Mon. Jan 17th, 2022

An unauthorized NFT drop honoring infosec pioneers has collapsed in a mess of conflicting takedowns and piracy.

Released on Christmas Day by a group called “ItsBlockchain”, the “Cipher Punks” NFT pack contained portraits of 46 different figures, with ten copies of each token. Taken at their opening price, the full value of the drop was about $4,000. But almost immediately, the infosec community began to raise objections — including some of the portrait subjects themselves.

The portrait images misspelled several names — including EFF speech activist Jillian York and OpenPGP creator Jon Callas — and were based on at least one drawing on a copyrighted photo. More controversially, the list included some figures who have been banned for harmful personal behavior, including Jacob Appelbaum and Richard Stallman.

York responded on Twitter, tweeting a link to her own portrait, simply saying, “I don’t approve of this at all and would like it removed.”

Removing the NFTs was more complicated than it looks. The ItsBlockchain team apologized on Twitter for not obtaining similarity rights in advance, saying it removed 28 NFTs from the group and burned two others. But there is no clear procedure for removing tokens that have already been sold, and ItsBlockchain usually relies on the central OpenSea platform to remove the tokens and solve the problem. ItsBlockchain has appealed to the platform for guidance, but has received little guidance so far. (OpenSea did not respond to a request for comment.)

“We’ve been trying to fix this problem…we want to fix it,” the group said in an email to The edge. “Involvement of OpenSea would make the job easy at this stage.”

The incident reminds us of the potentially thorny legal issues surrounding NFTs, where standards of permissionless innovation often clash with likeness and intellectual property rights. Typically, US publicity rights laws prohibit the use of an individual’s name and identity for promotion without their consent – although it’s unclear how such a lawsuit would work in practice when applied to NFTs.

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