Most NFT Projects ‘Convey No Actual Ownership’: Galaxy Digital Research

Non-fungible token (NFT) holders may not own the intellectual property (IP) rights of the assets they’ve purchased, says Alex Thorn, Galaxy Digital’s head of research.

Thorn, who specializes in development research for the cryptocurrency ecosystem, told CoinDesk TV on Wednesday that “the vast majority of NFT art projects … convey no actual ownership for the underlying content.”

Thorn’s comments reflect a new report from Galaxy Digital, which highlights concerns over NFTs and intellectual property (IP) rights. The report outlines that one of the major problems with NFTs today is that issuers administer them.

Read more: What Are NFTs and How Do They Work?

“When you buy one of these tokens … you’re not buying the media that the metadata points to, you’re actually buying a license from an issuer,” Thorn said on CoinDesk TV’s “First Mover.”

Of the estimated top 25 NFT projects Galaxy Digital considered, the company found that there was only one project, World of Women (WoW), that “even attempts to give true ownership for the underlying artwork,” to token holders. But, according to the report, it is still unclear if the original issuer of a WoW NFT would need to transfer the IP address to a secondary buyer if they were to sell on another marketplace, such as OpenSea.

Even so, because a majority of NFTs “come with a license from the issuer,” the issuer oversees how the license is governed, and ultimately, how token holders can use the content within the license.

Thorn points out this is evident in the Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) licensing agreement, which says that when a person purchases an NFT they “own the underlying Board Ape, the Art, completely.”

“That is objectively false,” he said. “The holder of the token does not own the art completely. If they did, Yuga Labs would not need to provide a license to them.”

Thorn argues that token issuers, including Yuga Labs, which is one the largest NFT issuers, may have actually “misled NFT purchasers as to the intellectual property rights for the content they are selling.”

“Yuga Labs is definitely on the forefront of the permissive commercial use license,” which could be considered “highly restrictive” and for “personal use only,” Thorn said. In a bid to be more transparent, Thorn suggested one possible solution would be to update what users have rights to when they purchase an NFT.

Read more: NFTs Worth $100M Reported Stolen Over Past Year: Elliptic

More broadly, Thorn notes that this can be a problem for users who are looking to “build something very durable.” He adds that “to be clear, these licenses can be changed, revoked or amended anytime, for no reason at all,” he said. And because issuers still hold IP rights, they can make changes “without even notifying the holders of the token.”

In the last year, the NFT artwork ecosystem has risen meteorically, and is now worth upward of $118 billion in value.

Thorn added that NFTs’ value is less than it was months ago, and issuers could determine whether the industry grows further.

“If you think NFTs are this revolution and digital property rights, which many do, we’re a long way off,” Thorn said.

Responding to a CoinDesk request for comment, a Yuga Labs representative said the company didn't "have anything to add on this subject at this time."

Read more: CryptoPunks Briefly Flip Bored Apes as NFT Prices Continue to Crater