NFT Art Sales Are Booming, Just Without Some Artists' Permission

NFTs were hyped as a way to make sure artists get paid for their work. Now, many creators are struggling to stop a wave of piracy

Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Digital thieves had stolen before from Aja Trier, a painter in San Antonio who sells versions of her work on mugs, mouse pads and pillows. But thanks to the explosion of the NFT art market, she says thieves have started stealing her work at a jaw-dropping rate, like a recent user who posted tens of thousands of listings on one prominent digital marketplace — even as she worked to get them taken down.

“They just kept taking and remaking them as NFTs,” Trier said. “It’s so flagrant. And if it happens to me, it can happen to anyone.”

Trier’s story has already become common in the burgeoning world of NFT art sales. RJ Palmer, a San Francisco artist who designs creatures and monsters both as commissioned digital works and for movies and video game companies, said issuing takedown requests to NFT platforms for his work "got to be too many," leading him eventually to give up.

As the NFT art market takes off, systems to ensure a buyer is making a legitimate purchase of digital ownership have failed to keep up. Anonymous thieves now regularly steal whatever digital art they can find online and pass it off as their own to sell. While NFT proponents tout the technology as a way to revolutionize arts patronage, the rapidly growing digital marketplaces that enable those sales have so far done little to stop that piracy.

NFTs, short for nonfungible tokens, have exploded as a new kind of art market in the past two years, promising a way for people to prove they own a digital asset. Rooted in the same blockchain technology as cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, NFTs have been called everything from “a geeky implementation of bragging rights” to digital certificates of authenticity.

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