Happy Friday! And for folks like me with kids in Charlottesville City Schools, happy last day of School/first day of shuttling your children to camp/pool/wherever else. This week we’re going to take a break from Big Deals (which already seem like yesterday’s news) and look at something a little trendier: Non-Fungible Tokens or NFTs. Personally, I’m with UVA Alum and “guy from The OC” Ben McKenzie, who thinks the cult of “crypto” is basically a scam. But as a copyright lawyer, the thing that really burns me about this stuff is the mostly braindead boosterism inspired by NFTs—a special application of blockchain technology that creates unique (hence “non-fungible”) entries on a cryptographic ledger. This week’s Longread, Copyright Vulnerabilities in NFTs, comes from three scholars of copyright and technology who provide a desperately-needed primer on how copyright actually works in connection with NFTs, and a guided tour of all the flaws in the half-baked attempts we’ve seen so far to use NFTs to somehow replace, improve, or reinstate copyright in a world of digital abundance.
Like most copyright wonks (especially in the library and public policy sphere), I’ve been fretting for years about how digital production and distribution of media is unsettling deep assumptions behind our laws, almost entirely to the short-term benefit of corporate interests and the long-term detriment of the public and institutions dedicated to preservation and access to cultural heritage. Having puzzled over this stuff for over a decade, the idea that something as banal as “crypto” will somehow ‘solve’ the ‘problem’ of ‘digital ownership’ strikes me as absurd. Indeed, it’s worse than absurd, because not only do NFTs not actually do what they purport to do (somehow restore “scarcity” and enable “markets” in digital goods), but what they purport to do is not good. And they’re wasting everyone’s time, money, and literal energy to do it. Pure evil.
But enough from me - check out the Longread and learn more about copyright and NFTs from James Grimmelmann, Yan Ji, and Tyler Kell.