Will artists go to war with Art Wars over unauthorized NFT sales?
Ben Moore, a London-based curator, is the founder of Art Wars, a long-running project consisting of an ongoing exhibition of life-size Star Wars stormtrooper helmets that have been custom-painted by artists, including Anish Kapoor, David Bailey, Jake and Dinos Chapman, and Mr. Brainwash. Now Moore has angered many of these artists by moving to sell NFTs derived from photographs of those originals on OpenSea, allegedly without their permission.
“For the first and only time, these iconic images, alongside a new set of interpretations from famous digital artists and our own in-house artists, will be made available as a collection of 1,138 unique and individual ArtWar NFTs. These will be randomly assigned to buyers of the initial mint,” according to a statement on the Art Wars website.
Moore did not immediately respond to Artnet News’s request for comment. Approximately a dozen artists are considering legal action against the project, according to the Financial Times.
An NFT, or non-fungible token, is a unique digital token encrypted with an artist’s signature and individually identified on a blockchain, effectively verifying the rightful owner and authenticity of the creation. Since NFTs took the art world by storm in early 2020, they have also opened the floodgates for potential—and so far, hard-to-police—wrongdoing around issues of authenticity, copyright, and outright theft.
More than 1,600 ETH (close to $7 million) had been transferred since the collection of 1,138 images was put on sale on November 22, the FT reports. One NFT attributed to Kapoor was offered for 1,000 ETH ($4.3 million) but has since been removed from the site. Another work attributed to Bailey was priced at 120 ETH ($517,000).
OpenSea could not be reached for comment but said it had received a copyright infringement notice and complied with it. The Art Wars NFT page on OpenSea was taken down yesterday.
Asked for comment, Kapoor’s studio referred the query to the U.K.’s Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS), which is handling media requests for the matter.
“DACS is making enquiries on behalf of a number of our artist members to ensure that their rights are upheld and protected,” representative Kate Rosser-Frost wrote in an email to Artnet News.
The DACS statement continued, “As the art market evolves with new and emerging technology such as NFTs, we must ensure that we protect both the creative, intellectual, and moral rights of artists. The minting of NFTs without artists’ permission has the potential to destroy how we as a society value creativity and within this, guarantee that artists are protected through existing intellectual property laws and mechanisms such as the Artist’s Resale Right.”
The same blockchain technology that makes NFTs possible, however, could also provide a solution. DACS noted that resale rights could be used to support artists making NFTs or who have given permission for NFTs of their work. “Crucially, Artist’s Resale Right does not just protect the creativity of the artist or their work, but it helps support artists’ ongoing practice and livelihoods, as well as ensuring that they have a continuing stake in the increasing value of their work. As people in the art market seek to utilize new technology available, we must ask ourselves, ‘How, in an age of NFTs, do we ensure that artists’ rights are maintained for artworks?’”
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