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Using NFTs to Protect Creative Works

Bishop Zareh, senior creative technologist | 

Using NFTs to Protect Creative Works

Blockchain and NFTs

Blockchain Technology has been taking the financial world by storm with innovations like Bitcoin and Hyperledger, and recently, another form of blockchain, NFTs, have made headlines in the art world for their record-breaking, multimillion dollar sales.

NFT stands for Non-Fungible Token and it's a form of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin. They act as a non-duplicable, digital certificate of ownership for a digital asset of any kind. Thus NFTs are a new ownership model for digital art.

NFT Image

It’s heralded as a lifeline for digital artists that previously had few ways to protect their digital artworks, with many on both sides of the debate. Brands like Taco Bell, the NBA and Gucci are generating millions by selling NFTs.

Blockchain brings technological innovation to many parts of our economy resistant to change and still adapting to the last round of disruptions. But how will Blockchain and NFTs be used in the advertising industry?

What are Creative Works?

A creative work can be any form of creative effort- a sculpture, a painting, dancing, poetry, or something completely unexpected. Karsh Hagan’s creative works include everything we deliver to our clients: websites and mobile apps, banner ads, out-of-home displays, strategy documents and more. That’s our business- Karsh Hagan makes creative works and traffics them to the world.

Traffic Them to the World

We’ve never given much thought to protecting our creative works- there was no need. There used to be many technological and legal barriers to prevent digital theft. But, as time has passed, new opportunities created new vulnerabilities.

Barriers to Digital Theft

Photo Retouching is one tool Karsh Hagan designers use to create the beautiful advertisements we deliver to clients. With Photoshop’s addition of machine learning features like Content-aware Fill and Neuro-filters, tasks like removing a logo and increasing resolution are now possible with the click of a button for Adobe’s 12+ million subscribers. While these techniques can be detected, hackers and other nefarious actors have even more sophisticated technology to create so-called ‘deep fakes’.

Photo by Steve Jurvetson (cropped and color corrected)

Legal barriers to digital theft are also much weaker than they used to be, and when you need legal protection, it often turns out that you don't have any evidence to prove you own your creative work. It’s also very difficult to legally prove what appeared on a website long ago. 

For most content creators, such as bloggers, streamers, Hollywood studios, comic book artists and recording studios, their creative works are registered with a third-party service like YouTube or ASCAP. That third-party can defend them and provide legal evidence. In advertising, we don’t register with any third-party service, and yet, we freely distribute our creative works far and wide.

How do NFTs Prove Ownership?

NFTs only prove ownership of a link. They don’t prove ownership of the photograph or file that the link points to. Instead, the NFT documents a point in time when we declare that we own the creative work, before we distribute it. Since NFTs use blockchain technology, they’re publicly accessible. There’d be no need to hire an independent investigator to prove we didn’t forge our proof- an NFT can be verified by anyone with the proper tools.

NFTs are also immutable. Once they’re created they can’t be changed or destroyed. With other solutions like Cloud Computing, there’s always a third-party system that can fail or can suddenly become very expensive. Whereas, once an NFT is created, there’s no additional cost for it to be stored for eternity.

Thus, NFTs are an indestructible and, possibly, irrefutable proof of ownership. Karsh Hagan creates NFTs of our creative work to serve as an immutable, publicly-available, historical document of our work and the state of design and advertising in these strange times. 

Why Now?

The RAND Corporation, in their article, “Digital Theft: The New Normal,” says “It behooves everyone—consumers and corporations alike—to accept this risk as a “when,” not an “if,” and to prepare for its inevitability.”

The average American had their data stolen over 4 times in one year. Theft is on the rise and our protections, both legal and technological, are waning. We could wait another few years and see what happens, but as Warren Buffett said, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked.”

We see the risk and are preparing for a future where we must take digital ownership and stewardship, in order to protect Karsh Hagan’s 40+ year history of dedication to and delivery of award-winning creative work.

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