Can NFTs help stop art piracy?

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Quebec artist Gaëtane Dion sells elegant natural paintings and colorful illustrations of female faces. She sells her paintings in her own studio, but her work is also available on the internet.Roger packet / handout

The career of Quebec artist Gaetane Dion may be considered a great success. Not only does she sell elegant natural paintings and colorful illustrations of women’s faces from the gallery studio in the eastern town, her work can be seen all over the world. the internet. She is included in numerous online galleries and art blog pages. She can browse books on her art, reassemble one of her works into a digital jigsaw puzzle, or, until recently, order a copy of Gaëtane Dion printed on canvas. She looks like a real picture. The only problem is that Dion himself does not allow these uses and she does not make money from them.

“Shameless,” Dion said, describing several websites that appear to have lifted his paintings and picture samples from his site. “It’s theft.” Some people simply use them to fill in the content and attract the eye. Those who provided a reproduction of her image on paper or canvas deleted her work in February after the Artists’ Rights Association sent it a legitimate letter.

Canadian visual artists say this type of piracy is widespread in their field. There, malicious operators provide framed reproductions, digital “paintings” and T-shirts featuring non-rights artwork. The original artist may be credited. Otherwise, the watermark and signature will be removed.

“It’s a Whac-A-Mole. It’s everywhere,” said Paul Bain, a copyright lawyer in Toronto. “There are microaggressions throughout the Internet, and we can’t monitor them all.”

Painting by Gaëtane Dion.Roger packet / handout

The museum has a simple solution. In most cases, you will post a low-resolution copy of the artwork in your collection to prevent unauthorized copying of your copyrighted work. (In Canada, images of artists who have died for more than 50 years are in the public domain. This number will soon be updated to match the US standard of 70 years, so people can duplicate these works as they please. (You can.) In living artists and commercial galleries trying to sell contemporary art from their website, the images need to be attractive in size, and as a copyright owner, it is the artist’s own crackdown on infringement. It’s a responsibility.

Indigenous artists have been particularly hit by the appearance of many examples of pirated art on T-shirts sold on Orange Shirt Day. This problem became especially serious after the discovery of an unmarked grave at the Indian Residential School in Kamloops last year. Pay attention to the event on September 30th.

“I started using social media as a marketing tool. That’s the way I share my work. I need to post,” said Hawlii Pichette, Mushkego-Cree illustrator in London, Ontario. I saw an image of a free coloring page provided to teachers used in London. She says she knows nine different online stores that stole her work. “I have to look like a hawk.”

Individuals often say that tracking all violating websites, mostly offshore, and sending legitimate removal notices can be a daunting task. Defenders of artist rights are discussing other solutions, and the blockchain technology behind NFTs, which are touted in the art world, allows artists to control images by including digital signatures. Asks if it really helps.

“I’m bullish on technology and what it can do,” said Roanie Levy, president of Access Copyright, a Canadian organization that licenses the work of authors and artists. “But I’m also very careful that the technique is developed in a way that respects the creator, so it doesn’t escape and the toothpaste must be returned to the tube.”

Theoretically, an artist, whether digital art or a reproduction of a physical work, would register the file containing his work with a time stamp in the blockchain, a tamper-proof database. Can be shown to be just that. This is the technology behind headline-grabbing NFTs that some artists and musicians sell for millions of dollars. (NFT stands for Non-Fungible Token. Substitutable assets such as currencies are divisible and exchangeable, but non-fungible assets such as real estate are not. Tokens are the uniqueness of non-fungible collectibles and original art. Applies digitally to a file. In fact it can be duplicated indefinitely.)

However, creating an NFT can be expensive and requires some know-how. To make matters worse, many are already in a dispute over ownership as malicious players are flooding the booming market. Artists complain that OpenSea, the largest NFT market, has many examples of plagiarism and complete piracy, offering NFTs for art that sellers do not own. There have also been multiple complaints in the music industry, where artists are considering NFTs as a way to raise money from their fans. In February, a new platform called HitPiece provided NFTs for what appeared to be recordings available from streaming services to the wrath of musicians who had never been asked to license a song for this use.

“Blockchain is not a silver bullet, especially when dealing with piracy. Artists need to continue to monitor whether their work is being used without permission,” Levy said.

To assist artists, Access Copyright has worked with Canadian Artists Representation, Copyright Visual Arts, and Regroupement des Artistses en arts visuels du Québec to develop a platform called Imprimo. The platform allows artists to catalog their work, exhibition history and biography once a month. cost. It provides the artist with two levels of blockchain protection and enrolls both claims and digital signatures on the artwork. This is a system that allows artists to authenticate their work, allowing buyers to know that they have an approved example. The QR code links to the representation of the work of art, and the timeline shows the journey. It is the most important story of its source when changing hands.

All of these security features may not be able to prevent piracy of images from other sites. But what they do helps to build a market where consumers consider blockchain-registered certification as a basic requirement before buying art.

Not everyone is convinced that the system will work. Lou-ann Neel, an indigenous artist and arts manager in British Columbia, has seen her work appear on orange T-shirts without permission or signature. She is skeptical of indigenous artists joining the platform and mainly wants to see strict laws.

She said that Canadian copyright law “has no teeth.” “People can be told to quit, but it has no effect.”

Meanwhile, Vancouver activist Lucinda Turner wants to see an indigenous art-focused register. She’s not an indigenous people, but she’s working to fight foreign knockoffs of sculptures on the northwest coast, and believes blockchain may be particularly useful in the secondary market, and buyers are getting the real thing. Reassure that. She traverses the Internet in search of misuse of works by 40 indigenous artists she volunteers to represent, and sends a letter of deletion under the terms of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act. She sent as many as 30 letters every day until Orange Shirt Day after the unmarked grave was discovered at a residential school in Kamloops last summer. “I’m having a hard time catching up, but I feel compelled,” she said.

On the other side of the country, Dion stops chasing after invading websites in Spain, Denmark and Russia and sympathizes as he prepares for a new exhibition at the Brompton Cultural Center in Sherbrooke, Que. can do. There, at least, she can believe that no one will lift her painting off the wall.

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