Is it illegal to save or screenshot an NFT image?
You may wonder, is it illegal to save or screenshot an NFT image? The short answer is yes. To wrap around this legality, it is important to understand the copyright laws that govern NFT images.
NFT works such as Beeple Everyday: The First 5000 Days sold for $69 million. Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO, sold his first tweet for $2.9 million. The most expensive CryptoPunk 5822 sold for $23.7 million and now belongs to Deepak Thapliyal, Chain’s CEO. Can you save or screenshot these NFT works? Let’s first understand the intellectual property rights that these pieces have.
Intellectual property and copyright right laws of NFTs
An NFT (non-fungible token) is a digital and intangible asset that is recorded on a blockchain. They can trade it in and have a digital certificate (smart contract) that can be viewed publicly to verify its intellectual property. NFTs derive their value from being “non-fungible” meaning they cannot be replaced, copied, substituted, or subdivided.
So what protects NFTs? For now, there is no explicit law that is covering NFTs. Currently, they are under copyright law that protects arts. Under the US copyright law, the creator of a piece of art automatically has the first rights to their creation.
The law also covers the right to reproduce copies of the original artwork, the right to control the sale, transfer, and licensing of the copyright, and the right to control the creation of additional works inspired by the original.
Other than copyright laws, NFTs are covered with smart contracts. A smart contract is a computer program that is stored in a blockchain that runs when preset conditions are met. It is used to automate the implementation of an agreement without an intermediary.
With NFTs, owners of NFTs can indicate the precise rights that they wish to transfer when they sell their NFTs. For example, an NFT seller can stipulate on their smart contract whenever there is a resale of their NFT, they collect a 10% royalty.
Sale and purchase of an NFT
When an NFT is sold, assuming the seller is also the owner of the intellectual property rights of the NFT, they can transfer the rights to the buyer. However, they must expressly write this on the smart contract. Otherwise, it is not assumed intellectual property and copyrights are automatically transferred upon sale.
For example, Jack Dorsey did not transfer the copyright of the tweet he sold. So, the buyer cannot, for example, print and put the tweet on a t-shirt. If they would like to print the tweet, they would have to go back to Jack Dorsey and seek those rights. Typically, most sellers of NFTs do not sell their intellectual property rights.
Differences between screenshotting an NFT image vs owning the NFT
In traditional art, the owner of-the-art works control who can see the artwork. With digital art, that is different. Since it lives on the internet, anyone can save and/or screenshot an NFT. To save an NFT, you’d “right-click, save” just like any other image on the internet. To take a screenshot you would press the Print Screen button and you’ll have it in your gallery.
How saving/screenshotting is different from owning
Saving or screenshotting an NFT does not prove ownership of the NFT. You cannot sell it on the blockchain and have no rights to reproduce or commercial use the NFT. Additionally, you can’t benefit from members-only events, can’t verify Twitter profile picture NFT, and there is no appreciation of your screenshot NFT image.
By owning an NFT you can resell it, your NFT may appreciate in value, you can verify your Twitter profile NFT, and if you have the copyright of the NFT you can reproduce or use it commercially.
Zach Burks, CEO & Founder of Mintable explains the concept of saving/screenshotting an NFT. He says,
Taking a picture of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre is not exactly the same as owning a piece from Leonardo da Vinci. The same concept can be applied to NFTs for digital artwork. By taking a screenshot of an NFT, does not make you the rightful owner of the artwork.Zach Burks, Mintable.
By taking a picture of the Monalisa, you get to enjoy it at your leisure later on. But you don’t own it. If you’d like to enjoy an NFT or even draw inspiration from it, it is legal to save it on your computer. However, just like taking the picture of the Monalisa, you don’t own the NFT.
What is legal and illegal when it comes to saving NFTs
Technically, there are good arguments for screenshotting NFTs being considered copyright infringement, even if it is for personal non-commercial use. However, the concept of “implied license” allows a certain use of copyrighted material within reason. This legal concept states that if an image is on the internet and you can right-click and save the image, then copying/saving the image for personal use is permissible under the concept of implied license.
Applying this to NFTs, if NFT creators took measures to prevent the saving of the NFT images like disabling right-click save, then it would be illegal to save an NFT. In this case, the implied license would not exist, and circumventing protection mechanisms, this case, will be unlawful.
Extreme cases where saving an NFT can be illegal
Saving an NFT is illegal if you choose to profit out of the NFT, or pass it as your own. It would be considered an infringement of the copyrights of the NFT, and the creator can press charges.
Where NFTs are saved vs. where screenshots are saved
When you right-click on an NFT and click “Save image as…” you get to save it on your computer. When you take a screenshot, it gets saved in your pictures file. In both cases, it saves the images on your computer or phone.
As for NFTs, they are saved on the blockchain which is immutable and distributed. The NFTs are protected under a smart contract that shows the owner of the NFT.
Moving Beyond The Right-Click Save NFT Culture
When Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian had an avatar of an NFT he had bought of a slack-jawed ape wearing a propeller hat, someone trolled him and captioned, “Mine now.”
The user “copied”/ “stole” Ohanian’s NFT, which he had bought for more than $7,000 in June 2021. Ohanian was actually delighted with the user and replied “PLEASE! Right-click save as. Make a shirt of it. Share it with the world. Original Mona Lisa only gets more valuable every time it’s copied and shared.”
However, not everyone is as kind as Mr. Ohanian. Some owners of NFTs are miffed at the “right-clickers”, an insult that they come up with. The NFT community is divided on this. However, as the NFT community grows, the “etiquette” of saving and screenshotting NFTs will emerge.
Some solutions that are coming up are, for example, Twitter is developing a feature that will verify an NFT avatar and make sure the profile is that of the actual owner. Another way is NFTs with very active communities are calling out, and even dogpiling “right-clickers” which is proving to be quite effective.