05/08/2022 Why Ethereum NFT Creators Are Giving Away Commercial Rights—To Everyone

As Moonbirds and XCOPY artwork both transition to CC0 licenses, here’s a look at why creators are embracing the public domain.

Moonbirds (left) and XCOPY's artwork are entering the public domain. Image: Proof/XCOPY
Moonbirds (left) and XCOPY's artwork are entering the public domain. Image: Proof/XCOPY

Moonbirdsis one of 2022’smost successful NFT projects, yielding more than half a billion dollars’ worth of trading volume in a matter of months. Buying one will cost youat least $29,000 worth of ETHas of this writing. But its creators have now decided that you won’t have to own a Moonbird to use its imagery.

Proof—theWeb3startup behind the Proof CollectiveNFTgroup and Moonbirds—announced that it will transition Moonbirds and the recentOdditiesNFT collections to a CC0, orCreative Commons Zero, license.

Effectively, it means that no rights are reserved by the creators, and it puts the artwork into the public domain. As a result, anyone can use the Moonbirds or Oddities artwork and likenesses to create and sell derivative projects, merchandise, apparel—anything.

Proof co-founder Kevin Rose, tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist,posted a Twitter threadwith the news today, starting off by noting his co-creation of social platform Digg in 2004. The Web2 veteran said that Digg’s pioneering features were quickly mimicked and iterated upon by competing platforms.

“The default gut reaction is to protect what you’ve created,” wrote Rose. “But Web3 is a chance to reboot and reexamine everything back to first principles. A chance to say that others don’t have to fail for us to win. A chance to be more inclusive and open to all.”

Like other CC0 projects, Moonbirds will rely on the provenance of theEthereum blockchain to prove that the NFTs are the original creations. “The authenticity of Moonbirds will not come from lawyers enforcing trademarks,” Rose wrote, “but rather from the proven provenance and single source of truth ofsmart contracts.”

Proof’s announcement comes just days after pseudonymous crypto artistXCOPY tweetedthat they would also open up all of their previous artwork to public domain.

XCOPY makes a very different kind of NFT artwork than Moonbirds—their specialty is single-edition digital illustrations that havesold for millions of dollars apiece.XCOPY had previously put their “Right Click, Save As Guy” artwork—which sold for nearly $7.1 million worth of ETH in December 2021—into the public domain.

On Monday, XCOPY wrote that their“summer.jpg” artworkwould also be given CC0 status… along with everything else they made that’s not a collaboration.

“We haven’t really seen a CC0 summer yet, but I believe it’s coming,” XCOPY wrote, “I’m going to go ‘all in’ and apply CC0 [to] all my existing art.”

Why CC0?

Proof and XCOPY are the latest major Ethereum NFT creators to tap into the growing CC0 movement, but they aren’t alone.Nouns, a novel NFT project that auctions a single NFT per day and gives owners voting rights to a valuableDAO treasury, isarguably the best-known CC0 projectin the space.

Nouns’ imagery, including the boxy “Noun glasses,” can be used for all manner of derivative NFT projects—and it has, if Lil’ Nouns, 3D Nouns, and NounPunks are any indication. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, and we’re seeing the Nouns aesthetic spread into merchandise and other avenues as the one-year anniversary of itslaunch approaches.

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In fact, the Nouns glasses werefeatured in a Bud Light commercialduring the last Super Bowl. The Bud Light brandowns a Nouns NFTand participates in DAO votes, but it didn’t have to own the NFT to use the glasses in the commercial. That might be an unexpected twist, but it aligns well with the decentralized, open-source ethos of the Web3 movement.

“You don’t need copyright anymore,” Nouns co-creator4156toldDecryptlast November. “In the same way that academic citations make the original paper more important, citation of Nouns in whatever form they come in—at least, this is our thesis—will make the originals more important and more valuable.”

In other words, in the view of 4156 and many other CC0 advocates, the growing use and proliferation of the IP should accrue value back to the original NFT creations, rather than take away from them. In fact, the goal is to spread the imagery far and wide, like memes.

But there are NFT owners that potentially benefit from that open-source IP expansion.

“CC0+NFT does for media whatBitcoindid for currency: it transforms an adversarial game into a co-operative one,”4156 tweetedin May, as noted by anextensive a16z Crypto explainerof the CC0 movement published on Wednesday.

It’s a grand experiment, and with Nouns, it’s only been a year. On the other hand, Nouns imagery has already gotten exposure during a Super Bowl broadcast. And beyond openly enabling and encouraging derivative works, the Nouns DAO continually uses its vast treasury to fund projects that help further expand and spread the IP.

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The Nouns auction and DAO model is unique, but there are many other CC0 projects out there, includingGoblintown,CrypToadz, Mfers, Anonymice, and Blitmap. Loot is anotherwell-known example of the concept, as the NFT lists of fantasy gear can be used as the basis for all sorts of projects—including games and narrative products.

Unlike those projects, Moonbirds didn’t start as a CC0 project: it’s opening up to the public, regardless of what the thousands of NFT owners think. Rose, for his part, appears to be at peace with the idea of handing over the keys to… well, anyone and everyone.

“We can’t change our minds,” he tweeted. “We’re rooting for you and can’t wait to help promote and support all your creative endeavors.”