Reclaiming Ownership: Creativity and Copyright in the Digital Age

Written by Secur3D President and Co-Founder Nitesh Mistry, Originally Published on Focus Outlook Magazine

From the earliest days of the digital age, a delicate balance has existed between technology and creativity. This is especially true of the digital art space. On one side are the creators who amp up their imaginations and dedicate time, talent, and resources to producing digital art. On the other side are the platforms that serve as conduits for digital creations, allowing creators to share and earn from their creativity. Platforms funnel a user-base to the art and experiences that creators build, making them accessible, and profitable. In a perfect world, creators would simply carry on creating, while digital platforms handled the complexities of monetizing content; no strings attached. Unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect world, and predictably – there are strings attached. From social experiences like Roblox and Fortnite Creative, to digital marketplaces like Sketchfab and Turbosquid, platforms are struggling to moderate and authenticate the content that fills their ecosystems. This leaves every side of the equation vulnerable; creators, platforms, and users. 

Digital platforms are, by nature, public arenas for interaction, and so they play a dual role as both marketplace and regulator of their space. They are responsible for striking a careful balance between promoting creativity and maintaining industry standards, including everything from user safety and civility to intellectual property protection. The emergence of these platforms has been instrumental in the democratization of creativity, providing the stage for any creator, irrespective of their background or resources, to broadcast their work to the world. However, they have also amplified the opportunities for misuse, making it easier than ever for artworks to be replicated, manipulated, or stolen.

Simultaneously, a misalignment has emerged between the values assigned to physical and digital artwork. This discrepancy muddies the waters further. Because the concept of ownership is more intangible in digital form, digital art often falls victim to lesser perceived value and a weaker sense of moral responsibility regarding copyright violation. This problem is multiplied by the anonymity of the internet, which can shield bad actors from the typical consequences of theft. Simply put, disappearing from the internet shortly after turning a profit from stolen creative work isn’t very difficult. Remember the NFT boom, and how an entire industry built on speculative value crumbled without protection for original designs? We rest our point. These issues further underscore the necessity for better protection mechanisms for creators and a shift in public attitude towards the value of digital art.

Adding another layer of complexity to this multifaceted issue is, you guessed it, artificial intelligence. AI has burst onto the art scene with a disruptive force that has not only broadened the definition of who – or what – can be a creator, but also further blurred the boundaries of ownership. AI, capable of producing its own ‘art’, challenges the very core concepts of originality, creativity, and intellectual property rights. It’s a brave new world that lacks the conventional structure of traditional art forms, raising significant ethical and legal questions that have yet to be answered. At the same time, AI is also being viewed as a potential saving grace. Perhaps, rather than bulldozing over the rights of creators whose works have become vulnerable to AI scraping, this technology can be used to analyze incoming content and provide an assurance of its integrity. Existing both as a threat and a possible solution, AI’s turbulent descent into the digital art space has raised more questions than answers, this far into 2023.

In this intricate web of technology, creativity, and commerce, one thing is clear: the current measures in place to protect creators and their intellectual property are not keeping pace with the speed of innovation. The narrative that is currently unfolding between creators, platforms, and consumers acts as a reflection of our times – a technological revolution in the making, a reshaping of societal norms, and an urgent call for equitable and effective solutions for attribution and to protect the integrity of digital art.

The sum of these challenges leads us down a path that is yet to be determined. Though legislation is being discussed and developed, it is still lagging behind progress, falling short of bridging the gap between the frenetic pace of digital innovation and the timeless pursuit of creativity. In time, law-makers and industry leaders may catch up with technological advances, but while legislation is a key piece of the puzzle, it won’t fix a broken system all on its own. The responsibility of securing the digital economy extends to the platforms and the creators as well, and is further passed on to the consumer. We are all participants in this vast digital ecosystem, each playing a role in preserving its integrity. As much as we need clear, competent guidelines, we also need better tools to protect original artwork and IP that is sold digitally. Better software, better systems, and a commitment to treating digital art, and the creators behind it, with the respect that is deserved.  

As we navigate through the complexities of the expanding digital economy, we cannot ignore how fragile a balancing act is going on behind the scenes. Now is the time to decide whether we are going to double down and support the creator economy, or stand by as it unravels. 

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