Some nonsense about NFT

8 min read
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If I wanted to post a song in a public article, I would search directly in the backend library. The problem is that the backend library belongs to QQ Music, which buys the rights from the major music companies, so there are definitely some songs that I can’t find at all. Of course, I could download them elsewhere and upload them to a public article, but that would be an infringement of copyright and a lawsuit against me. So, I had to approach the copyright owners of the songs and pay separately for the rights to use them. I did this twice, once I found Mr. Xiaohe and bought the song, and the other time I found the Universal Youth Hostel, but I haven’t gotten an e-mail back yet.

Why is it so troublesome? Because what I bought was not a cassette, not a CD, it was not a physical object at all, but an electronic copy of a song. Technically speaking, I’m not buying a digital copy, an MP3 file, either, but the right to play a particular song in my public website - the musician allows me to use the song in a post and allows my readers to click on it and enjoy it. Likewise, a digital painting, a video, an audio, all have the same problem, I have to go from house to house, negotiate from house to house, there is simply no easy and quick way to license it.

In the future, there will be more and more problems like this. Physical objects are just part of our daily life, and many people spend far more time online than they do in real life, and virtual objects, or digital products, will become part of daily life, and the proportion will continue to increase. Where once there were only game characters and game props, now everyone is probably planting digital trees, donating digital steps, and collecting digital paintings and music.

Considered from the perspective of owning something, it has a niche form called collecting. Collecting antiques, collecting art, the purpose is all about owning and exchanging. You can go buy a painting, take it home, hang it on the wall and enjoy it, or lock it in a safe deposit box for safekeeping. But if you are a digital painting enthusiast and you buy a painting by a digital artist, that is an electronic file, where do you hang it? How do you prove that you own it? Or what do we mean by “ownership” at this point?

I know a painter named Shah. He paints on his computer with a touchpad and is very popular with his online friends. But there is an eternal war between him and his friends: every time a new visitor asks him where he can buy the “original”. The problem is that he doesn’t have the original at all, and even the paintings he posts online are just digital copies of his work. There is no such thing as a real painting, painted on canvas and framed so that people can touch it and take it home. And by default, netizens buy a painting to buy a real painting, and do not consider a picture to be a painting, they do not have the means to “own” a picture.

Now, this situation has changed a little. This is mainly due to the advent of NFT technology, which, simply put, is the equivalent of giving each digital work a unique number that will always be on the Internet and will never be tampered with. It’s the same Chaa, or one of his paintings, who put out 10 copies, each purchased by 10 people. What each of these 10 people had was a series of numbers, different from each other, indicating that they had in their hands a unique painting. In this way, the digital copies are no longer identical to each other; each digital copy is independent. If these 10 people take the painting and trade it again, they may end up having different prices for each of these 10 identical paintings.

In this way, it seems that NFT technology makes digital art have value and can accomplish such things as collecting and trading, which sort of promotes the development of digital art market and collecting market. But in my opinion, the interesting thing is not only in this facilitation, but NFT may change people’s fundamental view of art.

In the past, artworks must have needed some kind of premises. Whether it was a private living room, a painting showroom, or the walls of an art gallery, it needed to be there for display and only some people could view it; the vast majority of people had no way to see the original or the real thing for geographical and economic reasons. In other words, when you own a certain work, you also have the power to let people see it. Buy a Van Gogh Sunflower and lock it up in your own attic, then the whole world will never be able to see it again. But NFT technology changes that. You buy a digital painting of Sunflowers, and once that painting is posted online, it goes everywhere, and you have no way to control that. NFT has changed the way art is displayed.

At the same time, what does the concept of “ownership” become? You no longer own a specific physical object, nor can you even possess a digital copy; all you get is a number, and all you can show to your friends and family is that number, proving that you are its sole owner. The combination of these two points, NFT brings changes is actually the entire network world into a public exhibition hall, the network world of some files and its copy of the distinction, and marked as a personal ownership. In my opinion, the technological change brought about by NFT is probably far less significant than the conceptual change it brings about. What is an artwork, what is owned, what is displayed, NFT redefines, and people are already embracing this change, happily NFTing everything.

As the niche of art collecting begins to change, it may spill over to other digital products in the future. Going back to the beginning of today’s post, buying the digital rights to a song is such a hassle. I had hoped that the emerging copyright platforms would make it easy to buy access to digital products on them. However, since there is no difference between a copy and a copy, it may seem to copyright holders that such licensing platforms simply increase the possibility of piracy, or even facilitate it. Now, with the advent of NFT, things seem to have turned around again.

Any creator who puts their work online, thanks to the NFT, what I buy is a unique one copy. It can be traced and confirmed. NFT’s technology also ensures that the creator can still receive a portion of the fee for each transaction. This alone is better than the current trading model, where a painter’s painting is sold and has nothing to do with him no matter how many times or how high the amount reaches. The painter died in poverty, and the price of the painting rose countless times after his death, such things have happened many times in history. But in the world of the future, such things may disappear completely, because a painting that is widely popular and constantly traded in people’s hands, then the painter can get a constant stream of income as a result.

If that day comes, I will no longer need to buy the rights to use a song, but just buy the digital rights. Although internet users all over the world can listen to the song on their own computers, when I post the song on my WeChat public website, I can put my digital number underneath, proudly proving that I purchased the song, that I own a unique copy of it, and that I am its owner. Whereas the vast majority of people just listen to some copy purchased by the station on a music website, without ever actually owning it. Or, again, simply can’t get a digital number to prove that it’s not a pirated piece of music.

Maybe it’s too early to think about the future, and maybe the NFT craze will just dissipate as quickly as all the fads on the Internet. However, reality will always change later than perception. The reason I think it’s possible to look a little further into NFT is that it is quietly changing people’s perceptions. Change may come quietly as people rethink what is an artwork, what is a digital work, what is the future of possession, and what is really on display. I also admit that looking at NFT at the moment can make the idea seem a bit unbelievable, even a bit silly, like the emperor’s new clothes. However, if you stretch the time and look at it on a 50 or even 100 year time scale, don’t many of the judgments people make about things in the present of each era also seem rather short-sighted and silly when looking back in the future?

Thank you for your patience, for reading this long and boring article, and for remaining tolerant of my nonsense.

Title photo by Anna Kolosyuk

Image license based on: Related license agreement