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Artists Share Their Frustration Over Stolen Artwork Becoming NFTs

NFTs are the newest tech fad that’s grabbing the internet by the throat – they seem unpopular but they’re selling like hotcakes, raking in thousands for those at the top of the pyramid scheme. They’re essentially receipts to say you really own something, often jpegs and gifs, but gaming has decided to join in and further muddy the waters with cosmetics. The idea is that you can buy a skin for your M16 in Call of Duty: Warzone and waltz over to Animal Crossing: New Horizons and hold up Nook’s Cranny with that same skin. You can’t. You never will. It’s ludicrous.

They’re silly, environmentally disastrous, and are making the infamous chip shortage even worse – can’t get your hands on a PS5? Between scalpers, supply issues, and crypto bros buying up a server room full of graphics cards, it’s not surprising. But NFTs started as something meant to prop up artists. They were meant to give them a new means to sell their work and prove ownership. However, as WendiBones explains, NFTs are failing at even that.

“[NFTs are] another way to steal artists’ work and monetise them without there being control over the actual copyright,” WendiBones tells me. “NFTs are not helpful for artists and it was probably a broker who said they were. Not all artists are good at monetising their work but with NFTs, artists think everything is easier. It’s not. It’s an illusion. It’s a chasm that opens up management costs for both the artists who sell the work and for collectors. I’m not an economics expert but since a lot of the work is stolen, I believe this mechanism will hurt artists and enrich thieves. It’s the last frontier of undeclared work and the consequences will be irreparable.”

Stolen art is a big problem that artists are facing with NFTs. The biggest online marketplace for NFTs is OpenSea, which is where most of the stolen art is being found, and yet little has been done to combat the problem, leaving artists to turn sour on OpenSea as a whole: “A site that allows its users to use the Google database to submit their artwork is an accomplice of thieves,” WendiBones continues. “From an NFT site, I expect that it should only allow uploads from your own computer, but OpenSea is the Wild West. Many of the users who upload NFTs are bots and cannot be reported by a person who is not a member of their site. It looks like a gambling club where the bartender won’t let you in if you don’t pay them a tax.”

Another artist, Jarzard, thinks OpenSea should simply be shut down, while Zaiisey says their contact system is obtuse and in need of work, “OpenSea is not helping artists at the moment,” Zaiisey tells me. “I could not find a way to report the person that stole my art and, even if I could take it down, anyone at any time can re-upload any of my drawings. OpenSea doesn’t care about what people are posting on its website. The artists are the ones who have to find the stolen art and fight to take it down.”

Another artist, Soturisi, agrees. “NFTs don’t help artists and it’s bad for us because it’s very easy to steal other people’s work and sell it as NFTs. And then we have the problem of getting our stolen art taken off the site – we need to prove the art is ours, but the seller doesn’t need to prove anything.”

Artists finding their stolen art is fairly simple – it’s taking it down that gets complicated. WendiBones tells me there’s a paid service on DeviantArt that will search the web to see if anybody has stolen your work and turned it into an NFT. But if you don’t want to pay out of pocket, you can search your name on OpenSea or, as Jarzard says, follow NFT Thefts on Twitter. They aim to help artists find if their work has been stolen and then they help to take it down. But once you’ve found it, things get tricky. All four artists echoed that you shouldn’t go to OpenSea directly. The site does little to help remove stolen work, but there are other means to do so.

“Do not contact OpenSea,” WendiBones says. “They won’t do anything. But OpenSea relies on Google’s servers, so contact Google and fill in this form. If you receive a long, automatic reply saying that data is missing, answer with an email writing, ‘this notice is complete.’ This way, Google is forced to proceed and will usually remove the link from OpenSea within a week. The image will load endlessly on their server and you can sleep peacefully.”

Failing that, there’s little that can be done. “I couldn’t find a way to message the person that stole my art,” Zaissey says. “I try to stay calm in these kinds of situations and try to explain to them why they should take down my art – and of course, ask them to do it. If they don’t cooperate, I try to contact the website or ask for help. My last resource is always to make a post and share the word of the stolen art to stop people from buying it.”

But as Zaiisey said, taking down one piece of art doesn’t stop the problem. It can be reuploaded at any time or other work can be stolen and turned into NFTs, essentially turning the entire thing into an endless, unbeatable game of Whack-a-Mole. OpenSea doesn’t have a system in place to prevent this and so countless artists have been taking to Twitter to voice their frustration as their work gets stolen time and time again, turned into NFTs to make art thieves a quick buck online. The very people that NFT supporters claim to be helping are being cut out en masse.

“I didn’t contact the person who stole my art – they posted it anonymously,” Soturisi tells me. “I could only contact the page they’re using to sell my stolen art. But if I could talk to them, I’d tell them, ‘Burn in Hell. Stealing other people’s work is gross.’”

We reached out to OpenSea for comment but did not hear back.

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