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The Boring Case for NFTs

I want NFTs1 to become a normal and boring thing. But right now, depending on who you ask, NFTs are either the future of media or a hellish scam. Most widely publicized NFT projects have been get-rich-quick schemes and corporate cash grabs, and that’s just the ones that weren’t actual fraud. But the core function of an NFT is to perform the unremarkable task of acting as a digital certificate of authenticity. Not only is that a useful thing, but I think the world would benefit from NFT avatars and profile pictures being the norm in social media spaces because digital artists deserve to get paid.

Imagine you go down to the farmer’s market and buy a print from an artist for $40. The print is one of 50 and is signed by the artist. You buy it because it looks cool and you want to support the artist. Cool.

Digital artists have no equivalent. They have no “signature” which proves a copy authentic, and no ability to grant recognizable rights which allow the digital art to be sold AFTER initial purchase like you can when you sell art that you’ve purchased.

I semi-recently commissioned a a digital comic artist to draw a picture of my family as a gift for my wife (but really for both of us). The artist lives in Germany and solely works with digital art. My wife and I loved it. As of writing this, it is the profile picture of most of my social media–basically every page that doesn’t call for a professional headshot.

It’s my family, so clearly this jpg was created for me. But imagine I had commissioned digital art that was about something random. Obviously, anyone could right click it and get a copy of the file. I would know for myself that I commissioned it, but nobody else would unless I talked about it. It would look like any other piece of art that I could have right-clicked on from somewhere else.

That’s fine, but obviously–as shown through NFTs and a million other examples–there is value to being able to show off that you actually paid for a thing rather than copied it.

NFTs solve that issue, and allow you to “hang” your digital art on your digital walls like your social media profiles. If the platform supports it, you can plug an NFT into your profile and anyone can see that it exists on the blockchain, and if they want, inspect it to determine its authenticity. A digital artist can turn what would be an infinitely copiable file into a more defined, tradeable digital asset. Yes, you can get a copy, but it won’t be *legit,* just like you can take a picture of a painting at a museum.

Of course, it’s not perfect. Existing on the blockchain is not proof of authenticity or that the creator approved of its minting. Rights associated with NFT ownership needs to be developed. NFT wallets occasionally go up in smoke due to irreputable companies that could fold at any moment. But each of these have an equivalent to physical goods–art can be faked, copied, lost, destroyed, and all sorts of horrible things that we’re more accustomed to.

Those problems with NFTs currently pale next to the reputational problem of association with baseless speculative frenzies and short-sighted corporate greed (as well as energy consumption, though that is no longer the case for ethereum-based NFTs). It’s hard to imagine any good basis for why someone would buy an NFT as a speculative asset–few people would buy an art print as an actual investment with an expectation of selling it for a profit. But if a corporation puts out a limited edition NFT, that should be treated similarly to when a corporation puts out a limited edition action figure or poster–a not particularly newsworthy event only interesting to enthusiasts.

I’ll say this: if I ever commissioned a piece of digital art, I’d want to have it minted as an NFT. And if I find a local artist that’s making NFT’s, I might want to buy one.

1 Yes, I know NFTs mean something more technical than how the term is used today.






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