8 min read

NFTs, Intellectual Properties and Licenses

Published on
Apr 7, 2023
This article is for general information purposes only and isn’t intended to be financial advice.
Phoenix Baker
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As technology advances, so does the way we create and consume art. One of the latest trends in the art world are NFTs, which have been making headlines for their record-breaking sales and controversial relationship with intellectual property.

What are NFTs?

NFTs are unique digital assets that are stored on a blockchain, a decentralized digital ledger. Each NFT is one-of-a-kind, making it impossible to duplicate or counterfeit. 

They can represent anything from digital art and music to virtual real estate and tweets.

The Role of Intellectual Property

Intellectual property (IP) is a crucial aspect of the art world, protecting artists' rights and preventing unauthorized use or reproduction of their work. NFTs have created a new layer of complexity in the relationship between art and IP.

On one hand, NFTs can be seen as a way to reinforce IP. By creating a one-of-a-kind digital asset, an artist can prove ownership and control the distribution of their work. In this way, NFTs can help protect artists' rights and provide a new revenue stream.

However, there are also concerns that NFTs can be used to undermine IP. As NFTs can represent anything, it's possible for someone to create an NFT of another artist's work without permission, effectively claiming ownership of it. This raises questions about the legitimacy of NFTs as a form of ownership and whether they should be considered a valid form of IP.

Navigating the Complex Relationship

The relationship between NFTs and IP is a complex one that requires careful navigation. On one hand, NFTs can be a powerful tool for artists to protect their rights and earn a living. On the other hand, they can be used to exploit artists and undermine the very IP laws that are meant to protect them.

One way to address this complexity is through education and transparency. Artists should understand the potential benefits and risks of using NFTs and make informed decisions about whether to use them. Additionally, platforms that sell NFTs should provide clear information about the ownership and provenance of the assets they sell, helping to prevent fraudulent activity.

Another way to address these issues is through regulation. As NFTs become more popular, governments and organizations may need to create new laws and policies to ensure that artists' rights are protected and that NFTs are used ethically and responsibly.

Licensing structures

There is a growing trend towards alternative licensing structures that allow artists to designate usage rights to their artwork. To address this, there are a growing number of alternative licensing structures that NFT artists can use to designate usage rights to their artwork.

One option for NFT creators is to use the nonprofit organization Creative Commons' licensing structures. Creative Commons offers six different licenses that NFT creators can use to grant certain permissions to collectors. For instance, the Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) license allows buyers of an NFT to “remix, transform, and build upon the material,” but only for non-commercial purposes and with appropriate credit given to the artist.

Another option is the CC0 license, which is any creative work in the worldwide public domain that has “no copyright.” This means that anyone can copy, modify and distribute the artwork, even for commercial purposes. While this license has sparked controversy in the NFT space, some NFT artists have chosen to use it, such as the NFT collective PROOF who switched the license of its Moonbird collection from commercial to CC0 in August 2022.

Crypto venture capital firm a16z has also released a collection of six licenses specifically designed for NFTs. These licenses are embedded on-chain and deployed through smart contracts. The “Can’t Be Evil” licenses aim to help creators protect their intellectual property, provide NFT holders with clear rights, and foster community. 

These alternative licensing structures offer NFT artists more control over their artwork, while also allowing collectors to use and enjoy their NFTs in specific ways that are mutually agreed upon. As the NFT market continues to grow, it is likely that more innovative licensing structures will emerge, further enhancing the relationship between NFT artists and collectors.


NFTs are a complex and rapidly evolving technology that have the potential to revolutionize the art world. However, their relationship with intellectual property is fraught with challenges and controversies. As the technology continues to develop, it will be crucial to navigate this relationship carefully, ensuring that artists' rights are protected and that NFTs are used ethically and responsibly.

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