We exist in a world where right now if you printed out a Luis Vuitton logo and posted it on the side of your shop downtown, you stand a chance of being sued in civil court for misappropriate use of an owned logo. As a society we recognize that this particular logo is ownable, and that the owning entity is the legal corporation of Luis Vuitton ( I’ll save the mythology of corporate personhood for someone else to talk about ). What makes Luis Vuitton able to take you to court us a huge machination of bureaucracy and documentation that shows their logo with their name, and some rando government employee who says “yes they own that”.
In the future where our eyes are augmented by machines, many individuals will be similarly interested as Luis Vuitton in the use of their art intellectual property being used by consumers/purchasers/licensees properly. Creators gotta make money after all, and they won’t be able to make a living in a world where robots do all manual labor and livelihood depends on the protection of creative goods. People gotta live!
But a lot of pieces need to come together to ensure that artists can have their rights protected:
1. documentation needs to exist of an exact intellectual property to be protected
2. a strongly persistent bureaucracy that holds ledgers that are protected, maintained, and searchable
3. legal recognition traceable to a legal representative who’s word carries the force of law to resolve conflicts
4. documentation of identity of creator, future owners, and licensees
All these things for Luis Vuitton exist in binders of documentation and computer scans in government buildings. But what about for the artist and artistic denizens of the future living in decentralized metaverses built on Web3?
You need to have your intellectual property exist somewhere, be identifiable and a long chain of information that claims you to the owner to a legal authority.
Consider legal identity. If Beeple wanted to establish themselves as a legal digital identity legally one would need some way to have the government make a public notarized statement “I am Beeple and my wallet is 0xbeeble000f12…” and get back a government document id ID-ABCBEEBLE. Why is documentation of legal identity even necessary? Well, an artist isn’t always going to come to court on your behalf in a dispute or may not even be alive. You may want a way to prove the validity of your goods for resell or use purely by documentation trail.
Beeple’s wallet can now create information on a block chain that says “0xbeeble000f12 (legally referenced in notary statement ID-ABCBEEBLE) recognizes user’s wallet 0x3123123123 now owns a picture of a cat specified at location 0xcatcatcatcatcatcatcat ” and you have a pretty solid paper trail to help you in the case of resell or usage rights validation:
intellectual property id → user wallet → creator wallet → gov notary id
With this information, a user walking around emitting data to nearby humans in the metaverse and can claim they own a picture of the cat 0xcatcatcatcatcatcatcat , or potential violators when no chain of ownership can be identified allowing the creator of the art to do what they feel necessary in effort of preserving their work (or nothing at all). You can expect there to be art fraud bots in society validating your metaverse presence in the public if there’s a dollar to be made.
If you remember in my earlier list for Luis Vuitton, not everything is about data, what’s often just important as data is a sustainable bureaucracy that keeps that data existing, audited and accurate. A challenge I worry about in NFTs and other metaverse assets is the construction of data on unsustainable blockchains. You have a very strong interest in having blockchain exist in markets that are affordable and popular enough to create competitive alternatives for actions that need to be required create, search, persist data. Imagine a blockchain run by one person holding the long list of cat pictures owned by various peoples in the world above. Blockchain of one or few does not make this data magically affordable or efficient, and sometimes not even secure. The person’s hard drive may break. The person may want to charge an outrageous price to modify or look up any data for you. A hostile takeover of miners might happen. You have a strong incentive in using blockchains with large competing node owners such as Ethereum where the price of writing data is affordable(ish), resiliency is high, and lookup is easy.
But what about the art documentation itself? Who will hold the 1s and 0s that make up a cat picture? Does it make much sense to have an NFT that just points to some centralized S3 file storage bucket? Not really and the possibility of Amazon interjecting itself as some unwanted member of an arts ownership is high. Imagine they don’t like the creator’s art? Imagine they want a cut before serving your data now? Imagine someone changes the image that’s located at a specific url on S3?
In the case of Luis Vuitton, documentation exists describing the symbol of their logo in government file cabinets and computers. NFTs have more interesting options. While putting data on eternal persistence block chains like Ethereum is incredibly expensive, non-eternal persistence exists through the use of distributed file systems like IPFS ( interplanetary file system). Technologies like this are especially important for the large file size content of our 3D metaverse worlds. We can create massive world wide distributed storage that gets cached among participating members. Art can be created and hashed for an identity number based of it’s content and offered to the world by the creator, owner, and future downloaders of media so that metaverse participants can see other.
A big part of our future might be having our family and friends be propagators of our own data.
A complete chain is now formed from everything we discussed:
distributed data of art content on IPFS
→ hash of content to find it on IPFS
→ Ethereum log of intellectual property reference of hash
→ Ethereum log of property ownership by user created by creator with reference to notary
→ legal authority notation of creator’s Ethereum wallet
Finally with all these pieces in place creators have a distributed means of delivering at scale and protecting their creative goods in the marketplace if need be. Web3 now starts to sound a bit more approachable, but i’m afraid we’ve only scratched the surface.
If you find all this generally interesting, perhaps some more questions for future metaverse NFT intellectual property vanguards are:
“Where will the licenses of media use in the metaverse be stored and who will write them?”
“How will we handle specifying acceptable visual representation of metaverse items in accordance with item creator.” (See Second Life’s restriction on copy vs non-copy items)
“How will metaverse software and hardware platforms enforce these restrictions and respect property owners (if at all)?”
We’re entering into a wild world.