The Emperor’s new Art Collection
Sep 30, 2022
How can you ever truly own digital art?
Life’s so easy in the physical world. You buy a physical painting, you take it with you and put it up in your house — then you lock the door — done! If someone comes and takes a picture, it’s not the same. Even if they print it on canvas - still not the same.
It’s significantly more difficult in the digital world. The final result of a digital artist’s work is a file on a hard drive. A file can easily be copied and all copies are indistinguishable from each other. This is very different from physical artworks — if someone copies (forges) a painting, there are differences and an expert can determine which one’s the original. Not with a digital file. All copies are completely identical. So what do you do? Keep it on your hard drive and make sure to never ever post it anywhere? Not a great solution…
Copy protection is also not the answer — trying to artificially limit the capabilities of technology can’t be the solution, and in any case: there’s always a way around it.
What about source files? Could being in possession of the only copy of the source files be the solution? No - that’s just the same problem all over again. And how would you even verify that you have the only copy? What if you make a backup? You probably should have a backup…
NFTs are trying to solve all this by linking a unique token on the blockchain to ownership over a digital item. If the token is in your crypto wallet, then you can send or sell it and are thus in control. 👍
Except — does that really solve the issue? The artwork itself can still be copied freely, the only thing you hold is a unique token verifying your ownership over the original. So far, so good. But what original? The copy that is linked from your token’s metadata and is stored somewhere in decentralised storage? — Even that is just a copy and thus indistinguishable from all other copies. There’s still nothing tangible there to hold on to. If no specific copy can ever be identified as the original, do you effectively hold ownership over something metaphysical? Do you hold ownership over the idea of the artwork? It’s almost like trying to own a gust of wind or a wave on the ocean…
But the thing is, it doesn’t really matter as long as there’s acceptance for it in the general population. As long as people are willing to spend money on it, as long as someone is willing to pay you for your NFT — whatever the hell it actually represents — it has value.
NFTs are hot and interesting right now and many people buy them — but should they? With the concept so vague and no clear answer to the question of what you actually own?
It might be time to have a good discussion about what NFTs actually represent and how to value them, before people end up naked in the streets, like the fabled emperor in his new clothes.
On the Value and Purpose of NFTs
This article was originally published on Medium here