You probably don’t own anything.

You probably don’t own anything.

Working in tech, we see a big push towards ‘X as a Service’. If you have ever seen ‘IaaS, PaaS and SaaS’, these stand for Infrastructure, Platform and Software respectively.

The issue is that these concepts have started to take hold in other areas. Gaming as a Service for example refers to providing videogames or game content on a continuing revenue model, similar to SaaS. Microsoft, Sony, Steam – Basically any platform where you digitally download a game operates on this model. At any time they reserve the right to remove that game from their catalogue, which deprives you of the ability to use it.

This was less of a problem for games where you had to buy a physical copy, though even then; any game that required a connection to a server for some of the core functionality was at risk of the owners of that server deciding that the ongoing expense was too much to keep the servers running, effectively making some games completely unplayable – Darkspore and 3SwitcheD being examples of this.

And I know this because I’m something of a gamer myself

Where this really becomes a problem is when other industries start to do the same thing, and as much as I want to rally against some things I personally find abhorrent, let’s talk about something that is still quite relevant.

I have spoken before about the climate issues posed by NFTs, so let’s talk about The Associated Press. Two days ago they made this announcement on their twitter:

will launch a non-fungible token (NFT) marketplace built by blockchain technology provider Xooa, where collectors can purchase the news agency’s award-winning contemporary and historic photojournalism.”

Which was met with a *lot* of backlash. One user, @Qualtrop asked a very poignant question:

If I buy one of your pictures via non fungible token, do I then own that picture, and therefore the right to issue DMCA takedowns against your and others’ use of the picture in articles and elsewhere? If not, what am I buying?

To which Dwayne Desaulniers (Who seems to have been trying to firefight on this announcement a lot, but with PR-language throughout) replied;
We license (loan) our photos for personal or commercial use, so no one past or present ever ‘owns’ one. Blockchain tech helps protect us and artists from digital theft. If u are serious about digital art, NFTs help protect your investment.

So here we are met with a couple of very interesting facts: 1) There seems to be a severe disconnect with the people pushing NFTs between how the technology works and how they *think* it works.

The easiest way to think of the technology is as a card catalogue in a library. It tells you where the books are, but is not the book itself.

In the case of digital ownership (as is the most commonly espoused form of NFTs, though they can be used for things *muuuuuch* cooler) – The NFT is the card that says who the digital asset is owned by, or in this case; who has purchased that digital asset for exclusive use. What would be the point in purchasing the NFT if you do not retain that right otherwise? Much like the card system though, it resides separately from the books on the shelves

This can therefore create issues if the underlying digital asset is deleted or changed on the platform, but also; digital media can be reproduced infinitely and not vary in any way, which is obviously very different for physical, real-world products. In the US at least, there is no such thing as a unique digital media asset because digital media files are legally treated as fungible.

2) When you buy an NFT – What are you buying?

Tangent; The right to repair

As with the XaaS stuff, there is a growing issue with regards to physical goods; for many of them, when you buy them, you have to take it back to the manufacturer to repair, which (from personal experience) can cost more than the item itself did. In the UK and US, there has been a concerted effort to push back on people’s right to be able to repair their own gadgets, which has led to the creation of a ‘self repair manifesto’, one of the prominent points being;

“If you can’t fix it, you don’t own it”

Now this circles back to games and software in that previously, if a game was broken, or if you wanted to play around with it, you could modify it. Knights of the Old Republic 2 for example was rushed and released early, to meet a Christmas release deadline, which led to the community creating a patch which effectively fixed the issues, finished the game and added in some things that were missing from the game.

Compare this with Sea of Thieves – a game where you play the role of a pirate, and just sail around, completing quests, looking other players and occasionally having small stories that you can do – It’s super stripped back, but some of my most relaxing gaming experiences have been sat in this game, just chatting to friends on discord while we all fished. Highly recommend, with a big asterisk:

When the servers one day get turned off for this game, it will be rendered unplayable. Rare (the company who made the game) have refused to release the code that would allow people to set up their own servers, so one day, this game will just be gone.

So in the same way that they were talking about NFTs above, the game is effectively on loan. The phones that I am not allowed to repair without voiding the warranty are effectively on loan, so what is it that people are paying for?

When you buy an NFT, you are paying someone for a line of code, what is known as a hash, you are buying the catalogue card, not the book. You are not buying the digital asset that is linked to the token at all, that would be a separate contract.

The purchase of the token may include, as a matter of contract, other associated rights, and might even include transfer of possession of a digital file of the digital asset, but that depends entirely on the terms of sale for any particular NFT. The range of rights that could flow with the NFT are virtually unlimited, but you don’t need to buy an nft to do it. You could just set that up in a phone call, or an email.

If you remember the story of the Beeple NFT that sold for $69 Million in an auction? it included some display rights, and the artist said that he will work with the purchaser to make a physical copy of the piece, but…

The artist retains copyright in the image and, may retain a copy of the digital file as well.

You know who else has a copy of that image? Everyone who grabbed a screenshot, or saved the picture on the sales platform. Heck, they may have a copy in their cached files without even realising it.

Which gives rise to a phrase which I really, *REALLY* hope does not catch on: NFTs as a Service (or NFTaaS) or NFTs as a Subscription – The practice of the copywrite holder creating an NFT, and leasing the rights to that thing under a continued subscription model. You retain rights to the exclusive use of that thing as long as you pay them a monthly fee, or an annual fee, or whatever, and if not, they will reclaim the NFT.

Cynical, I know, but I see it coming.