Art Theft: The Disturbing New Issue on NFT Platforms

Art Theft The Disturbing New Issue on NFT Platforms

NFT infringement is plaguing the art community.

The dark side of the non-fungible tokens (NFTs) market started to reveal itself after NFTs became mainstream last year. Previously, we have explored how the NFT marketplace is riddled with scams, such as artist impersonations and insider trading. Not only have such hoaxes become a big issue for buyers hoping to get their hands on genuine artist works but also for the artists themselves. 

On 18 December, 2021, British comic book artist Liam Sharp revealed in a viral tweet that people keep stealing his art to make NFTs. The artwork in question, Minotaur, was put on OpenSea, the largest NFT marketplace, by a user called 7D03E7 and priced at 0.0008 ETH (US$3.14 at the time). To stem the tide of artwork stealing, Sharp had to shut down his online gallery on the social networking site DeviantArt. Sharp’s situation points to a bigger problem with NFTs. Many NFTs currently circulating online are a result of copyright infringement and art theft. Let’s look at some steps being taken to combat art theft in this space.

How technology is addressing art theft

Blockchain technology

Since August 2021, DeviantArt and OpenSea have come together to develop a system that detects potential NFT infringement. Those who want to secure their artwork on the platform can submit their work to DevianArt. The system will monitor and scan public blockchains to find any near-identical matches of original content on DeviantArt and alert the registered artists on the platform. In the first two months of the launch, 86% of the infringement cases detected were verified as matches.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

Besides blockchain technology, AI also contributes to spotting art forgeries. MarqVision, a company dedicated to fighting against counterfeiting using AI, put forward an AI model that helps clients tackle counterfeit NFTs. Unlike the platform established collaboratively by DeviantArt and OpenSea, the removal solution MarqVision proposes does more than identify fake NFTs. It also removes them from the marketplace. The co-founder of MarqVision, Mark Lee, points out that their AI model can identify fake NFTs with 97% accuracy. Given that, MarqVision appears to be a comprehensive and long-term solution to art theft.

The issues associated with detecting art theft

Despite the detection system, many artists, including Sharp, still find securing their artwork challenging. Referring to his tweet, Sharp said he reported his stolen artworks every time, but his reports were “consistently ignored”. He also finds it “sad and frustrating” because DeviantArt uses defective testing to prevent similar crimes from happening. This flawed system not only fails to do its job but also disallows Sharp to prove himself as the rightful owner of his artwork. 

What’s worse, the detection tool serves no other practical usage than notifying artists about potential art-stealing behaviors. Simply put, the system will not recall the artwork on behalf of artists to prevent them from being stolen again.

Even if DeviantArt did recall the art, it wouldn’t accomplish much. The marketplace on which the artwork was listed would simply take it down, but it wouldn’t be removed from the blockchain itself. This is because the decentralized nature of the blockchain makes it hard to track NFTs. The art is being sold worldwide and continues to get re-sold, making it hard for the artist to figure out which jurisdiction they should file their complaint under.

Moreover, both the persons who minted these NFTs and those who are purchasing them are anonymous. OpenSea doesn’t require any of its sellers to provide proof of ownership or even their real name. However, artists who are filing copyright claims are required to prove that they are the real owners of a piece. In some cases, artists don’t even know how to file a copyright claim because the NFT in question has been minted by automated bots.

Where can artists go outside the NFT marketplace?

While many artists manage to make money minting and selling NFTs, many more have to deal with the art theft nuisance head-on. Artists who have their work copied and stolen as NFTs are recommending art enthusiasts and fans to support them in real life by commissioning them, signing up to their Patreon accounts or purchasing their actual work from their shops.

Ironically, NFTs are supposed to be all about authenticity, but NFT platforms haven’t been trying their best to protect this core value. If NFTs are to inspire more than frustration and distress from the creatives, these marketplaces must take instant actions to improve the current system so that artists feel safe to create and share their work online.

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Header image courtesy of Unsplash


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