NFTs could Prove a Help or a Hindrance to Artists Selling Digital Pieces Online

By Mary Kate Sheppard, Staff Writer —

From digital art to sports trading cards to gifs and even tweets, NFTs are exploding on the World Wide Web and making people millions. 

NFT is an acronym for Non-fungible tokens. 

Fungible means that something is unique or non exchangeable. An example of non-fungible items include houses, paintings, or theatre tickets. They are unique, and cannot be exchanged for anything similar. 

NFTs are digital currency, like bitcoin, but more exclusive. Just as collectors have bought physical paintings for years, those same collectors can now stake their claim over digital artwork on the internet in such a way that it preserves the rarity and uniqueness of each piece. 

Here are some specific examples. 

OpenSea and Rarible are both popular NFT websites where artists can buy, sell and create digital souvenirs. One way NFTs are used include Crypotkitties, where people can buy and sell little collectable avatar cats, similar to how they might trade baseball cards.  

NTFs are changing the way people collect art on the internet. They allow buyers to maintain ownership even if copies of the work exist elsewhere. 

Through NFTs, buyers not only purchase the digital artwork itself but also the copyrights to the piece. This makes the NFT-linked artwork critically unique. 

To put it in physical terms, many people can own a copy of “Starry Night” by Van Gogh, but only one person can own the original artwork. 

The problem with NFTs occurs when artwork is stolen and copied without the owner’s permission. 

There’s no verification in place for someone copying an NFT, so anyone can steal the artwork and claim it as the original. This type of copying is sometimes called “minting.” This not only causes problems for the artists, but for the collector as well. Something that they purchase can easily be stolen, causing its value to drop to nearly nothing. 

Cass Dickenson, an artist at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said, “With NFTs, many artists I know and talk to were having their art stolen, and had to lock their accounts to prevent the theft of their own work.” 

While NFTs are still making waves on the internet, they pose a potential threat to the rightful owners of art. 

“They have affected my ability to sell art in that there is a constant chance that someone could mint an NFT of my own work and profit off of my labor,” Dickenson said. 

The draw of NFTs is the gamble that comes along with them. An artist’s work can be stolen and copied, but there is also the possibility of winning with big buyers who desire the rights to the work. 

To put things into perspective on the interest of NFTs, in February 2021, one NFT created by Beeple sold for $69.3 million.

“Since it’s a gamble, some people are winning big,” Dickerson said. “Most are losing, though.  I think it is vastly dangerous to everybody involved, both artist and consumer, because of a lack of consumer and creator rights.”

For better or worse, NFTs are transforming the way artists look at the ownership of their art. While many artists don’t want to get caught in the storm of NFTs, many others have found success after taking the plunge.

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