IP theft for a good cause

Casimir Stone
March 8, 2022

The claim that NFTs will revolutionize ownership rights is currently being tested in the most depressing way imaginable. Andy Parker, the father of late journalist Alison Parker, murdered on air by a former colleague, has minted the viral video as a ‘Hail Mary’ to force big tech companies to remove it from their platforms. The latest in a long series of Parker’s efforts — including organizing a flagging campaign, filing federal complaints, and literally running for congress — shines a light on the weaknesses of web2 platforms and the web3 tech supposedly addressing them. 

The logic behind the move is that platforms like Facebook and YouTube are far more likely to limit harmful content when it violates copyright law (read: invokes the threat of being sued). Ironically, one of the few pros to centralized content providers — the capability to deplatform genuinely hurtful content — is rarely exercised except under legal duress. So, while the copyright of the original video is still owned by the CBS affiliate that initially aired it, Parker has turned to the decentralized web for help.

Parker minted a download of the video as an NFT in hopes it could provide the same legal foundation for a lawsuit as a traditional copyright claim. It’s a hope shared by many crypto evangelists who believe permanent ownership records in on-chain ledgers — represented by NFTs — could serve as legal protection for intellectual property without having to go through government-controlled channels. And, given the profile of the case and the lack of legal precedent, there’s a chance Parker could win and set a new one in the process.

It’s the desired outcome in this specific case, obviously, as I personally believe a father should never be at risk of stumbling upon a video of his daughter’s death with hundreds of thousands of Zuckerberg-approved views. It’s less clear if it’d be a desirable outcome in terms of the emerging legal landscape on the blockchain. Unchecked IP theft abounds in NFT marketplaces, with many top selling projects being allegedly and/or openly plagiaristic. A court determining an NFT of a provably copyrighted video to be a viable IP claim would surely only exacerbate this.

Then again, it’s not clear if IP theft in the traditional sense is even something web3 is capable of curbing. A fully decentralized web3 would leave no overseers in place to remove plagiarized content. The gatekeepers of the current space, like OpenSea, tend to favor the web2 playbook anyway — hands off, unless the content is explicitly fascist, or at least, fascist enough to generate significant press and impact their bottom line. And a self-policed blockchain-based Internet would look about the same as the one we have now, where dangerous content is ostracized from the mainstream, but widely circulated in fringe channels.

So, it’s more worthwhile, in my opinion, to excise ‘ownership’ from the conversation entirely. It’s the Internet, after all, where every creation/thought/meme seems to spring out fully formed from the cultural cesspool, without a single creator to assign credit to. Which, in reality, is probably the way it’s always been. (Don’t believe me, ask Shakespeare. Or Jesus.) NFTs — like bone clubs, electricity, or cryptocurrency — are nothing more than a new tool for creative minds to use to shape the world their way, whether it be into a memetic free-for-all, a drug money laundromat, or, in the rare case of Andy Parker, a slightly less depressing place.

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