NFTs and Copyright: Issues and Challenges

by Ibrahim Omoleke

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NFTs AND COPYRIGHT: ISSUES AND CHALLENGES

Right from medieval Europe where the concept of intellectual property as we now know took its firm root, inventors and creative artists have always ridden on the stallion of state sanctioned protection of their works of intellect (intellectual property) to prevent others from copying, adapting and stealing same without consent.
Prof Bankole Sodipo argues that while pre-colonial African societies does not have state sanctioned IP protection laws, same are regulated through taboos, age grade protections, family-based protection just to mention a few.
In contemporary times, IPs are protected globally through state sanctioned protection regimes. Heck, all major global trade treaties, agreements and organisations has one provision or the other on IP protection.

The development of NFTs present a rare opportunity for artists to leverage technology to protect their copyright as against the traditional state sanctioned Intellectual property regimes. This piece seeks to examine the impact of NFTs on copyright protection, issues and challenges.

WHAT IS NFT?

NFT is an abbreviation of Non-Fungible Tokens which are essentially digital assets and collectibles created through a complex system powered by the blockchain technology through the smart contract. Think of NFTs as cryptocurrencies that cannot be exchanged for the same value as each NFT is entirely unique.

Everything from artistic creations, real estate documents can be recorded in NFTs (i.e., tokenized) to protect its originality. Needless to say, artists can create NFTs to protect the integrity of their works against copyright theft and unauthorised access to their works as whatever is produced through this technology cannot be duplicated or altered.
With this technology, artists can invite fans world over to invest in their personal NFTs and reap massive rewards as they grow in value, this is similar to artists inviting fans to “buy shares” in their work.

To say NFT is the next big thing to happen in the field of digital technology is an understatement, it is certain to positively disrupt the global creative industry.

HOW NFT WORKS.

The following illustration will help to fully understand how NFT works.
Let us suppose that your favourite celebrity likes your comment on his Instagram page and decides to reward you, he can create a digital asset using a NFT platform specifically for you.
Since no two NFTs are exactly the same, your digital asset will be unique to you and can be easily verified and traced back to the issuer which is your favourite celebrity in this illustration. Whoever you are transferring the digital asset to is guaranteed of its originality.

NFT and Copyright infringement.

Digital technology is a tool in the hands of copyright infringers; it allows them to infringe on others copyright with reckless abandon on humongous scale with clear disregard to Section 15 of the Copyright Act 2004. There are several websites that allow copyrighted contents to be downloaded easily for free.
The advent of NFT will transform digital technology to a shield that can adequately protect against copyright infringement from the start. Copyrighted contents creating using NFT cannot be altered, and copied as they are secure, unique and can be traceable to the creator at all times.

COPYRIGHT ISSUES AND CHALLENGES OF NFT

The advancement of NFT is certain to bring novel legal, consumer protection and regulatory issues and challenges. For instance, what redress is available for an artist whose already existing copyright is fashioned into a NFT without his consent? Will a redress by bringing a traditional copyright lawsuit be enough? Are there any other civil remedies to explore?
It is trite that copyright protection is time limit, what happens to an artist whose copyright protection has expired due to effluxion of time but some unauthorised third parties fashioned his copyright work into NFTs? If he cannot claim copyright infringement due to effluxion of time, what other remedy is available to him? Is it legally or morally just to have his work altered without his authorisation?

The technology undergirding NFT is expensive and above the reach of every joe on the block. This posed a great challenge to upcoming artists and some established artists especially from third world countries.

While it is undeniable that more research in the field of digital technology will make the adaptation of NFT less expensive, it will still take ample time before it can get to the reach of most artists. Before that time, the bulk majority of artists still have to rely on the traditional state sanctioned copyright protection to protect their copyright.

CONCLUSION
If fully utilised, NFT is capable of nipping copyright infringement in the bud and slow down the rate of copyright infringement better than any intellectual property regime the world has managed to come up with.
Against the backdrop of the recent Central Bank of Nigeria prohibition of commercial banks from cryptocurrency transaction one begins to wonder when Nigerian artists will be able to benefit from NFTs and allied blockchain driven technology. The road to unicorn is indeed filled with horns.

Written by

Ibrahim Omoleke

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