What do you buy when you buy an NFT?
Hello and welcome to Protocol | Fintech! This Tuesday: what you can and can’t do with your NFTs, Unit’s Itai Damti on embedded fintech and Binance’s newest regulatory hurdle.
Who owns that NFT?
One of the lasting questions about non-fungible tokens, or NFTs‚ is what you get with your NFT. Do you get intellectual property rights, or just the right to say "I own this"?
Some NFT collectors think that IP rights do attach to NFTs, unless the creator or seller says otherwise, says Dorian Banks, CEO of Looking Glass Labs, an NFT design company. “In the NFT space, it really is felt that it’s yours to do what you want — unless licensing or something specifically says you can’t do it.”
The idea is that users add value to an NFT by buying it, re-mixing it as they would with a sample in a music track, and create more public interest in the project.
NFT IP standards aren't settled. But it's clear that norms and expectations among NFT users are different than in the traditional art or creative world.
- Larva Labs, the creator of one of the early NFTs, CryptoPunks, doesn't attach IP rights to its NFTs. It apparently uses something called the NFT License, which allows using the NFTs for "personal, non-commercial use." That doesn’t include, say, selling a million T-shirts with “your” CryptoPunk on it.
- Larva Labs itself has signed with United Talent Agency to sell rights for CryptoPunks and two other NFT collections for film, TV, video games and other licensing. Larva Labs co-founder Matt Hall has said the deal will help increase the value of CryptoPunks overall, but there doesn’t appear to be a direct monetary connection. CryptoPunks buyers might see their punks on TV and not get paid for it, in other words. Dapper Labs, which has a licensing deal with the NBA, retains the rights when consumers buy its Top Shot basketball NFTs.
- This makes sense: In the real world, if you buy art from someone, by default, that generally doesn't give you the right to the underlying intellectual property. It may seem unintuitive when you’re making a digital purchase that is all about a license, but IP rights shouldn’t be automatically expected, one crypto investor said.
That rubs some collectors the wrong way. Many believe owners should be able to do what they want with NFTs, including profiting from them.
- Some NFT minters, such as the makers of the popular Bored Ape Yacht Club, say NFT owners own them “completely.” One owner created a music video with an ape. Virtual band KINGSHIP, made up of four Bored Apes, signed with Universal Music Group. There's also a beer launched by an owner. And artist Dan Rollman created a comic with his Bored Apes. “Rather than wait for the project creators to add value to my NFT, I set out to build value around it myself,” he said in a Twitter DM.
- Still, Bored Ape creator Yuga Labs doesn't allow use of Bored Ape's "name, logos or branding" — which Arizona Tea had used inappropriately, Yuga said. In other words, you can exploit your ape, but not Bored Ape. Yuga Labs has signed with legendary manager Guy Oseary to expand into film, television and other formats.
- There are many NFT projects that use Creative Commons CC0 licensing that gives owners virtually all rights to use the NFTs.
- We should note: The smart contracts governing NFTs can be written in a number of ways, from facilitating one-off sales that hand over all rights to splitting ongoing revenues from a creative work between the original creator and a series of owners.
- The bottom line: There’s no consensus on what IP rights are proper for NFTs.
Companies need to navigate these differing expectations. Nike, which has patented shoes on the blockchain, on Monday announced it was buying NFT and fashion startup RTFKT (pronounced "artifact"). The online backlash came swiftly.
- On Twitter, NFT connoisseurs complained that RTFKT's recent NFT drop didn't explain the IP rights until after the NFTs were sold. The rules for most of the NFTs allowed up to $1 million in commercial use, but certain rare NFTs in the drop do not come with any IP rights.
- The complaints seemed to be more about the lack of transparency than the rules themselves. "In the NFT community if you're not transparent you're in trouble," Banks said. "The whole community is about transparency. It's about people taking control, not corporations taking control."
The NFT rights question comes amid a swirling debate over compensating creators. These issues aren’t just being talked about in crypto circles, but also regarding other creator services like Patreon, OnlyFans and Substack. It’s a debate about whether creators should retain rights forever, or whether NFT owners should reap the rewards of participating in and promoting those NFTs for the creators. With NFTs seeping into more of the broader creator world, expect to see these issues heat up.
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“The SEC is demonstrating why it should be nowhere near policing something reasonably described as the next internet.” —New York Post columnist Charlie Gasparino, on the Ripple case and crypto regulation.
“There are all too many projects trying to sidestep international standards … They’re trying to sidestep the anti-money-laundering laws in many countries, or sidestep tax compliance in many countries. But I would note this: Few technologies in history since antiquity can persist for long periods of time outside a public-policy framework.” —SEC Chairman Gary Gensler, in an interview at the WSJ CEO Council Summit.
Three questions with … Itai Damti, CEO, Unit
What problem would you like to see a fintech company solve?
Future winners in software, especially business software, will be built around specific audiences. Over time, these companies will give their one audience software and services that solve for 100% of its needs: insurance, project management, inventory management, website, banking, accounting, payroll, tax, legal services — everything. Company A will do this for tech startups, company B will do this for restaurants. But all these companies, over time, will offer a full bundle of services that their audience needs.
To realize this future, many successful B2B SaaS tools will need to exist behind the scenes in API-based, embeddable forms. Think embeddable Salesforce, Gusto, Asana, Slack and more. I’d like to see someone building an API-based accounting software from scratch — some form of “embeddable Quickbooks.” It’s incredibly complex and there are many challenges. But this type of infrastructure can create really interesting long-term effects and change how accounting data gets collected, managed, analyzed and shared.
What's your favorite pastime that doesn't involve a screen?
Hiking with friends. Nature is the ultimate beauty. It was much more accessible when I lived in Hong Kong and California, but I’m making an effort to immerse myself in it while living in New York. My best Saturdays involve grabbing coffee with friends, hopping into a car and spending a day in the woods. It recharges me and helps me really get to know people.
What's your advice to younger technologists who want to build a career in this field?
Everyone worships technical skills (new), but the ultimate skills are people skills (old). Slow down. Read an old book. Make new friends. Travel. Start conversations with strangers and learn a little about their world. Take an improv class or go to stand-up comedy. Be vulnerable. Get to know yourself better through therapy, personal challenges or meditation. And at work, try to really get to know the person in front of you: a customer, a teammate or your boss.
Need to know
Robinhood is forming a partnership with Chainalysis. The online trading app is working with the analytics firm to provide trading data and tools for its planned crypto wallet.
Binance is withdrawing its license bid in Singapore. The crypto marketplace, which has faced legal troubles in a number of countries, cited “strategic, commercial and developmental” reasons for the move. It’s still setting up a headquarters in the city-state.
Nick Tostenrude has joined Vesta. The veteran Amazon executive was named chief product officer of the transaction-management software company.
Healthcare.com raised $180 million. The insurance startup’s round was led by Oaktree Capital Management.
Alter raised $1 million. The blockchain-based communications software company’s funding round included investments from Sky Vision Capital, Iconium and Magnus Capital.
Thirdweb raised $5 million. The Web3 software company’s funding round included investments from Gary Vaynerchuk and Mark Cuban.
That’s the percentage of the total bitcoin supply of 21 million coins that has been mined, according to Blockchain.com.
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