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Protecting your art, music, or words has never been a priority for artists until it’s too late and an idea is stolen. As creators we are naturally much more enamored of and focused on the creation side than the business side, and rightfully so. This is essentially why we hire managers and sign record deals or publishing agreements. Over the years, I’ve found myself in a few writing disputes that have forced me to engage legal counsel and suffer expenses. No fun. Safe to say that the longer you’re in the music business, the greater the chance you’ll get ripped off. The difference today is that with the rise of platforms like Twitch, YouTube, and TikTok — and the ability for everyone with a smartphone to be a creator — we are in an intellectual property crisis.
Intellectual property management in the arts has been an antiquated proposition for musicians and visual artists for decades. Most people only became aware of this during the late 1990s and early 2000s, but it’s been happening for a lot longer than that. The advent of MP3s changed the way people listened to music, and the popularity of file-sharing apps like Napster had everyone questioning whether or not we would download a car if given that opportunity (and as 3D printing technology improves, we may find ourselves asking that question again). But before people were sharing pirated music online, they were burning CDs. They were bootlegging tapes even before that. Misidentified or unclear provenance of music and art has actually been going on for centuries — the classic English folk song “Greensleeves” is often credited to Henry VIII, despite zero evidence that he actually composed it!
It’s been difficult to avoid hearing or reading about the frenzy of digital art sales through Non-Fungible Tokens lately. NFT artwork has sold at auction for millions of dollars. Electronic artist 3LUA sold the master rights to three of his songs as NFTs with the new owners allowed to name the songs. Even the ancient meme video “Charlie Bit My Finger” has ended its run on YouTube after being viewed nearly a billion times because it has been converted into an NFT and sold for more than $760,000.▼ Article continues below ▼
All of which is to show that NFTs can be used to protect any kind of digital media, and that they have some very serious potential value for creators. NFTs are backed by blockchain, the same invaluable technology that powers Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Blockchain effectively makes it impossible to copy, share, or otherwise distribute that NFT without creating a permanent record of what happened. And this is a very good thing for artists.
When you release any original work on traditional digital media, you essentially lose control and ownership of your art. As soon as something appears online, it’s getting copied and passed around, and it’s next to impossible to scrub it from existence after the fact. But with blockchain-backed NFTs, you don’t have to worry about any of that. This is because blockchain creates an immutable ledger: there’s no hiding what happens to it. For creators, this means that there’s finally an answer for tracing ownership of your artwork.
Until now, the only remedy has been through the courts but while this works for signed artists, it does nothing for the enormous and expanding rise of the independent painters, filmmakers, and musicians who create 10x more than traditional artists and aren’t going to shell out $15,000 to try to recoup $4,000 from someone who probably isn’t even going to pay it.
The other amazing piece with NFTs is that it forges a direct-to-fan value exchange. Through NFT marketplaces I am able to sell directly to my fans without any middleman or gatekeepers. I can also control terms for those sales and give fans a chance to participate in ways that were not possible before blockchain. If you’re selling music on Bandcamp or art on Etsy today, making the jump to selling NFTs on a platform like Rarible is really no big deal.
Best of all, this is all happening right now. It’s not a theory, or a technology that’s “right around the corner.” It’s here. And if you ask me, it’s giving creators superpowers that will change not only how we create, but how we distribute, monetize, and build our communities.
Raine Maida is the Chief Product Officer of S!NG, Inc. The four-time Juno-award-winning artist, fronting the multi-platinum-selling alt rock band Our Lady Peace, has written and produced hits for internationally acclaimed artists including Carrie Underwood, P!nk, and Avril Lavigne. Raine is also the co-founder and director of artist-fronted cannabis company Loop/Pool. He was awarded the Tiffany Mark Award in 2014 and appointed to the Order of Canada in 2016 for his contribution to the arts and work as a humanitarian. Learn more at https://sing.link