. The fat, rich landscapes passing below us can easily support many more than just the lucky few that are already here. As Europeans this requires us to understand that we need better, fairer ways of sharing our collective wealth…

Meanwhile in the seat next to me: VVD MEP Hans van Balen reading the biography of his party leader and most likely election winner Mark Rutte.

Terrorism and urban planning

16 Jan 2017 | 244 words | terrorism syria urbanism united states

From the novel I am currently reading:

Back in his hotel room he remembered that Mohammed Atta , the famous World Trade Center hijacker, had been a student of urban planning in hamburg in Germany. Was there a connection between the two things – terror and planning? It was possible. Atta in his religious way, had wanted the perfect religious city &emdash; his thesis was on Aleppo in Syria. In the end though his urge to design took a different form &emdash; het took down the twin monstrosities of the towers over Manhattan, and there, in a single day he accomplished what no other planner could have, erasing the cold shadows of those vile boastful buildings of the sun-filled streets of the city.

While “the association of small bombs” is a work of fiction it appears that the fact that Mohammed Atta has indeed written his thesis on Aleppo is not. Given this the recent events in Aleppo, which have lead to the almost complete destruction of the city, feel like the completion of a circle of violence that has been started by Atta and his companions on 9/111. It is probably vain hope to expect this to be the end of the circle, but with the whole geo-political situation changing quite dramatically, nothing seems impossible these days.

Live broadcast of russian drone footage monitoring the evacuation of civilians from Aleppo (15/12/16)


  1. the area where the twin towers stood used to be ‘Little Syria’ ↩︎

A new era

09 Nov 2016 | 737 words | elections politics trump united states future

When I went to sleep yesterday night I was expecting my daughters Yuki and Mika to wake up in a world where three of the most powerful persons are women. Instead, we woke up to a world in which a misogynistic, ignorant, racist, fear-monger was elected to be the next president of the United States of America. That makes it pretty likely that they will grow up in a world that is considerably worse than the one I grew up in.

Breakfast with vodka shot

2nd breakfast of the morning: double espresso + vodka shot

But this is not about my daughter’s role models (we will find others), this is about the end of an era. Most directly Trump’s victory will affect the US. While this can play out in many ways, it is hard to imagine a way in which this will not cause a lot of hurt to the most vulnerable people in society: (undocumented) immigrants, minorities and generally all those who can’t or don’t want to come up for their own interests at the expense of others.

Trump, and more importantly the extremist right wing networks and strategists who have enabled success, will have the full political apparatus (both houses of congress, the presidency and the supreme court) aligned to turn back progress that has been made over the last decades. America will become a worse place to live for lots of people, and that fills me with dread.

Even worse, Trump will inherit the targeted assassination machine built and employed mercilessly by President Obama1. From the perspective of those killed and maimed by drone strikes and other assassination methods it does not really matter if the strike was authorised by Obama or Trump, but it does not take a lot of imagination to fear that President Trump will be even more indiscriminate in unleashing the hellfires.

An uncertain future for Europe

Closer to home, Trump has questioned the traditional security alignments between the US and Europe. At the same time he has shown remarkable affinity with the Russian President Putin. If this leads to a strategic new alignment between Russia and the US this may very well have far-reaching consequences for peace and stability in Europe. Much of the uncomfortable but peaceful co-existence between the European neighbours of Russia and Russia itself is based on military hegemony of the US that is backing us up. We may soon find ourselves in a drastically different environment characterised by a degree of instability and danger that is unknown to most of the European people of my generation (with the exception of those who witnessed the self-destruction of Yugoslavia from close by).

It also looks pretty certain that the era of free trade fundamentalism will come to an end. TTIP & TTP are effectively dead as of this morning 08:29 CET and while that is not necessarily a bad thing, it makes me wonder whether the system that put free trade ahead of pretty much all other considerations will be replaced by something better. I have been somewhat hypocritical in enjoying the perks of being in a privileged position of the ever more interconnected world produced by this system, and I can’t really imagine being thrown back in a world that is much more focussed on nation states, but this seems to be where we are heading.

Standing up against populism at home

Closest to home, the most worrying thing about this morning were the triumphant tweets of Geert Wilders (the racist and nationalistic populist who fancies himself the equivalent of Trump over here) in which he predicts to “win back the Netherlands“. If we have learned one lesson this year it is that we have to treat a Wilders’ victory during next year’s election as a very real possibility.

While most of the developments I have described are out of my realm of influence, this morning made something crystal clear for me: If we do not start doing everything we can to prevent a Wilders’ victory from happening, we have only ourselves to blame and then we will be in even deeper shit when we wake up on 16 March 2017.


  1. If Trump really wants to install a special prosecutor to go after a member of the Obama administration, this prosecutor should not go after Clinton (who has misplaced a couple of thousands of emails), but after President Obama (who has assassinated hundreds of people). ↩︎

Best library ad ever...

28 Aug 2016 | 42 words | advertisement france libraries voyantes

My friend Melanie send me this screenshot from her Facebook feed. An advert for the Public Library system of Villeurbanne in the style of a promotion flyer for an african healer. Not surprisingly i find this utterly brilliant…

Maître bibliothécaire Magic BIB

The intriguingly strange motor cycle product names of Pakistan

25 Jul 2016 | 128 words | branding lahore motorcycles pakistan travel

One of the most intriguing things that i noticed during my short visit to Lahore, Pakistan last week were the product names for the local motor cycles. In Lahore the Honda 70 (and its various knock-offs from local brands) is a near ubiquitous motor cycle that seems to be the primary means of transport for the cities less affluent inhabitants. At some point, while walking through the old city i noticed that the product name of the Honda is Cash Forever 70 (or CD70). As it turns out all of the knock-off versions als have cash-themed names. Cash Forever (Road Prince), Hot Cash (BMC) and Urgent Sale (United):

Cash Deposit

Cash Forever

Hot Cash

Urgent Sale

BMC gets extra points for appropriating the BMW logo for their brand.

X-mas in the desert

22 Dec 2015 | 153 words | desert xmas namibia travel

Sitting here and reading this:

[…] The tourists come for the desert’s skyscapes and crumbling adobe buildings, its mysticism and tequila and Instagrammable earth tones. I’m a tourist, too, of course, even if I’m moving at a pace of years instead of days. When people ask me how long I plan on staying in Marfa, I answer vaguely: “It’s not my forever-place.” Whatever that means. Between the fancy grocery store and Amazon Prime, Marfa is hardly a place of deprivation. But even with kale and art openings, the desert is hard. Trash snags in the scrubgrass. Only rich people have lawns. Last week, a pack of stray dogs chased me down the street, and today the wind is so strong it feels like the house is under attack. When I go back east, I always get a little emotional the first time I see a cluster of trees—the easy abundance! All that green![…]

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: