Imagine a new dimension for works of plastic arts, in which, in addition to all the works of art in the world, they can be reproduced in an immaterial environment, without being embodied in a physical support (canvas, paper, marble, wood, etc.). Add the fact that some of them can be created and marketed as original works.
The recent case of the artist Beeple illustrates this hypothesis. An intangible work was sold by Christie's Auction House for US$69 million on 3.11.2021 (https://www.christies.com/features/Monumental-collage-by-Beeple-is-first-purely-digital-artwork-NFT-to-come-to-auction-11510-7.aspx) . A work of art created through the “collage” of thousands of virtual images, all in a JPG file (short for Joint Photographic Experts Group, creator of this type of file, see jpeg.org), which only exists in a virtual world.
How is this possible? The evolution of the immaterial world is evident, accelerated by the pandemic that forces us to live in a virtual Agora.
If we are not aware of this change, it is enough to remember that the shares of the companies in which we are partners are not represented by paper certificates, they are intangible records held in virtual banks; online money transfers do not involve the remittance of banknotes from one bank to another, only electronic records; we declare income tax online, without a stamp on the paper declaration; we listen to music, usually on Spotify, increasingly rare CD and LP, cassette tape is archaeological; more and more we read books in e-books, or listen through audiobooks, without the physical support of paper. What circulates are electronic impulses, codes, passwords, which represent money, musical notes, documents, paper money, etc.
Blockchain and DEFI
In 2008, a technology appeared that allows recording the course of this information with great security and precision, so that ownership of a certain intangible asset can be attributed, transferred, and followed in terms of its connection to people. This is the blockchain system.
Virtual currencies, based on DeFi, an abbreviation for “decentralized finance” began to be used in these systems. They are not created by governments or institutions, they comply with market rules and are spreading worldwide, like Ethereum, Bitcoin.
They can be used as currencies for financial transactions, such as loans, as well as for the purchase of physical goods. “The CEO of electric car maker Tesla, Elon Musk, announced this Wednesday (24) that people will be able to buy the vehicles using bitcoins, the main cryptocurrency on the market.” (O Globo, 03.24.2021).
Anyone who lends one hundred dollars to someone expects to receive the same one hundred dollars, but not necessarily the same bill representing the amount that was lent; can be other banknotes or an electronic remittance.
In the physical world, if I lend someone 1 kg of coffee, I do not expect to receive back the same package I delivered, with the same weight and content, because it will be consumed. I will be refunded with product equal in weight, but equivalent in characteristics and dimensions. It is a fungible good, that is, it can be replaced by another of equal quality, without loss of substance.
If I already lend a book by the Rolling Stones with Mick Jagger's original autograph to me, the recipient is obliged to return that very book. There is no other like it. That good borrowed must be the same to be repaid, within the term and under the same conditions. This autographed book has unique characteristics, it cannot be replaced; it is infungible.
The basic characteristic of intangible goods is their reproducibility, generally without loss of quality. A photo of the Mona Lisa, taken in extremely high resolution, circulates on the internet by the millions. Check out, for example, the reproductions of the extraordinarily rich Google Arts and Culture (https://artsandculture.google.com/) .
Let us suppose, however, that in one, only one, of these millions of reproductions, it was possible to add an invisible, secret code, declaring to be that set of digital symbols grouped together, that digital file, the official reproduction of the Mona Lisa for the purpose of confrontation with fakes.
This archive, then, would have an identity, a singularity, a distinction in relation to the others; it would be “THE” Mona Lisa file, it would be equivalent to a ... digital original.
So, we go back to the chain of identification of intangible goods, from the blockchain, and we arrive at the NFT – Non Fungible Token. What is NFT? Basically, a digital certificate, impossible to be copied or falsified, which attests to the existence of a certain asset, making it non-fungible. It would be an immaterial stamp on the work, but fully visible, identifiable, traceable and with attribution of property.
