Digital Ownership is Deeply Flawed

For artists, collectors, brands, and platforms, modern technology has raised a number of questions surrounding digital ownership.

Many of us can remember the grainy VHS ads (yes, we’re aging ourselves a little here) that stressed “you wouldn’t steal a car” to ultimately hammer in the point that you should not pirate movies or music, either. These were much simpler days, when LimeWire was crashing home computers the size of moving boxes, and internet companies were still actively pursuing illegal downloads of copyrighted content, scaring tweens everywhere into believing they’d be hauled off in a cop car for torrenting whichever R rated movie their parents wouldn’t let them rent that week.

Now, most of the companies at the helm of the fight against pirated content have given up. Over 5billion people around the world use the internet – that’s more than 60% of our total population (source: dataportal, July 2022). Not only has regulating online spaces become extremely hard, if not at times impossible, but social media has additionally amplified the issue. Users have the ability to spot a piece of art that they enjoy, screenshot it in a fraction of a second, and redistribute as they’d like, until the work, and its rightful credits, become lost in a tornado of subsequent right-clicks and re-shares.

In the past, determining the authenticity of an artwork was much easier, especially when considering physical pieces of art which are not only much more difficult to replicate, but also contain multiple points of hard evidence left by the slant of the maker’s hand. A painting with a valuation equal to that of a Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) NFT would, without a doubt, be followed by a record of authenticity, previous owners, locations, and other features critical to certifying its value and originality. If a like painting were to pop up somewhere, deciphering which of the two is the “real” one would not be complicated.

Digital works unfortunately provide a much easier barrier of entry for art theft.  

Professor Katherine Thomson-Jones of Oberlin University describes the effect as such; “Images conveyed digitally are always replicable and so when an artist aims to convey artistic content through digital imagery, she either has to accept the inevitable multiplicity of her images or resist the tendency of the medium and somehow specify the work’s singularity in presentation.” (Source: Stanford University Research Paper, The Philosophy of Digital Art)

That is a difficult ultimatum to swallow – accept that your work can and will be replicated, or don’t publish it digitally at all. In 2022 we should be able to protect digital artists better than that, shouldn’t we?

Where did the guilt go?

Have you ever entered a shop and chosen to walk out with valuable merchandise without paying? Hopefully not. Now, have you ever saved a digital artwork, for personal enjoyment, use on social channels, or even re-printing and using as décor? The answer is probably yes, and you’re not alone. Why is it that one action seems so much more abhorrent than the other?

Possibly because there is no real-world accountability associated with the anonymous digital worlds where art is being circulated, manipulated, replicated and even outright stolen. “As long as people don’t consider digital assets ‘objects,’ digital artists won’t be paid what their work is worth,” explains Beatriz Ramos, CEO, and Founder at “For many people, a painting on the wall is worth money; but a digital work of art online has no financial value.”

This is problematic. Imagine the aforementioned anti-piracy campaign launching today, in the context of NFTs. “You wouldn’t steal an NFT” would never be a convincing claim because many people would, have, and still do – daily, and without repercussions.

Enter, Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) has long been the subject of research, discussions, and a Hollywoodesque obsession with machine sentience. However, most recently, AI has entered the art world chat with a disruptive bang. Between successful generative art collections, and the eerily human-like abilities of AI art creation software like Dall-E-2, there is no chance of resealing the Pandora’s box that gave us AI generated art. Suddenly, individuals who have never picked up a paintbrush or looked down at charcoal-stained fingers, are creating masterpieces that lifelong traditional artists can’t match, or keep up with.

Who does AI generated art belong to? Is it really art? Will the pieces have lasting cultural value? Is it fair to monetize them? Can they be fairly replicated? These, and more questions, swirl around the digital art space, creating further confusion, and a further lack of clear principles through which digital artists could hope to protect themselves.

As entertaining and utile as this method of creating art is, it also complicates digital art ownership issues further by continuing to skew public opinion on the intrinsic value of non-traditional art.

In the end, these questions, and examples, all lead to the same premise – we need better moderation systems and much more robust tools for artists, and IP holders, to protect their creative assets. Thought some progressive strides have been made by companies such as DeviantArt and Numbers Protocol, we are still not there yet. There are no proactive solutions for the problem, only reactive DMCA related measures that may or may not result in anything helpful.

Secur3D wants to change this landscape for the better. Our aim is to create the proactive solution we have all been waiting for. We believe that 3D artists everywhere have the right to explore their creativity, and be fairly compensated or at the very least, credited, for their artistic achievements.

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