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When NFTs work against artists

Photo credit: Pierre Borthiry/Unsplash

In the past few weeks, digital currency has taken on noticeable popularity. Visa is permitting the use of USD Coin (USDC) to settle transactions. PayPal was already allowing users to buy, sell and hold cryptocurrencies, and now they can use the “Checkout with Crypto” payment platform. Even Playboy magazine has jumped into the NFT currency trend.

And this past weekend, The Weeknd sold exclusive art and music by non-fungible tokens (NFT) in collaboration with Nifty Gateway. But what happens when blockchains and other forms of digital currency are being used faster than the artists can keep up?

In a CNN news report, one digital artist had to remove his art on Twitter long enough to put watermarks on them. His reason for doing so was because he found out two of his pieces were sold as NFTs without his knowledge. Although he was able to block the NFTs after finding out, unless the artist checks in real time, there’s no way to really know.

Fighting for the IP right to digital art

Just as other forms of art can become a copyright nightmare, so can those with NFTs. While the U.S. Copyright Office can help to legally keep track of when a creation was made, it gets fuzzy when it comes to posting this work via social media on platforms like Twitter and Instagram. As mentioned on law firm J. Paye in Brief’s blog, “Instagram does not claim any ownership rights to content that you post on the site. You do grant them a non-exclusive, royalty free and transferable license to use any picture posted on Instagram.”

If the art is exclusive but the link is public, artists give users the option to publish this public link of copywritten work. This creates a gray area.

But selling another artist’s work with NFTs moves from a gray area to clearly being over the line. While blockchains transactions are “recorded publicly in an immutable digital ledger,” people are not required to prove they have the copyright or even share their real names to prove legitimacy.

So how can an artist know if work is stolen or compromised if they don’t know it was sold to begin with? Without an official trademark, it can be too easy to believe that the NFT seller is the real artist as opposed to the non-savvy-NFT artist who doesn’t know about the seller.

It’s not all bad news though. With digital currency popularity comes more people paying attention to WIPO PROOF, “a new digital business service that provides a date- and time-stamped digital fingerprint of any file, proving its existence at a specific point in time.” This service complements WIPO’s existing intellectual property (IP) systems, which covers inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce. Click here for more details.


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