Thierry Maindrault’s Monthly Chronicle
Today I will share with you the latest adventures of NFTs. This new sea serpent that comes to us from the dark abyss to the surface, intermittently, under the light of the media.
A little refreshment for our minds. An NFT (“Non-Fungible Token”) is a unique digital file, which is created by a blockchain (mainly Ethereum), and inseparable from a digital asset (photo, video, etc.). In principle, this absolutely unique key is impossible to reproduce, it is used for the issuance of cryptocurrency or to allow transfers for digitized and dematerialized artistic works.
I will try to be more concrete and quite explicit in my simplification. You are a photographer, and you bitterly regret that customers (shrewd amateurs) do not rush, in your studio-gallery to marvel at and to acquire many of your imperishable artworks. To keep up with the times, your computer buddy reassures you with his bag of magical solutions for all kinds of concerns. He will put you in touch, directly or thru intermediaries, that have a great and long experience of a few months, or even of a few weeks. This little marathon happens to a specialist, called a “founder”, who for a few small coins (be careful, often provide for the obligation to go through a cryptocurrency). This latter will definitively identify your artwork, only digital. An – ultra-confidential – code, is incorporated inside the structure of your digital-artwork-file. The sale of the property of your photograph is made by transfer of this variable code, which certifies the registered ownership of the image. As discussed in a previous chronicle, you hand over your creation – in principle unforgettable – to a third party for Bitcoins, Ethereums or one of the thousands of cryptocurrencies (hundreds bloom every day like dandelions in the spring). Do not gloat over having found an admirer of your talents. Your buyer is a smart guy who has already relisted his new intangible good, with a substantial added value, to a slightly less smart guy who does the same thing again and so on. As it is common knowledge that all fights cease for lack of fighters. When your artwork reaches the upper point of too much, no one wants it any more (the price has become too high to hope to make an attractive financial return). The unfortunate, last one on the list, finds himself the lone owner of your image, which at the same time continues to run through all your social networks and on those of the people who want it. Everything is fine except for the last on the list: our “pigeon” has become a collector of wind in spite of himself and not always flattered to have been financially plucked (so goes the speculation!). However, everything remains really legal. Morality has never had a place in the financial worlds, whether fictitious or materialized.
The problem arises when the good, however ghostly, disappears. Imagine an asset (in the financial sense of course) whose materiality does not exist, which vanishes. Evaporation of nothing to be replaced by nothing. Our great computer geniuses have achieved this feat, unimaginable even by Houdini and his colleagues.
A knowledgeable little guy, an engineer at Solana (blockchain) informs us: “NFTs hosted on the FTX platform are now corrupted and invisible”. What about their value? During the bankruptcy of FTX on November 11, 2022, the world, stunned (sic), discovered that FTX was selling, to its naive customers, fake bitcoins and also that its procedures used for the management of NFTs were not really reliable and secure. Many specialists are looking into the difficulty. Because if it seems that NFTs still exist, although the images are – to this day – no longer visible. The owners have NFTs with corrupted metadata, whereas you have understood that the latter is the indispensable and essential component of an NFT.
Thousands of digital professors “Nimbus”, both on the dark side of the force and among the good Samaritans, are looking into the possibility of ignoring properties attached to files. They attempt the regeneration of this famous information which was originally certified as completely inviolable, until the next chapter of this fascinating saga.
Incidentally, the question arises of the responsibilities inside this brilliant chain of stakeholders who will be foes into the meanders of justice. Our poor photographer, in need of financial recognition, risks finding himself in the front row if one of the happy ex-owners of his artworks files a complaint for lack (by hidden defect, for example) of access to his immaterial property. Indeed, it is the author at the origin of the digital file and its placing under inviolable protection who is responsible for the fraud. Buyers, even successive ones, have only passed on the photographic treasure. As my great ancestor used to say quite often: “before you lose your hand, beware of unknown mechanisms”.
In the end, all this is not very serious, since most NFTs were paid in cryptocurrencies. If the owners had not seen their exceptional artworks of art leave for a digital paradise, there is a very strong chance that this would have been the case for their fictitious digital treasure. In the sense of virtual writing sets, in the games of all kinds, the player is rarely a winner.
Photography is at the forefront of this new deadly hazard of digital communication. This is not surprising, for its true followers so badly need an oasis in their journey through the business desert; but that is no reason to ignore the mystification of mirages.
Thierry Maindrault, January 13, 2023
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