A couple days ago I noticed a ton of Harry Potter themed NFT’s on Open Sea – if that all sounds like Greek to you, don’t worry, I’ll explain it here.
I made a quick video, but I had a migraine and I lost my voice, so this post will summarize the main points.
What is an NFT?
A “non-fungible token” – it basically means you can buy something and get a permanent record of ownership. The technology that allows this new kind of purchasing is the main draw among crypto enthusiasts. Marketplaces got set up for it, and artist are making crazy amounts of money as the speculative bubble continues. Will prizes keep going up? Probably not! Don’t get stuck a bag owner. But *some* projects might; because each unique piece of work (even if they all look the same) is one of a kind.
How do you sell NFT’s?
You upload your work to a NFT site; some are curated, some aren’t. Open Sea is the cheapest to get set up quickly; it works like an online art gallery + auction site, like ebay. (Prices, suggested bids, offers, etc.) But, you can also see who bought it last and for how much.
You just set up an account, set up a crypto wallet and add funds. This may sound a little confusing at first, but it’s not that hard. The main thing is, you need a place for people to send money too. However, you’ll also need some funds, because you’ll have to pay what amounts to a listing fee.
From what I understand… You pay this once for the first NFT and then a little more. Probably less than $100. After that, the buyer pays for the “gas fees” to purchase your NFT’s. (Other curated sites cost more to “mint” each NFT… I’m not an expert so do your research).
Copyright Infringement in the NFT space
Here’s where it gets interesting. We’re basically in very early MySpace days of the crypto world. These cartoonish NFT’s are valuable because they’re new and shiny. Nobody knows what they’re really worth. They’re just excited about the idea of easily moving tons of money around.
As I noticed, there’s a lot of Harry Potter content: I’ll use that as an example because J.K. Rowling hasn’t been shy about protecting her creative IP and suing for damages.
True, there’s a TON of HP stuff up everywhere. But not all of it is selling for lots of money. Here are three… selling between 2 eth ($6000) and 3000 eth (nearly 9 million dollars). This doesn’t mean it will actually sell for that much. Though similar NFT’s HAVE sold for much more than that.
Ideological Differences in Buyers vs. Sellers
Typically, artists make a big deal about this stuff, while other people shrug it off. We’re used to being told, “So what? It’s free promotion for you!” or “it doesn’t cost you anything to let me share this!”
People think it’s ridiculous to have to pay licensing fees just to share an image, or they don’t understand that it’s a big deal at all. Most creatives struggle to make any money from their content; and those who actually do tend to be more business minded. But nobody likes having their ideas ripped off, watered down, repackaged and resold.
The people with the bright ideas (intellectual property) should have some kind of ownership about how that’s used and by whom. But not everybody thinks so.
In the first big example I could find, ONE particular creative (Matt Furie) filed a DMCA because an NFT series based on his popular meme (Pepe the Frog). Pepe is a pop culture meme that’s been accused of becoming a hate symbol. You could argue it has a life of its own beyond its maker, and that the internet of people can’t be controlled.
What I find surprising is that, the crypto world seems up in arms belittling this desperate, party-pooping artist. One tweet wrote “You have to be really broke to make this type of move @Matt_Furie. NOBOBY WILL KILL THE FREEDOM OF ART.”
So, artistic freedom demands copyright theft, or something. Of course, those who spend tens of thousands of dollars are pissed off their NFT’s have lost all value. And it’s not *their* fault because I’m sure they didn’t even question the right of artists to spam-content based loosely on a common meme.
Here’s another: “Matt Furie is such a tyrant bitch he just filed a DMCA and got a legit collection with all original artwork banned. What a piece of absolute trash. He should be SHUNNED and BANISHED. Utter clown, deserves zero respect.”
As this tweet points out, yes this will have enormous implications:
Right now, OpenSea is pulling down millions a day just in network/gas fees. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean that they *keep* all that money, just that the transfer of fees through their platform is basically driving all crypto right now.
And this argument isn’t a new issue: are they responsible for the content people post on their platform? Why should they be, if Facebook or Twitter isn’t? But then, who is responsible?
Most NFT’s take wide inspiration from pop culture: memes, celebrities, and mix things up to create “rare” items. Is there any kind of policing (no, and there really can’t be, at least in the speed it would take to process. Amazon, one could argue, should be better about allowing people to upload/steal/resell other people’s books with AI scanning – we are already nearly there with plagiarism checking tools, and they aren’t have access to the books on their platform).
But it’s not as easy to look at two pieces of art and “see” the link (in the examples above, obviously they could scan for trademarked terms like “Harry Potter” but they wouldn’t be able to see any resemblance or notice the relevance of the tiny lightning mark.)
At the moment, this is all very fresh and new, and most artists probably aren’t even aware about selling their works as NFTs – or that other people could be stealing/selling their work without their knowledge. But things are going to all come together soon, as more big players are embracing crypto, for example Amazon’s new token-based reading platform, Kindle Vella.
There have been copyright scandals in the publishing world a lot recently; authors hiring ghostwriters who take a little too much inspiration (even using exactly sentences); as well as authors trying to corner a market by claiming a broad copyright (#cockygate).
Most authors will probably never reach the kind of literary and cultural fame for their characters to become first memes and then NFT’s, but the complexity of this issue, which is new and growing is worth keeping an eye on.
PS… if you think this is a clear-cut issue, I promise you it isn’t. Think of NFT’s like tattoos. If you wanted a tattoo of your favorite car or cartoon or meme, are you responsible for a copyright issue, if you’re buying it to own? Or is the tattoo shop, or artist, who allowed it, without checking that you *owned* the necessary rights to be able to do so? How about if you hired and paid an artist to create a unique artwork that blended in a few recognizable characters? What if you wanted a tattoo of a song lyric or poem, or a passage from your favorite book? How about printing posters of your book cover to sell as postcards at events? You might assume that’s fine, but it’s probably not unless it was agreed in the contract you signed with your illustrator or cover designer.