(A hastily written and grumpy post.)
Another day, another Blockchain Bullshit project.
Alright, I got this Lady_Crypt0. The NFT (Non Fungible Tweet) is headed your way. https://t.co/JVgGFmUhrD
— NFT Tweets Transfer (@tweet_nfts) February 14, 2021
Someone “claimed” one of my Tweets and added it to the Blockchain. I’m not particularly happy about that. Nor am I happy with the hoops I had to jump through to contact the company and remove my work. You can read the whole sorry thread on Twitter. But, mostly, I’m unhappy with this whole scammy “industry”.
Now my Tweet is an “NFT” – Non-Fungible Token – tradeable with other people for cold-hard-cash.
This is nonsense. Let’s ignore the fact that some random company has taken my copyright and indelibly stored it on a ‘chain. Let’s ignore that someone else is claiming my content as their own. Heck, let’s even ignore that someone else is monetising my content without permission or recompense.
Why can’t these people see that digital ownership is a con? The only value these tokens have is in their scarcity. Digital tokens cannot ever be scarce.
What do you get if you “buy” my Tweet? You didn’t write it – so you don’t have copyright. You don’t get an exclusive use of it. And anyone can make their own copy of it!
There are four great big problems with trying to assert ownership of a digital token.
1. Which Chain?
The first is that it is only ownership on that specific chain. What stops someone from starting a new crypto-chain and adding the tokens to that? Just like banks can print money, anyone can spin up a new blockchain project and start minting “ownership” of digital assets. It doesn’t mean anything.
Anyone can start a Blockchain-of-tweets. So what’s special about this one?
There are dozens of competing “Art Chains”. Which one should I register my work to? All of them? One of them? My own private chain?
2. Whose Chain?
The second is that the ownership of an NFT is often tied to a specific provider. One of the examples given in the NFT Bible is that of in-game items. Magic swords and such-like.
At the moment, NFT fanatics claim, you can’t sell in-game items. And, even if you could, nothing prevents the game publisher from destabilising prices by flooding the market with millions of “rare” items.
OK, fine. But what happens if the publisher one day shuts off the game? Or refuses to accept your ownership of the token? They are a central publisher. You may be free to trade items – but they are free to refuse to accept your ownership. You’re sharecropping with a hostile land-owner.
The third problem is that’s not how digital files work! Digital files can be copied. It is intrinsic to their nature. We’ve had a couple of decades of DRM being defeated within 5 minutes of its release. Every Netflix show is available on dodgy sites in 4K. Trying to make digital files non-fungible is like trying to make water not wet.
Whether it is art, or text, or code, or anything – digital files are copyable. Sure, you may have bought the NFT for a fabulous piece of art – but I have a screenshot of it and it is displayed on my wall. We both get exactly the same utility from it.
If you had the original physical painting of van Gogh’s Starry Night – you have something unique! But if you have a JPG of a digital artwork, and I have a JPG of it, what’s the difference? Yours is signed on a chain? So what!
4. What does it even mean to own a digital file?
If you own a physical thing, like a CD, you can sell it. Maybe it is an ultra-rare pressing and the price goes up and you make loads of money. Nice.
What does it mean to own an MP3? Nothing! Sure, you could sell it – but you’d also be able to keep a copy. And anyone who has a copy can distribute it for zero cost.
What does it mean to own the publishing rights to the music? Aha! The law will probably grant you a monopoly on being able to monetise the music. But as soon as you restrict supply, users will just start illegally republishing digital copies.
What does it mean to own art on the blockchain? Less than nothing. At best, it is a weak claim that the person adding it to the chain is the original creator. That’s nice from a provenance point of view. But so what?
Look – I’ve been down on this nonsense since a blockchain certified that I painted the Mona Lisa.
I’m tired of this. We know that the allure of vast riches attracts scammers to any industry. But I see no utility in NFTs whatsoever.
I guess if people really want to waste their money on digital Beanie Babies, go ahead. Just know that like GameStop shares, the market is rigged and those pushing this grift are the only ones likely to profit – not you.
The bullshit asimmetry: the amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.
— Alberto Brandolini (@ziobrando) January 11, 2013