NFT — An Introduction To The Blockchain For Photographers And Creatives
The blockchain does not seem to relate to anything that has to do with photography or content creation. It is a technology that has been disrupting the finance industry, but it is not exclusive to finance. It is actually a much more transparent way to secure information and verify the truth. In the world of content creation, unauthorized distribution of content can really affect a photographer or artist’s income. There is also plenty of fraud that involves the sale of fake artwork and false assertions to original work. These are problems that a blockchain can help to prove for copyright and ownership of original art and content.
The rise of NFT (Non-Fungible Token) is a growing space in the world of DeFi (Decentralized Finance). NFT are an example of the many ways blockchains are being applied. This provides a way to tokenize a digital or hard asset that can be sold or traded through a digital exchange. It can also be through a direct peer-to-peer manner, which involves just two parties.
In this case it can be between a digital artist (the party who produces the work) and a buyer (the party who wants to buy the work). This also applies to photographers who want to tokenize their work, graphics artists who want to sell their work in an emerging marketplace and content creators who create digital art specifically.
NFT have a wide array of applications, but they are suitable for digital content and collectibles (both digital and physical) like original art, trading cards, music, photographs and game prizes (e.g. rewards from video games). For photographers and artists who work mostly with digital content, an NFT is one way they can establish their ownership to their work and sell it in an open and decentralized market.
It can also apply to physical works of art like paintings, illustrations, novelty items and drawings through a digital token that represents the original creator and provenance of the artwork. What is important to remember here is that an NFT represents something that is unique, and there can only be one token that represents those artworks.
Tokenizing Your Art
First and foremost, you must have your content. It can be digital art or retouched images created from software like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop, for example. Photographers can also tokenize their work, including original prints shot on film or digitally edited photos. Some photographers who want to establish their ownership or rights to their work that is displayed on a public network like the Internet can use a blockchain for verifying their claim.
I am not going to get into the technical specifications of tokenization, but more on the general details for creatives. It is basically a way to add value to digital content or hard asset using a cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. The token is a form of cryptocurrency, while the settlement layer is the blockchain.
Think of a blockchain as a database that will securely store the details about your work in a manner that it cannot be modified, tampered, censored or even deleted. It can function as a settlement layer when it comes to claims of ownership of digital content.
When you create the NFT (i.e. token), you are recording your ownership of your digital content and making it available on a decentralized network for purchase or transfer. You have now created value in your content that will be determined in a decentralized marketplace.
The idea is different from typical markets because there is no need for an arbiter or third party in most cases, since you can deal your NFT directly to interested parties. There are platforms where you can trade NFT, but they have no control over your digital content. You are eventually the only one who has control over it since you are the owner.
To create an NFT a user must also have a digital wallet. Depending on how tech savvy a user is, creating a digital wallet can be a straight-forward process. The NFT platforms will provide supported digital wallets and links on how to install one. This is where cryptocurrency holders can track the amount of coins or tokens they hold.
A digital wallet holds what is called a private key, which authorizes a user’s ownership of their digital assets. A very serious concern here is that once you lose a private key or reveal it to others, chances of losing a token like an NFT are possible. This is why digital wallet security should be a priority for those who want to hold NFT.
The Decentralized Marketplace
Creatives who want to tokenize their work will need a marketplace. With cryptocurrency, you have a decentralized marketplace because it does not require registering with a central authority. It also does not require the involvement of brokers, banks or art dealers, though they can still be added in the process. That is up to creatives to decide. It is a very much open system for anyone to buy, sell or trade their NFT. It then allows users to create collections of NFT as digital property with rights of ownership.
One of the more popular platforms is Rarible. The platform is an open marketplace for user’s NFT. They have the option to use it for showcasing their work and offer it for sale later. What is most important with the platform is that it puts a digital content’s authenticity on the blockchain using badges. Social influencers and well known creators can use this to solidify the authenticity of their work. According to Rarible:
Verified badges are granted to creators and collectors that show enough proof of authenticity and active dedication to the marketplace. We are looking at multiple factors such as active social media presence and following, dialogue with community members, number of minted and sold items.
Another decentralized marketplace is OpenSea. Various forms of NFT can be found on this platform. This includes digital art, virtual worlds and collectibles. Photographers can use their work and create a gallery of their content as NFT. Some might say why not just use a traditional art gallery or marketplace through an art dealer.
The advantage of decentralized markets is that there are a diverse number of platforms that can get your work more exposure with less third-party involvement. You just place your NFT on a platform, and if there are interested buyers it can be purchased without giving a large cut to a dealer or broker.
The way it works is the NFT price is set by the owner. Bids can then be made on the market which determines the value of the token. More bids means higher prices. That can drive the NFT value up, depending on how many user are interested. The price is determined in a free and open market, where it can start from 0 to as high as anyone is willing to bid.
