NFTs being a recent trend, many questions are raised regarding their legality and the use of their legality. There are many unclear areas, and plenty of people are caught in scams and other fraudulent practices. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the NFT area is an illegal void. Copyright laws, in particular, are applicable to all kinds of artwork, regardless of whether it’s digital, physical or even an NFT.
There are many questions that come up when dealing with intellectual property since the actual contract for the sale of NFTs are typically hidden within the back end of the NFT market. To make matters even more difficult, there is no “standard” or international copyright law. Each nation has its own copyright laws. In this article, I’ll clarify all the confusion, and answer the most frequently asked questions in the context of NFT copyrights:
1. What is the legal status of NFTs?
The legal status of an NFT depends on the jurisdiction it exists in. For example, in the US, an NFT is treated as property which is subject to copyright law. That means that any artwork or digital asset (including NFTs) are subject to copyright protection and thus are protected by law if they are created by an individual as a work made for hire or if they are created by someone other than an employee within the scope of employment. This means that your artwork can be protected even if you do not register it with any formal agency like the Copyright Office because its creation was within the scope of employment (i.e., you created it while doing your job). Whether or not something is copyrighted depends on whether or not it was published with copyright notice and other factors discussed below.
2. Are NFTs protected by copyright?
Whether or not an NFT, or any other work of art, is protected by copyright depends on whether it was created by an individual as a work made for hire or if it was created by someone other than an employee within the scope of employment. In the US, if you are an independent artist and create artwork on your own time, then that artwork is likely protected by copyright. On the other hand, if you create an NFT while working as an employee (i.e., your job description includes creating digital assets), then that artwork is likely protected by copyright.
3. Do I have to register my NFT with the Copyright Office?
No, you do not have to register your NFT with the Copyright Office. However, registration is recommended because it gives you “constructive” notice of your rights. That means that if someone infringes upon your work, then you can sue them even if they were unaware that they were infringing on your copyright. The registration process is also fairly simple and inexpensive. You can find more information about registering a work at the US Copyright Office website.
4. How long does a copyright last?
Copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. For anonymous works or works made for hire, the copyright lasts for 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter. Copyright can also be renewed during its initial term, and the length of time it is renewed depends on when it was originally registered. For example, if you register your work before it is published (i.e., you have not yet released it to the public), then your copyright will last 28 years from publication or 40 years from creation, whichever is shorter.
5. What are some ways that I can protect my NFTs?
You can protect your NFTs by registering them with a formal agency like the Copyright Office and by including a copyright symbol (©) and a notice of copyright in your artwork (i.e., “Copyright 2017 John Doe” or “All Rights Reserved”). You should also include a contact email address and/or phone number in the copyright notice.
Additionally, you can use a Creative Commons license. While this does not protect your NFT from infringement, it does provide the public with more freedom to use your work without having to ask your permission each time. For example, if you create an NFT using only public domain images and then release it under a Creative Commons license that allows commercial use, then anyone can sell prints of it (i.e., they do not have to ask for your permission).
As discussed previously, registering a work with the Copyright Office is also recommended because it gives you “constructive” notice of your rights. If someone infringes upon your work and they were unaware of its copyright status, then you may be able to sue them even if they were unaware that they were infringing on your copyright. The registration process is also fairly simple and inexpensive. You can find more information about registering a work at the US Copyright Office website.
6. Can I lose my copyright when I sell my art as an NFT?
No. If you sell your NFT to a third party, then you will no longer have any rights to it and the new owner will have complete control over it. However, the copyright that you had over that work is not lost. You are just transferring your ownership rights over it to another person or entity.
7. Can I make an NFT of someone else’s artwork?
Yes, but only if that person gives you permission or if their artwork is in the public domain (i.e., not protected by copyright). If someone’s artwork is protected by copyright and they do not give you permission to make an NFT of it, then you have committed copyright infringement and can be sued for doing so.
8. Can I use someone else’s NFT to create my own new NFT?
Yes, you can use someone else’s NFT to create your own new work as long as you do not modify the original work or use it in a way that has nothing to do with the original work. For example, you could take an existing artwork and crop it or add text and then release it as an NFT. However, you cannot take someone else’s artwork and turn it into something completely different (i.e., using a painting of a horse on a shirt to design a coin is probably infringing).
9. Can I mint an NFT from art that is under the public domain?
Yes, you can. For example, if a work is in the public domain because its copyright has expired (i.e., it was published in 1923 or earlier), then you can create your own NFT from that image. 10. Can I release my own artwork as an NFT?
Yes, you can design your own NFT and release it under a Creative Commons license that allows for commercial use (i.e., CC-BY).