Home Digital art NFT art sales are booming. Just without the permission of some artists.

NFT art sales are booming. Just without the permission of some artists.


Digital thieves had already stolen Aja Trier.

Trier, a painter from San Antonio, often riffs on Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, adding dogs or dinosaurs to it, or reimagining it as a desert landscape or Mordor from “Lord of the Rings”. She sells versions on mugs, mouse pads, and pillows, and over the years she’s caught and arrested people selling pirated versions of her work on Amazon and other online marketplaces.

But thanks to the explosion of the NFT art market, thieves have started to steal his work at an alarming rate. Last week, an unidentified user on OpenSea, the dominant market for the burgeoning NFT art market, began listing tens of thousands of ads of their work, often duplicates, for sale. Thirty-seven of them were sold before she could convince the platform to withdraw them.

“They just kept taking them and doing them again as NFT,” Trier said. “It’s so blatant. And if it happens to me, it can happen to anyone.

The story of Trier has already become commonplace in the booming world of NFT art sales. RJ Palmer, an artist from San Francisco who designs creatures and monsters both as digital commissioned works and for film and video game companies, said the issuance of takedown requests to NFT platforms for his job had become a daily routine before he finally gave up.

“It must be too much. It became that part of my day, ”Palmer said, adding that he was constantly emailing to try to get NFTs removed. “It takes so much work of me. I just don’t want to deal with it.

As the NFT art market takes off, systems to ensure that a buyer makes a legitimate digital property purchase have failed to keep pace. Now, anonymous thieves regularly steal all digital art they can find online and pass it off as theirs to sell. While supporters of the NFT tout the technology as a means of revolutionize patronage, the rapidly growing digital markets that enable these sales have so far done little to stop this piracy.

Work of Aja Trier for sale by an art thief. OpenSea has since withdrawn from the list.Aja Trier

NFTs, short for non-fungible tokens, have exploded as a new type of art market over the past couple of years, promising people a way to prove they own a digital asset. Rooted in the same blockchain technology as cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, NFTs have been called from “a geeky implementation of bragging rights” to digital certificates of authenticity.

Actors, musicians, athletes and even political campaigns jumped into space, emitting all kinds of digital trinkets connected to NFT. The volume of NFT transactions grew rapidly, reaching $ 10.7 billion in the third quarter of 2021, according to the DappRadar analysis platform.

In the art world, NFTs were quickly touted as solving a variety of problems. They offered artists a way to monetize digital art, make sure they could sell their work, and even make money if their art was sold in the future. NFTs are not art in themselves but rather digital deeds, certificates that can be associated with a work of art and then bought and sold as a representative of the property.

But rapid growth has also opened the door to widespread hacking and fraud. On most NFT platforms, including OpenSea, by far the largest NFT marketplace, users can create an account and start selling any digital images they want to download. While this has helped OpenSea grow rapidly (the company announced Tuesday it was valued at $ 13.3 billion in a recent roundtable), the platform is barely subdued, forcing artists to actively patrol OpenSea and its competitors in an attempt to have their work withdrawn.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for OpenSea said, “We take theft seriously and have policies in place to meet our obligations to the community and deter theft on our platform.” , and the company “is actively expanding our efforts through customer support, trust, and site security and integrity.”

While there is little data to illustrate exactly how common the problem is, there are some indications that it is widespread. One is from DeviantArt, one of the internet’s largest digital art platforms, which has started to continuously analyze the blockchains used by NFTs to alert users when copies of their work are posted on NFT exchanges. DeviantArt has sent alerts to thousands of artists since September, said Liat Gurwicz, the company’s marketing director.

DeviantArt alerts to Aja Trier that someone had made an NFT of her work.Aja Trier

“The theft of works of art is nothing new. We’re just seeing it on a whole new scale with everything that’s happened with the NFTs, ”Gurwicz said. Artists need to take matters into their own hands to have their work taken down, she said.

“At the moment, we don’t know of any other solutions that artists can use,” she said.

Right now, OpenSea’s process to suppress sales of stolen images places most of the blame on artists. A seller doesn’t need to provide proof of ownership or use their real name to start an auction, but an artist filing a copyright notice must share personal information like their real name and details. links which prove that he is the true owner of a work.

Ashli ​​Weiss, a lawyer from Silicon Valley who published a guide on how to send copyright notices to NFT marketplaces, said the burden on artists is exacerbated by the fact that many NFT thieves appear to be automated bots.

“These bots aren’t just looking for NFT art that’s already been created and they’re trying to resell it,” Weiss said. “They go after artists who don’t even know what an NFT is, and honestly it probably makes a lot more money for counterfeit sellers because they don’t have people taking their work away. . “

Even though OpenSea tends to respond to takedown requests, the actual idea of ​​copyright in the NFT space is tricky, said Brian Frye, professor of intellectual property law at the University of Kentucky who sold its own art as NFT.

Since an NFT is not an actual image, but rather a receipt or digital deed that points to an image, its sale would not infringe an artist’s copyright, he said. Only the image uploaded and hosted on OpenSea would do that.

“All [an NFT] it’s a URL that says “Look at this place on the internet,” Frye said.

“By telling someone to look at this URL, there is no copyright infringement because no original copyrighted material is copied,” he said. “So the NFT itself is just not relevant to the question. “