The Copyright Conundrum — Is Owning the NFT Equal To Owning the Asset?
A Twitter bot recently sent waves through the rapidly growing blockchain community. Operating on the popular text-based social media platform Twitter, the bot took to minting NFTs of viral tweets, with neither prior intimation nor the consent of the original owners, which, in the physical world, would amount to a clear violation of their Intellectual Property Rights (IPR).
Indeed, IPR has become the topic of much debate in the blockchain community, especially when their complex laws governing creative work in the physical space do not necessarily translate well to the decentralized world of blockchain and the Metaverse.
But then there’s some confusion in regards to NFTs and IPRs. Let’s decode that first.
The Confusion about NFTs and Intellectual Property Rights
There is a misconception about intellectual property rights as a legal entity that protects the rights and interests of creative artists. The confusion also persists on protecting their work from being stolen, copied, or redistributed without consent or fair compensation. However, as NFTs can essentially be minted by anonymous entities on the blockchain, enforcing existing IPR laws in such a framework may not only be impossible but impractical as well!
The emergence of NFTs on the blockchain has raised critical questions about what ownership of NFTs actually entails. These questions can be answered quite well with a simple understanding of the many stakeholders involved in creating an NFT.
Blurring the Lines Between Physical and Digital Worlds
An NFT can be viewed as a sale deed for an asset that validates your ownership of the token representing that asset on a blockchain. In the real world, this would be akin to a property deed, with records of ownership history and any transactions towards that property known to all interested in it.
Having said that, these are the three main entities involved in the debate about ownership rights and NFTs:
1.The Creator of the Asset:
The Twitter bot, as mentioned earlier, drew the ire of many enthusiasts from the blockchain community, particularly celebrity actor William Shatner whose tweets were minted as NFTs by the bot. In this situation, Shatner initially thought of the tweet and then shared it with his followers on the platform as the creator of the original asset, i.e., the tweet in question.
As such, the creator retains ownership over the original asset as part of the rights granted to them under nearly universal copyright laws. NFTs that are minted without their consent, knowledge, and without entering into a mutually agreeable contract with the original creator is, in fact, a violation of their Intellectual Property Rights.
2. The Platform on Which the NFT is Minted:
Blockchain platforms are conduits between the intangible blockchain platform and the real world, acting as a hub for creators and collectors to mint, trade, and earn from NFTs. Platforms act as marketplaces that hold publicly accessible records of ownership history, sale prices, and transaction volume associated with NFTs.
These platforms have no part to play in the ownership of NFTs other than to facilitate their trade between collectors, creators, and potential third-party buyers. Based on the contract created, the platform is liable to pay royalties to the creator in the event of a resale of the NFT in question. The platform may obtain a small percentage of that sale price as a transaction fee or charge for minting NFTs.
3. The Collector of the NFT:
After an asset is created and posted for consumption by an audience either online or in a physical venue, a collector of NFTs could, ideally with the original creator’s permission, “mint” an NFT on a suitable blockchain platform.
This process creates a token that is essentially a smart contract between themselves and the creator, signifying their ownership of the token minted on the platform and not of the original asset. They are free to use the asset on the platform through their token, which acts as proof of its authenticity and contains a hyperlink to the asset in question, stored either on-chain or offline.
Clearing the fog — Who Actually Owns an Asset in the Digital/Blockchain Space?
Unless explicitly stated in the smart contract, NFT ownerships and NFT copyrights continue to remain with the creator. At the same time, the collector simply owns the token associated with that asset on the platform.
Collectors are perfectly entitled to sell the token that they own to another collector at a mutually agreeable price. Still, they are not transferring NFT ownership, which continues to be enjoyed by the creator, who may also stipulate that they receive a royalty for every resale of the token in the smart contract.
NFTs have come into the limelight as they have created a technological means of valuing assets such as art and music that contain several variables and are subjective. NFTs assign tangible, monetary values to them. They act as a sort of license for authorized use on blockchain platforms — smart contracts prevent indiscriminate use and protect creators. It is an exciting new frontier for creative work with many advantages and challenges.
The Challenges ahead for IPR and NFTs
Among the many valid concerns that arise about copyright laws and NFTs, one of the main ones is the violation of IPR granted to an artist under the law in most nations worldwide. Creating an NFT representing an asset without the consent of its creator could cause confusion if the creator, such as Shatner, were to come forward. However, there remains no way to enforce IPR laws on blockchain platforms without universally acceptable regulations, such as the 1986 Berne Convention regarding intellectual property rights in the physical world.
Moreover, the ability to place a monetary value on a token representing assets such as art has raised concerns over money laundering and wash trading on blockchain platforms, leading to reduced engagement between users and the community.
The lack of clear rules and regulations, primarily owing to a decentralized system, will undoubtedly be an obstacle to protecting collectors and creators from exploitation.
Additionally, there are environmental concerns about the blockchain network and its role in increasing CO2 emissions worldwide, which are sure to be optimized and worked on as the technology grows and develops.
The Value of an NFT Today
So you own the token and not the painting? Just because you do not own the rights to a painting or song does not diminish the value of the NFT created to represent it on the platform of your choice. NFTs are a unique way of valuing and monetizing abstract and subjective assets. Thus, creating new ways for artists and audiences to engage with one another.
Your tokens hold value as certificates of authentic ownership of that asset as it exists on the blockchain. And with the existence of decentralized smart contracts associated with tokens, you can get a lot of valuable information about an NFT that allows you to make an informed decision on its purchase.
Munich-based bitsCrunch, for instance, offers the UnleashNFT platform, which analyzes NFTs for you and provides you with all the information about its transactions, metadata, and much more detailed insights. All that, so you can make informed choices and increase the value of your collection.
Remember, even on the blockchain, it is essential to give credit where it is due and to respect the efforts of those whose work enables the thriving NFT community to grow!