Accusations of copied image sparks heated online debate about plagiarism in the NFT space
Scandal rocked the Crypto.Chicks community over the weekend as the internet accused the artist known as Polly of plagiarism. The debate grew heated as people dredged up ancient arguments over ownership, transparency and value.
My stomach clenched in empathy as childhood memories surfaced of an impending telling-off. ‘Our first step is to hear from Polly as soon as she wakes up, as its (sic) 6am in Russia.’ Poor Polly. She slept innocently, unaware of the turn her weekend was about to take.
This story is straightforward: a young creator/entrepreneur/artist copied another artist’s work and tried to pass it off as their own for material gain. As you can see below, the drawing on the left is by Amanda, a Brazilian artist. The image on the right is Polly’s.
Crypto.Chick #2 originally sold for 0.04 ETH back on July 16th 2021. And as the project grew in popularity, the NFT was resold for 10 ETH ($25,696) in January of this year. Two days ago, during the scandal, the NFT was resold again, this time at a loss, for four ETH ($11,058). The new owner has relisted the item for 500 ETH ($1,360,030) on OpenSea. If it sells at that price, it proves, beyond any doubt, that all publicity is good publicity.
Smoothing over the cracks
It should be noted that Polly released a statement claiming ‘she wasn’t familiar with Amanda or any of the other artists who created such original work.’ But the resemblance between the two works is undoubtedly striking and Polly has been duly discharged of her duties with Crypto.Chicks.
The all-woman NFT collective has also put out their own message, condemning the plagiarism and reaffirming their ‘values of honesty [and] integrity’. The statement also reassured collectors, investors and ‘brand partners’ that despite this unfortunate bump in the road, there is a ‘path forward’ for this NFT project.
New NFT projects raise age-old questions around ownership in art
Worryingly for Crypto.Chicks, this wasn’t the first time that someone raised the issue of plagiarism in relation to this specific image. On November 3rd 2021, someone on Twitter noticed the similarity between Polly’s three-eyed girl and Amanda’s earlier one. Questions must be asked about why Crypto.Chicks management didn’t deal with the problem then.
And while this particular episode seems to be a cut and dry example of plagiarism, it does raise an interesting discussion around the issue of ownership in blockchain art. As a frontier technology with relatively few codified laws, market forces and mob pressure are the two most effective tools we have to govern people’s behavior. Nothing decides the fate of an NFT collection like a morally righteous Twitter pile-on.
Attribution, ownership and originality are battlegrounds that have been fiercely contested for as long as art’s been a commercial enterprise. Now it’s an issue that the digital world, where anonymity is both a blessing and a curse, will have to confront as the sums of money involved grow bigger. Who will police this space? What laws can be created that cross international borders? And where will the line be drawn to separate homage from infringement, and allusion from theft?