At NYU Law Forum, experts examine the rise of NFTs

Intellectual property experts Amy Adler, Emily Kempin Professor of Law, and Christopher Jon Sprigman, Murray and Kathleen Bring Professor of Law, met virtually with digital artist Mitchell F. Chan to discuss non-fungible tokens, or NFTs in an April 6 NYU Law Forum sponsored by Latham & Watkins. Professor Barton Beebe, John M. Desmarais Professor of Intellectual Property Law, moderated the conversation, as panelists explored topics such as the relationship between authenticity and value, the value of NFTs for commercial brands, and the challenges that NFTs—in particular, their reproducibility and popularity—present to current copyright law.

Watch video of their discussion:

Selected remarks from the discussion:

Mitchell Chan: “An NFT is basically just a number with some data attached to it…That is a little bit of code that is uploaded to…a blockchain…That code, that little computer program, has the ability to do a couple of really simple things: …It is basically a ledger that says, ‘number one has linked to it an address of a wallet that owns number one.’ It also says that number one is linked to some metadata….Normally that metadata has information about an image to which an owner is entitled or owns, according to the blockchain, if not according to the law.” (video, 4:00)

Christopher Jon Sprigman: “An early way of talking about them was that NFTs were a way of establishing which copy of the digital artwork was the authentic copy. So, in other words, someone has a digital image that they’re auctioning. It’s easy to make copies of this because it’s a digital image. You can right-click and save. There might be a thousand copies, a million copies floating around on the internet. But the NFT early was sold as a way of identifying the canonical copy.” (video 23:09)

Amy Adler: “The whole premise of copyright is we’ve got to ward off unauthorized copies because they’re going to supplant the value of the original in the marketplace. And the last thing somebody wants to do if you own an original work is let people copy it, at least in an unauthorized way. That’s the whole premise of copyright law. [NFTs] makes no sense in this new model.” (video 32:15)

Adler: “You can make an NFT connected to anything.…There’s a lot of discussion about fraud and scams right now with NFTs where somebody other than the rights holder to a painting makes an NFT of a work by a famous artist…If I don't include an image of [the painting] in offering for sale that NFT, then I have not committed any kind of copyright offense at all.” (video 1:01:49)

Posted June 23, 2022.