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On Copyrights and Originality of NFTs

gm everyone,
Originally, I wanted to write about what great community building looks like for NFTs, but this week has been heavy and I hope that you are taking care of yourself amidst what’s going on in the world.
Most of us have probably lived in very stable and safe environments our entire lives and we would never ever think that war could happen to us.
Well, war is suddenly happening on the European continent and there are hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing the country, heading into an unknown future.
For a very brief moment, I thought about what would happen, if war would somehow extend to Germany and I have to worry about me and my mum’s safety. (This is a very hypothetical mental exercise by the way, I don’t mean to spread any conspiracy theories!)
Having a safe shelter and access to finances is what popped into my mind first. We can try to go somewhere else, find refuge, maybe build a new life, but what will happen to the assets that we have worked so hard for?
It’s very easy for banks to freeze your accounts, which means that your credit and debit cards will be blocked and you lose access to all of your savings.
I realised that I would need to heavily rely on decentralised finance to survive. If you have cryptocurrencies in a digital wallet, you will be able to access it anywhere in the world. No one can shut down your account, only you can authorise transactions.
While this was a theoretical exercise for me, I saw the day after that it’s not so theoretical for some Ukrainians, it is their reality:
My Ukrainian credit cards don't work anymore. I'm safe physically in Kazakhstan, but all my savings are gone.

Crypto is the only money I still have, and today I can say without exaggeration that $BTC, $ETH, and #NFT are going to save my life while I can't come back home.
With the impact of the pandemic and now the war in Ukraine, I believe that individual sovereignty is the most important thing in the world to obtain and maintain.
Governments can throw you under the bus, natural catastrophes can destroy your home, viral pandemics can limit you heavily in what you can do.
We’ve seen a lot in the past 2 years and by now, I’m not sure what we can still rely on, other than ourselves.
I’ve already alluded to this in my previous newsletters when I said that my professional goal for the next few years is gaining financial freedom, becoming sovereign and anti-fragile.
This week, the importance of this goal has been reinforced even more. You just never know what’s around the corner. It could take you by surprise and change your entire outlook on your future. Don’t get caught unprepared.
Until next week, keep blooming!
Founder of Blooming Founders
Mantra of the Week
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
Interesting Reads
The lessons learned from a PFP drop on Ethereum: The Inside Story of an NFT Project That Didn’t Sell Out
A step-by-step guide to minting your NFTs on OpenSea: How To Create And Sell NFTs
If you’re getting lost within all the digital marketing things you are supposed to do, here are The Only Three Marketing Channels You Should Think About
If you’re working on validating a new idea or product, here is a great reminder of how to Achieve Minimum Viable Product-Market Fit (PMF)
Learning About Web3
NFTs, Copyrights and Originality
Last week, I wrote about how it was discovered that the original artist of Crypto Chicks, who goes by the name of ‘Ms_Polly’, copied her artwork from a Brazilian artist called Amanda Costa.
I also shared that Amanda seemed to have taken inspiration from stock images on the internet, but it turns out that it is indeed Amanda, who is the original creator of that three-eyed woman artwork (called ‘Karma’) and every other execution, that looks very similar, is a copy of her work as she herself states.
A few days ago, the NFT community had their next scandal, when the Pixelmon NFT project revealed their art and buyers who spent 3 ETH were looking at this:
This character is called Kevin. Poor Kevin, this is not his fault.
This character is called Kevin. Poor Kevin, this is not his fault.
Not only does the artwork look… not very appealing, it also turns out that they were taken from templates and tweaked by Upwork freelancers, who got paid less the price of one mint, while the creators of the project sold over 10,000 NFTs and generated $70 million in revenue (yes, $70 million!).
These two examples were wide-spread because of the prices that they fetched, but they are by no means ‘exceptions’ in the NFT space.
So let’s talk about copyrights and originality.
NFTs & Copyright
In the first example, the (now fired) artist of Crypto Chicks had blatantly traced the original artist’s work and passed off as their own. This case was painfully obvious, but it other cases, it might not be.
Sometimes new artists learn by taking inspiration from other artist and incorporate elements of what they like into their own works. The spectrum here is wide and if an image is altered enough, one could argue that the new artwork is sufficiently different to the original and would hold copyrights on its own.
When Picasso talked about “Good artists copy, great artists steal”, he was referring taking something as a starting point and using your own creativity and style to transform it into something new.
"L'infante Marie Marguerite" - Left by Velazquez (1653). Right by Picasso (1957).
"L'infante Marie Marguerite" - Left by Velazquez (1653). Right by Picasso (1957).
Most of the times in the NFT space, however, the new creation isn’t sufficiently different and is done without the knowledge and permission of the original artist, who might (or might not) discover at later stage that someone else has been making money - whether as NFTs or stock images or in other ways - off their creations.
This is one of the reasons why a lot of artists are very critical of NFTs and why they don’t want to be involved the space at all.
Unfortunately, this makes it even harder to identify the copycats since the majority of NFT buyers do not know enough about ‘art’ to recognise if something has been stolen.
It is also still fairly complicated and time consuming to get NFT marketplaces to delist NFT collections when there is suspicion of copyrights violation, so there is definitely a lot of opportunity to help artists protect their copyrights in web3 moving forward.
NFTs & Originality
In the second example, the Pixelmon creators paid for artwork templates that are licensed on the internet.
Here, there is no copyright issue, but there is an ‘originality’ issue.
Some people say that the artwork of an NFT isn’t the main thing, it is about the utility that will be built for it.
But the Pixelmon NFTs sold for 3 ETH (ca. $9000 USD) per piece (in an unrevealed state). 🤯
If you paid that much money for something, wouldn’t you expect that the team put a bit more thought and effort into the project than buying templates for $160 each and hiring freelancers to tweak some colours?
I have mentioned before that having not ‘original’ artwork is often a sign of a rug pull (i.e. scam) and it turns out that the founder of Pixelmon also did a Kickstarter campaign in 2020, where he raised $50,000 from over 1000 people, but delivered nothing.
This is a great analogy actually, because NFTs drops are really like crowdfunding campaigns on steroids. It is ‘normal behaviour’ to buy something unrevealed and purely based on hype.
And as with the original crowdfunding campaigns, the majority of projects is very much legit and helps creators bring their visions to life, but there are a few bad eggs (and a few epic scams) too.
So stay vigilant and look for potential red flags as part of your research before you buy an NFT. Resist the hype and don’t fall for cash grabs!
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Lu Li
Lu Li @houseofli

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