Entertainment Artists report discovering their work is being stolen and sold as NFTs
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The backlash to the NFT boom has begun.
This has led to excited speculation that NFTs could be the start of a new era in which digital artists get paid more for their work.
But aside from, there's the emerging one of copyright theft.
While the NFT investment gold rush has made some artists millionaires, it also appears to have drawn bad actors looking to cash in on the work of others.
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Many artists around the world are reporting their work has been stolen and sold on NFT sites without their knowledge or permission.
In response, they've been sharing block lists to bar automated accounts from creating unauthorised NFTs of work posted on social media.
Others are simply locking their accounts so only existing followers can view their posts.
In some cases, they've only learnt about the theft weeks or even years later, after having stumbled upon their work on an auction site.
Attacked of the automated NFT bots
At the centre of many reports of theft is an automated NFT tweet-minting bot with the name @tokenizedtweets.
The bot creates NFTs of tweets without alerting the owner of the tweet. A Twitter user simply has to mention the bot below a tweet, for that tweet to be made into an NFT.
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Weird Undead, a Russian artist, said she became suspicious of theft when she saw a user mention @tokenizedtweets beneath a tweet of hers that featured images promoting her most recent artwork.
Investigating further, she found her tweet (with the artwork embedded) up for auction on OpenSea, one of the largest NFT marketplaces.
After filing legal notices with OpenSea, citing what she calls "insane and pointless copyright infringement," the token vanished from the auction site.
"I don't give any permission (ESPECIALLY to random jerks) to make tokens from my content and I feel so angry," she tweeted.
But wait ... how can someone sell work that isn't theirs?
First, we need to explain a bit more about NFTs.
When someone makes or "mints" an NFT, the token they create is permanently tied to a unique digital or physical object already in the world.
That could be anything from a specific, physical pair of shoes, to a URL, to a video.
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So when someone buys an NFT for a digital artwork, they're not buying the artwork, but the token that represents the artwork.
Owning the NFT doesn't actually confer ownership of the artwork itself, but rather of the token that represents ownership.
Yes, that's confusing, but it helps explain companies like @tokenizedtweets.
Their service isn't making an NFT of the artwork itself, but of the URL to the social media post that promotes the artwork.
Of course, it just so happens that the link is valuable because of the artwork.
Aside from the difference between URLs and artworks, there's ultimately nothing stopping someone from minting another artist's work (not just a link to it) and then trying to sell the NFT. No-one controls who can make an NFT.
The only barrier to theft is profit: the seller might not get as much for an NFT that hasn't been verified by the artist.
Why would anyone pay for a token ... of a tweet?
Twitter founder Jack Dorsey is selling his first tweet from 2006 as an NFT. The bidding price is currently north of $US2.5 million.
The company that minted his tweet, Valuables, states on its FAQ page: "Owning any digital content can be a financial investment, hold sentimental value, and create a relationship between collector and creator. Like an autograph on a baseball card, the NFT itself is the creator's autograph on the content, making it scarce, unique, and valuable."
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People buy tweets for the same reason they pay for memorabilia — either for sentimental reasons, or because they think they'll make money.
The Valuables services only allows people to sell tweets that have been verified by the original sender.
But other companies are happy to sell any kind of tweet.
The site for one of these companies, MarbleCards, says: "When you find an article, video or anything else you like that has a URL, you can 'marble' it into a crypto collectible card.
"When you buy a Marble card, it's yours to save, share or trade."
Visual artist Rosa Menkman recently discovered four of her artworks had been turned into these "marble cards" and put up for auction on OpenSea.
She told the ABC that she did not believe that tokenising a URL was the same as the straightforward theft of an image, but it raised issues.
"We are entering a far more complex situation in this game of 'tokenise everything'," she said.
"The idea that everything can and should be tokenised and can then enter a marketplace and be sold by the one that tokenised it is really problematic to me," she said.
'NFT crowd ... behave exactly like a cult'
Some artists contacted by the ABC asked not to be named, for fear of drawing anger from what they called the "NFT crowd".
One well-known international visual artist who has authored several graphic novels told the ABC he'd been harassed online for refusing to sell his work as an NFT.
"The NFT crowd is really scary. They behave exactly like a cult," he said.
"I have never had so much backlash before, and I have been very vocal on quite heated topics like Trump, racism and sexism."
Meanwhile, the arts community is split between those who believe NFTs are the next big thing, and those who see them as just another way to steal creative work.
Last week, actor William Shatner tweeted his concerns about @tokenizedtweets selling tokens to images and tweets without his permission.
RJ Palmer, a concept artist, raised the alarm about @tokenizedtweets in a March 9 tweet that went on to be retweeted and liked more than 80,000 times.
He said he had eventually managed to get @tokenizedtweets to take down his artwork, "but they really should be asking permission to host any image at all".
"I can't think of a single creative that would be cool with someone stealing their work like this," he said.
@tokenizedtweets did not respond to requests for comment.
Its website was recently updated to include: "Requests to archive tweets containing any media will be rejected by our API."
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