IIn a discussion thread last week, digital artist Lois van Baarle said she had discovered “132 examples” of her artwork minted as NFT on the OpenSea Marketplace, all without her permission.
“NFTs are supposed to be about authenticity, but these platforms… do less than the bare minimum to ensure that images are uploaded by their original creators,” she said. wrote. (NFTs are non-fungible tokens, unique digital assets on a blockchain).
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today i found out that by searching for my own name on @opensea brought up 132 instances where my art was typed as NFT without my permission. apparently the only way to get them deleted is to write individual emails for each ad, which I literally don’t have time for.
– Loish (@loishh) December 13, 2021
Van Baarle, whose online nickname is “Loish”, paints and draws highly stylized characters with an eye towards colorful and cartoonish. A simple search for the word “Loish” on OpenSea yields numerous NFTs for these kinds of designs, many of which were struck off as a result of last week’s tweets.
But van Baarle is not the first artist to have his work minted and sold on NFT platforms like OpenSea. Shepard Fairey, who rose to prominence as the artist behind former President Obama’s ‘Hope’ campaign poster, and has since become a crypto fan, publicly complained about the creation of his Work on Rarible (another NFT market) in the same way.
Moderation is definitely a problem, as van Baarle points out – it takes about two seconds to find a bevy of incredibly hateful and fanatic NFTs on OpenSea. But the most important issue is the market dynamics that underpin the entire NFT ecosystem.
An NFT is just a token that points to a media file: anyone can create one (OpenSea has a handy template for this, but Rarible and SuperRare and many other platforms have similar systems), and anyone can sell one. There is no mechanism in the underlying code, i.e. the smart contract, to determine the authenticity of the image, video or song attached to the token.
With NFTs, authenticity is entirely extrinsic. Rarible might give a “verified” check mark to a creator’s page whose works they’ve deemed to be authentic, but the vast majority of artists on these platforms are unverified. And there’s nothing really stopping anyone from right-clicking on a work by a verified artist, uploading and re-uploading to the same platform as another NFT.
“Ownership” in this context is the process of recording addresses in the general ledger. Thanks to exploration websites like Etherscan, anyone can see who hit a token and who has since paid it. NFTs do not have a “bundle of rights” because they do not involve any binding contract. And while you can see the creator’s address, you’ll still need external confirmation that the X address actually belongs to creator Y.
In theory, this sense of authenticity is what gives value to a TVN. In April, an NFT of the Nyan Cat meme (a former early 2010s internet favorite) sold for $ 600,000 because Foundation (the company behind the market where the NFT was sold) organized a promotional campaign around the involvement of the original artist. Even if someone else made another Nyan Cat NFT with the same image, they would not have the blessing of the original artist. It is this blessing that has created the most value so far.
The sale was touted as an example of how NFTs are supposed to provide artists with increased autonomy: a chance to recoup some of the value lost for the endless reproducibility of images online.
But just as often, NFTs are a vehicle for theft of intellectual property. This morning I typed my own name into OpenSea and found a CoinDesk article by my colleague, Sam Ewen, typed as NFT; my name was in the metadata.
Needless to say, none of us sanctioned this list.
OpenSea is far from being the only platform to have this problem. Decentralization has become synonymous with “resistance to censorship” – without moderators spam, bigotry and theft are inevitable. A 2019 article in Verge detailed how the blockchain streaming service Audius is building on this sort of thing as a business model. And anyone can put graffiti right on the blockchain.
See also: Why NFTs Are So Attractive
Blockchain filtering services can potentially do what the spam folder did for emails, automatically separating spam and notifying artists when their images were created as NFTs. But it’s unreasonable to expect every artist to file an individual claim for every stolen work. The scope of the offense is already too broad.
Artists must be fully aware of the dangers inherent here. Even if you never touch an NFT, your work could be stolen by an enterprising scammer. In a way, it’s easier to steal the work of artists outside of crypto; if you don’t monitor the blockchain, as many NFT artists currently do, you are less likely to notice the theft.
The companies that have the most to gain from promoting NFTs are the ones that have the responsibility of getting it under control. If OpenSea is serious about sharing the wealth with creators, as opposed to the technologists and investors fueling the NFT boom, it has to protect their interests, too.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.