Beeple sparked a shopping spree for NFTs when one of his works sold at auction for $69.3 million. Above is a screenshot of his “Pokémon Red” video.
Cryptocurrency has entered the culture wars and everyone is taking sides. Creative Commons administrators recently discovered that many of their supporters can’t fucking stand NFTs. The bickering raises questions about the future of ownership, sharing and the philosophical outlook of techno-utopians everywhere.
Creative Commons, the nonprofit that issues Creative Commons licenses, is a torchbearer of the Internet-sharing culture. The goal is to promote a version of copyright that allows anyone to use and distribute images, while allowing artists to choose from a menu of exclusive rights. Some licenses allow people to commercialize and manipulate the work, others allow third parties to only share the image as-is, and all of them provide artists with credit. Thanks to this we have Wikimedia Commons and lots of legit ways to create memes.
Blockchain and web3 Skeptics view NFTs as Dutch tulip bulbs for speculators who use art as a cover to appreciate value and pass the bag on to the next jerk. Here’s why commenters on the Creative Commons Twitter timeline didn’t appreciate it this tweet“Here’s a look at how museums are beginning to use NFTs to educate the public, create new revenue streams and engage their audiences.” The organization then linked a rather benign collection of museum panel discussions on NFTs on cuseum.com.
Blockchain critic David Gerard accused Creative Commons of “shilling” for the NFT case because, in his opinion, “about 100% of the people who say NFTs are good everywhere are shillings.” Commenters called the tweet “embarrassing”, “embarrassing” and “disgusting”. To the point: “how the fuck is this compatible with the mission of creative commons”?
At a glance, NFTs could more or less align with Creative Commons’ mission as they are capable of separating parts of ownership. An NFT is a certificate of ownership on the blockchain, usually including a link to an associated image or file in the metadata. Unless the artist transfers the copyright to the buyer in a sales agreement, the artist retains the copyright. This is common in real life, allowing artists to distribute postcards or prints of a painting. But on the web, this means that the artist can continue to share visual or audio data identical to the NFT’d file with anyone. Unpleasant right mouse button’ delight, buyers spend thousands or even millions of dollars on contracts associated with the file linked in the NFT.
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That result sounds like something that fits Creative Commons. Around the great web revolution of the early 2000s, founder Lawrence Lessig rightly anticipated that remix culture required new forms of copyright. We expect Creative Commons to figure out how to preserve the commons during the next big shift.
Over the phone, Lessig (who is now a board member at CC) compared an NFT to the potential opportunity to buy and keep a statue, as he shared a photo of the statue with a CC BY license. “That’s really the only idea, I think, that anyone has talked about,” he said. (Lessig, like Creative Commons CEO Catherine Stihler, has clarified several times that no one should promote NFTs unless they can be guaranteed to be carbon-free.)
But the market that drives NFTs is undermining hopes for a freer, share-happy Internet. People obtain Creative Commons licenses because they truly believe in sharing. People are beating and buying NFTs because they want to make money. Collectors have all the power to control the terms of sale, including copyright notices, because there is more demand for their money than for art.
Ultimately, collectors may decide they want to buy from the guy who will also hand them over some IP. That’s exactly what Bored Ape Yacht Club – a group that sells NFT cartoons of bored monkeys that double as membership coupons – has done. It grants copyright licenses to monkey holders, who can: pretty swag their monkey. Some have suggested that this may be the reason why monkey prices are rising, while all the more copyright-restrictive CryptoPunks are in a slump.
Or collectors can go in a different direction and decide to grant artists the pre-emptive right, a right that artists often want to keep in order to monitor the price fluctuations of their work in the market. But that’s not a warranty or a model, just a handout. Artists take that as long as patronage has existed.
“If NFTs represented something new in copyright, I think Creative Commons insight would be very welcome,” Kyle McDonald, a artist who has done dedicated research to study the energy waste of ethereum mining, Gizmodo told via DM. “But I don’t think NFTs are really introducing anything new regarding copyright, so it’s a shame Creative Commons is uncritically on the subject, given the potential harm of NFTs.”
This is why it is nearly impossible to take a neutral stance on NFTs: they nurture a libertarian wealthy class aware that most of what is owned on Earth is already owned. These folks want to get there early to buy up an all-new virtual planet (the MetavErsE), while fuck the one we currently have.
“I follow the NFT and Web3 scene quite closely, and a lot of them have some sort of new left-wing ideals,” McDonald said. “They want to create networks of care and support. I don’t know if they can see that these systems are designed for a very different purpose.” He pointed to early conversations between libertarian cypherpunks, such as the “Cyphernomicon,” a document from 1994 written by the late founder of the crypto-anarchy movement Tim May:
Crypto anarchy means prosperity to those who can seize it, those who are competent enough to offer something of value for sale; the ignorant 95% will suffer, but that is only fair. With crypto-anarchy, we can painlessly, without initiation of aggression, get rid of the unproductive, the halt, and the crippled.
This would be a great time to be Tim May. The blockchain is extremely useful for people who are “competent enough” to trick people into buying things they don’t understand. That’s the defining use case. If the metaverse is actually built (unlikely in the short term), tokens would be the only representation of ownership.
They are also particularly useful for processing nonsensical transactions that a bank might consider prohibitively high-risk. Transactions like the purchase of metaverse real estate contracts, vaguely presented as an open world Minecraft-y hellscape that landlords are literally equate buying the digital version of “5th Avenue in the 1800s.” (The Sandbox metaverse has 166,464 lots that, at the current average price of 3.6 ETH, are worth a total of $2.3 billion.)
At first glance, this is absurd. It’s like buying real estate contracts with the moon register, trusting that the moon will soon be a popular destination to live and travel. Yes, a man on Earth is allowed to sell contracts claiming to own land on the moon, but there is no reason to believe that those contracts would be legally binding in the event that a group of people went to the moon would move.
Still, the Lunar Registry owner is an early mover in an industry with little competition, so it’s at least a little possible that the rubes who bought land on the moon in 2021 could one day have a legitimate claim.
Okay, who will be the landlord of the metaverse now? these guys are literally buying up metaverse stadiums and towers – exactly the dystopian privatized internet that Creative Commons had to guard against. It’s in Mark Zuckerberg’s best interest to grow a massive economy for non-essential digital crap that costs nothing to produce. The same goes for billionaire Jensen Huang, CEO of GPU company Nvidia, who predicts that the metaverse economy will be bigger than that for tactile objects. Investor Package Leader Cathy Wood’s to predict a multi-billion dollar market. The person selling Justin Bieber tickets at NFT’s digital stadium probably doesn’t want a bunch of non-NFT’d copycats popping up nearby.
So yes, everyone claims to own the moon. This is why Vili Lehdonvirta, professor of economic sociology and digital social research at the Oxford Internet Institute, scolded me for engaging in speculation covering grievances.
“There was once a real estate boom in Second Life as well,” he wrote. “How did that end?”
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