TECH VS TECH
Increasingly, marketplaces and platforms have begun instituting processes to weed out theft and piracy. Arun Benty, one of the founding members of the NFT platform Fandefi, says the moment an artist reports plagiarism, Fandefi invalidates the file in question. They also have curation and vetting systems in place.
Terrain.Art, a blockchain-powered platform with a focus on South Asian contemporary art, has a strict redressal system for artists affected by plagiarism and piracy. “We will also have access to a band of lawyers whom artists can look at consulting, to protect themselves. The idea is to empower these artists. We’re also making artists sign legal indemnities which say that this work is theirs, so it’s much easier for the original owner of the work to hold them accountable,” says Aparajita Jain, founder, Terrain.Art.
Similarly, the NFT platform Kalamint asks artists to fill application forms before they can mint NFTs. Pradeep Atmaram, director of marketing, explains, “When an artist sends an application form, we see if their social media accounts check out or if they have sent a portfolio. If they don’t have a portfolio or if their social media presence does not mention design or art, we’re naturally suspicious.” In such cases, they ask the artist to send a work-in-progress version of the art they will eventually mint. On some days, as many as 30 application forms are rejected. In the event that someone’s art is pirated, Kalamint reaches out to buyers who have bought the work and refunds them. Kalamint has also put in place checks at a technological level. Atmaram adds that something as simple as disabling the right click option can be a deterrent to piracy. The platform incubated a project called Reference Protocol which is an indexer of NFTs across all chains. It allows them to find out if someone is minting an NFT that has already been minted by the original artist on another platform.
Beyond the subcontinent, the platform DeviantArt has launched a Protect service, which uses machine learning to scan blockchains and marketplaces to identify pieces that may have been stolen from its own platform. It can reportedly detect minor variations, as well as modifications such as cropping or flipping.
Software companies are also setting up measures to assist NFT platforms worldwide. Last year saw the launch of Content Credentials, an in-built system within Photoshop which allows artists to link their Adobe IDs to their crypto wallets. Marketplaces that are compatible with this system will display this attribution alongside the NFT.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
Aside from technological interventions, those in the NFT art ecosystem feel that there are other ways to respond to the issue as well. “For an emerging artist who wants to break into the NFT space, your first line of defense is to build a community. And this where the NFT space is very unique, they’re supportive. You can come to a platform like Twitter and be vocal about your work. If someone does plagiarise your work and mint it, you can lean on the community to take it down,” says Benty. Karan Kalra, a New Delhi-based visual engineer and artist, corroborates that whenever he has seen an instance of piracy discussed on Twitter in the NFT art community (Twitter is the hub for conversations such as these), it has not taken long for the issue to be resolved. Atmaram adds that his platform is considering opening up the verification system to the community and rewarding those who participate in it with currency.
Several artists still think marketplaces and platforms must be accountable, especially if they charge artists a fee to be able to mint their work. Ahmedabad-based Harsimran Juneja has a more generous view. “Every new space or industry comes with unforeseen challenges that are tackled in due time. I'm sure that the thinking hats will come together to find a solution that gets quicker as it evolves. A recognition of such activity by platforms and dedicated teams working towards avoiding plagiarism, in my opinion, is enough for me to continue making NFTs. There’s always some risk in everything you do, but I’m relieved and thankful that Terrain Open, the open marketplace of Terrain.art, has a redressal system for artists in place already.”
In the event that his art is copy-minted, he says he’d expect the marketplace to compensate him and in addition, penalise or ban the user/account selling plagiarized works from the platform. For him, platforms making an effort to educate buyers is the best way forward. “Something as simple as a guide to checking authenticity next to a ‘buy’ button could prompt the buyers to take the effort,” he says.