The main difference from traditional auction houses is that the bids are in terms of cryptocurrency. For example, an NFT could be set with a value of 5 ETH (Ether). In fiat currency that would be worth how much the price of ETH is in the cryptocurrency market at that moment in time.
Celebrities and creatives are jumping on the NFT hype. Even public figures like Mark Cuban see the potential of tokenizing art and collectibles. Cuban owns some NFT himself, and there are NFT of Cuban too. The value is created in these NFT because they are unique, and therefore ideal collectibles that can be traded or purchased. Cuban is both a promoter and supporter of NFT, as he enters the space attracting more attention. He even uses NFT to tokenize content from the Dallas Mavericks.
YouTube creator and social influencer Logan Paul reportedly sold $5M worth of NFT. This was through the launch of his very own NFT with partner Bondly. The content were Pokemon related videos and rare items owned by Paul. What makes them valuable is that no two NFT are alike and there can only be one in existence. Holders of these NFT will have a rare digital asset that is also in demand. It seems like a novelty and craze that is too good to be true.
Perhaps one of the most widely reported stories of NFT is that of digital artist Beeple. The artist sold an NFT of former president Donald Trump for $6.6M through the platform Nifty Gateway. According to Nifty Gateway on their Twitter:
We can confirm that this is a legitimate sale — this was brokered by Nifty Gateway’s art buying services. We have been in directly contact with buyer and have confirmed their identity. They are choosing to remain anonymous at this time.
For the music industry it can help independent musicians take back control of the sales and copyrights to their content. Producer Illmind has created his own sample music pack NFT that will be put up on auction. Since most producers work with digital music content, tokenizing their work is one way to protect their content from illegal copyrights and at the same time sell their music directly to fans without requiring huge cuts or control from record labels.
Other personalities like Grimes, Lindsay Lohan, Winklevoss Twins and DJ Alesso have also been in the news regarding NFT. As more users learn about NFT, it just creates more buzz.
The Takeaways Of NFTs
In photography there are not as many high profile examples of NFT as of early 2021. It is just beginning to generate interest at the moment. Based on the examples of some NFT, photography plays a part of the digital content. Images are important when it comes to any form of art, and they can incorporate photographic works. A photographer who has unique photos to monetize can turn it to an NFT. This is an opportunity that is ready for exploring.
I have two takeaways about NFTs, specifically for photographers.
Many photographers will say they just love photography and are not in it for the money. They freely share their photos either through social media or their personal website. Those photographers are mostly hobbyist, amateurs or enthusiasts who have a passion for capturing the beauty of the world.
Why would they be interested in creating an NFT? Perhaps if they are also professional photographers who have a reputation in the industry they will realize its value. NFT can also create more value for their work, especially if they have one of a kind portraits or videos. So the first takeaway is about value for the photographer.
Another thing photographers need is to understand the basics of cryptocurrency and NFTs. I have linked some resources here, but due diligence is always important. Do your own research always because there might be unexpected pitfalls when entering into something new. That is exactly what NFT are, so it is best to plan and prepare anything before doing it.
Take note that valuation of your NFT is determined by its uniqueness and scarcity. Aspiring creatives may not get the same bid for their work as let’s say an established or reputable artist who has a larger following in the space.
NFT works similar to Patreon, but they are not the same. Patreon is a service that provides a gallery of images a photographer puts online for pay, while ownership remains with the photographer. NFT are all about unique images the photographer captured that they make available for sale and a token of ownership.
Once that image is sold, it now grants partial or full ownership to the buyer, depending on how many tokens they purchased (if multiple tokens are issued). The photographer has given that right based on verified authenticity via a blockchain. This would state that the photographer is the original creator of the image and transfers ownership of a token (or tokens) to the buyer.
What is good to know is that the photographer will always be credited as the creator regardless of who owns the NFT. That can establish copyright claims as well and the photographer is the authentic owner of the actual image itself represented by the NFT. Today you need experts, a third-party, to validate works of arts like paintings and even photographs.
How do we know a genuine Picasso from a remake? We won’t be able to but there are experts who somehow know. Can they really be trusted? With NFT and blockchains it can establish authenticity for future verification that doesn’t require the services of an expert. The testament will be recorded on the blockchain for anyone to see.
The big question remains, can NFT enforce authenticity and ownership for photography work? While the blockchain is just a secure and tamper proof database, it can impose authenticity on digital content but how about physical works? There is no definitive answer because even though the photograph let’s say is tokenized on the blockchain, it can still fall into the wrong hands. It can also be altered, therefore it is no longer authentic.
Counter claims can also be made against a creator’s claim on the blockchain. The pros for NFT are it provides a way to authenticate the work of creatives like photographers, but enforcing its legality is an entirely separate due process. We shall see how it all plays out, but evidence of authenticity by some means is better than having none at all.