Thus, a digital photograph of the singer Madonna, which has an NFT certificate attesting that that photo, “encoded” and expressed in a certain JPG file, is the original, it is the reference, it will be unique. Even though there may be the same files all over the world, that one is “A” photo of that theme, because it has a code, a “virtual watermark” linked only to it on the blockchain. It would be the digital original.
There may even be printed photos too, but in the virtual world, that one will be the only one.
So, technology got the immaterial world to almost completely reproduce – sometimes enhance – the real world.
Again! E books, digital music files, JPEGS, MPEGS, holograms, avatars, project the real world in the dimension of the immaterial
In the world of plastic arts, this reproduction is possible. Since Nam June Paik, artists have also used digital tools to create their products. Websites, holograms, electronic sounds, converting sounds into images in a Blender (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8RHRNZQEuE).
In the material sphere, a plastic artist creates paintings or sculptures in canvas and marble and issues a certificate of authenticity linked to each of these works. But you can also create them in intangible support and link an NFT to each one. Thus, it is possible for works to coexist in the real world to be displayed on a wall or pedestals, but also in the immaterial world, to be reproduced on appropriate screens, as in the Meural digital (Meural Digital Canvas - Digital Art Frame | NETGEAR) screen system that reproduces its digital works in a programmed sequence, on an electronic screen affixed to the wall.
And these immaterial works are inextricably linked to an NFT, such as Beeple's, mentioned at the beginning, which give it a character of singularity, individuality, in short, exclusivity. In addition, the registration of ownership and authenticity of these works, immaterial movable assets, is attested in the blockchain, preventing counterfeiting and “theft.”
Protection of intangible works by law
The Brazilian copyright law considers copyright movable assets (art. 3) and protects immaterial works, in its art. 7th:
“Art. 7º Protected intellectual works are creations of the spirit, expressed by any means or fixed in any support, TANGIBLE OR intangible, known or invented in the future, such as:”
The same goes for the corresponding laws in Italy, France, and Portugal, which also protect intangible works, such as e-books.
It is demonstrated that there is legal protection for intangible works in Brazilian Law, but always subject to the principle of authorization by the author or holder (art. 29).
Transfer of goods
For the transfer of immovable property, Brazilian law requires a registration. As for movable property, there is no such requirement; tangible movable property (sculpture, painting) is transmitted through tradition, through delivery, and a record is not essential. A register is then created for immaterial works of art, which is enormously useful.
In addition to identifying the authorship of the work, its authenticity and ownership, the registration allows other uses, such as, for example, giving the work as a guarantee for a loan obligation, and even registering the author's participation in the resale of the work, if agreed.
Finally, an exceptional use that intangible works can offer. Copyright protects works of art, even if… they disappear. Thus, for example, the painting Samba, by Di Cavalcanti, unfortunately destroyed in a fire, can have immaterial life if the work is reproduced and authenticated by NFT.
The same can happen, in my opinion, with the works lost in the sad fire of 26.3 in São Paulo. The works can then be created by the authors, marketed, transfers registered, in short, a new, immaterial life.
So intangible works certified with an NFT may have the characteristics of (a) faithfulness in relation to the physical work, (b) circulation in the market, (c) difficulty of forgery, (d) preservation of memory, and (e) being subject to the valuation by the market.
A very recent example of these characteristics is at the Superchief gallery in New York (https://www.businessinsider.com/new-york-gallery-display-nft-art-crypto-art-2021-3) , which opened on 25.3 an exhibition of works of art certified by NFT and displayed on high resolution digital screens.
Innovation is spreading at the speed of the internet. The potential of NFTs seems to be endless.
* * *
The immaterial world expands irreversibly. In business, in everyday habits of reading and playing music, and now in the world of the arts, human skills are absorbed and transposed into this new dimension, which coexists with the palpable world.
In general, the path of this technology and the uses of NFT in relation to works of art were exposed. A new dimension presents itself, with countless opportunities and novelties, which challenge the law, the arts market and the whole of society.