Why are deeds on works of art in the form of NFTs unreliable?

The craze for NFTs, these non-fungible tokens, is undeniable. An art gallery in New York, the Superchief Gallery, has just opened a section dedicated to digital works a few days ago.

The costs are also sky high. A virtual house, installed on Mars and imagined by modern artist Krista Kim, was purchased for 288 ethers, or about $ 500,000. An article from New York Times by columnist Kevin Roose was sold for $ 560,000. The examples are numerous.

NFTs that “disappear”
But this tension comes with its share of controversy and frustration. In fact, some NFT owners saw their property “disappear” overnight.

That’s the case with Tom Kuennen, a real estate administrator from Ontario, who says Motherboard to have acquired a JPEG file of a “Moon Ticket” sold by DarpaLabs, an anonymous collective of digital artists. The transaction took place through the OpenSea marketplace, one of the largest NFT providers. “It’s like in the casinooutlines Tom Kuennen. If the value is multiplied by 100, you resell it. If not, do not tell anyone.“.

One week after his purchase, he opened his digital “wallet” in which “Moon Ticket” was stored. Surprised, the artwork had “disappeared”. “There was no trace of the purchase (…).“, he tells Motherboard.

Non-invariable tokens
This situation is apparently quite surprising, as the very principle of NFTs would be to be immutable. In fact, they are registered on the Ethereum blockchain. The market value of the work therefore depends not only on its individual value but also on the value of Ether, the currency on which Ethereum is based. Thus, this kind of “deed” has no other value than the one it symbolically incarnates. Especially since it generally only points to a web page on the issuer’s website.

As the OpenSea community manager explains, NFTs are definitely not immutable. When a person buys a work of art in the form of NFTs, it creates a cryptographic signature which, when decoded, links to an image hosted on a regular website or on the InterPlanetary File System, a P2P protocol built up around a decentralized system.

Distinguish image from NFT
According to the community manager, it is necessary to distinguish between the image itself and the NFT, which denotes the cryptographic signature registered during the transaction. “Let’s compare OpenSea and similar platforms with windows in a gallery where NFT hangs. The platform can close a window whenever it wants, but NFT still exists. And it’s up to each platform to decide if they want to close their window or not.“, he explains.

So when the property manager in Ontario, Tom Kuennen, bought his “Moon Ticket”, the JPEG file was not registered in the blockchain. Only one certificate that referred to a Web site was created (this is the default operating principle for NFTs). This link could have been deleted for many reasons, says the community manager, such as a violation of the terms of OpenSea.

This means that while the deeds of works of art in the form of web pages can be very easily removed, the NFTs as such remain registered in the blockchain. These cannot be edited or deleted. Therefore, even if “the window in the image has been closed”, NFT will still be valid through other platforms specializing in crypto art, such as SuperRare or MarkersPlace.

OpenSea is testing a new token variant
But this explanation did not convince Tom Kuennen, who says he has never violated the terms of the OpenSea platform. He adds that in addition to the website itself, his NFT token has completely disappeared.

This situation is the result of an experiment from OpenSea: the use of a new token variant, “ERC-1155”. In fact, in the vast majority of cases, NFTs are represented in a token form called “ERC-721”. However, as it is new, the ERC-1155 is not yet compatible with Estherscan, the search engine that allows users to easily search for transactions passing on Ethereum. Therefore, ERC-1155 tokens registered on Ethereum do not yet appear in the search engine even though they have been registered.

In the case of Tom Kuennen, the “disappearance” was the result of a breach of the terms of OpenSea and the new ERC-1155 token, which is currently incompatible with Etherscan. In any case, this answer is provided by Alex Attalah, Technical Director of the Platform. He therefore advised the buyer to connect his wallet to another platform.

That’s what Tom Kuennen did with his “Ticket Moon”, but it did not show up on Rarible either. The image was not deleted at the source as the platform confirmed that NFT still existed. Most plausible hypothesis: the artwork had been “masked” by Rarible.

Unreliable platforms
As mentioned Motherboard, this case shows the unreliability of these platforms, which have an almost unlimited freedom of action on the deeds they issue on digital works of art without the owner being informed. In fact, Tom Kuennen says he did not receive any warning until his purchase was “removed” from the marketplace.

Note that this is not the only problem with NFTs. They have very significant environmental costs, which are mainly due to the amount of energy required for the “proof of work” validation system.

Cryptoculture also raises important regulatory issues. In fact, it offers no copyright protection, unlike the traditional art market, which despite certain shortcomings is subject to laws. In practice, nothing prevents a work from being tokenized (and sold) without the consent of its creator. This is already happening regularly. Now that an NFT is hit, there is no way to remove it.

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