Hi everyone, a new type of crypto-token made massive waves on the internet last week (or the parts of the net that I look at anyways). You might have read this news of a collage of digital art that sold for USD 69,000,000. The transaction was a major victory for digital-artists and blockchain enthusiasts. The artwork was sold by a major luxury auction house (Christie’s), and the first time the NFT (non-fungible token) technology was used by a mainstream auction house.
What is a NFT?
NFT’s are a quantum of data that live on a blockchain ledger. They are a secure digital representation of metadata and any digital content. The metadata can include any information such as when the digital content was created, who created it, who its current owner is etc.
Who uses NFTs?
This technology is particularly appealing to digital artists because the NFT provides a secure, unalterable means of tracking ownership of any particular copy of a digital work. NFTs are also creating a secure and trustworthy market for digital arts. Digital artists can create NFTs for a limited number of a particular work, and claim these to be the only original copies. The authenticity of these original copies are then forever tracked on the blockchain. When the artist sells the NFT, the owner is certain that they are now the official owner of a limited item (albeit digital). More often, digital artists do not create their own NFTs (though they could), rather, they partner with auction houses such as Nifty Gateway (niftygateway.com), who creates the NFTs on their behalf, and holds auctions.
What are the copyrights implications?
In my view, NFTs can greatly complement an authors claims to ownership. In copyright litigation, the onus for proving ownership is on the plaintiff. If there is an NFT for a particular work, it can serve as a definitive proof of ownership. This would be particularly desirable for a plaintiff if they didn’t register their copyright in Canada.
It would facilitate enforcement of both moral and economic rights of the author. The auction of the NFT and the associated digital content only results in a transfer of the ownership of the digital content. The right to reproduce the work remains with the original author, unless the terms of the transfer imply otherwise. Similarly, it would facilitate the enforcement of moral rights of the author in digital copy.
What lies in the future for the NFTs?
NFTs also have promising uses in video games. A video game company could create limited edition digital in-game assets as an alternative revenue stream. It can also be used as anti-piracy tool for the game, or for any part of the game, for example, fighting cheating software. As for the players, there are already significant online markets for in-game assets where people can sell rare items for popular games such as World of Warcraft. Trust between the sellers and purchasers in these online marketplaces is a major issue. If all items in a video game become registered and tracked via NFTs, the trust problem will be solved, and the transactions can be automatized.
Some people have gone so far as to say that it might make copyrights registration obsolete. I think it is unlikely that NFTs can make copyright registration obsolete, especially in jurisdictions where registration is a requirement for enforcement of ownership rights. However, if copyright registrar were to adopt NFT based solutions for tracking ownership, it could greatly improve administrative efficiency.