Second Realm

Eric P. Rhodes, Artist

Five Things Every Artist Should Know About Copyrights


The Art of Copyright

Understanding Ownership in the NFT Space

As an appropriation artist in the NFT space, my journey has led me to learn a lot about copyright law and intellectual property rights (IP). I’ve even been lucky enough to have my reporting on CryptoPunks and copyright included in some academic legal papers. And I’ve taken an Art Law course Christie’s to beef up my understanding even more (yeah; I’m a nerd like that). But I’m not giving legal advice here.

The focus of today is to give you a high level overview of the few things I think every artists in the NFT space should have a basic understanding of.

The History of Copyrights

Copyrights are not a modern-day construct; they were born in 15th century Italy and matured over time. The US codified these rights into law in the late 18th century, offering authors and inventors exclusive rights to their creations to promote innovation and originality. A global consensus, however, wasn’t achieved until the Berne Convention of 1886.

The Berne Convention

The Berne Convention harmonized disparate national copyright laws, acknowledging creators’ innate rights to their creations, regardless of formal registration. It was this policy that awarded global copyright protection to icons like Mickey Mouse, initially only recognized under US law. The convention also highlighted the “moral rights” of artists, emphasizing the intimate bond between creators and their creations.

Creative Commons Zero (CC0)

A significant departure from conventional copyrights, CC0 enables creators to renounce their rights to their works entirely, thereby approximating the public domain as closely as possible. Under CC0, others are free to distribute, modify, and utilize the work, even for commercial purposes, without requiring permission or giving credit to the original creator.

The Complexity of Global Copyright Enforcement

Though these definitions seem simple, they become complex when implemented across different jurisdictions due to differing interpretations of copyright and IP laws. The legal subtleties of copyright violations, fair use, and appropriation art vary widely across countries like the US, the UK, or Germany. The decentralized and international scope of the blockchain and NFT space only adds to this complexity.

The Curse of Intellectual Property Ownership

As copyright law has developed, it has strayed from its initial aim of nurturing creativity. Presently, it seems to prioritize corporate defense over artist protection. The advent of intellectual property ownership, where influential bodies control rights to wide-ranging ideas or concepts, often inhibits innovation rather than promoting it. Disney’s robust defense of its copyrights, stretching well beyond Mickey Mouse, impacts an extensive array of characters, narratives, and even emblematic symbols.

My Hope for the Future of Copyright

I imagine a future where art and creativity are not shackled by excessive IP laws. While I acknowledge the significance of copyright in defending artists’ rights, I see the potential for a more forward-thinking approach. We need to revisit our perceptions of copyrights, redefining them for a new age of art and creativity in the digital realm, where decentralization and freedom should prevail. Let’s not forget, we’re not just creating art; we’re crafting the future.