Your NFT is Probably a Copy of a Copy of a Copy… (even if it's legit)

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 2 min read

Slidebean's latest video about NFTs:

You can take Paul's Photoshop file and copy it, reproduce it, and it wouldn't lose a single pixel of quality, but there's still only one original file; the one that Paul Campion worked on when he was producing Lord of the Rings all those years ago. That is special, that is unique, and that is non-fungible.

Maybe this is me reading too technically into it, but this is flatly untrue, and it's untrue of every single NFT out there. It's pedantic, maybe, but if we're talking about digital authenticity and there being "one true file" then I think it's important to understand what's happening here.

So let's say Paul Campion lists one of these Photoshop files on an NFT marketplace. He has the original file and wants to sell it to a fan. He lists it on a marketplace, and he may have to upload the file to the marketplace so that when a customer buys the work, they can instantly download the file they paid for.

But here's the thing, Paul Campion had one file he wanted to sell, and now there are 3 files.

  • Paul has the original
  • The marketplace has a copy of the original
  • The buyer has a copy of the marketplace's copy

Even if it's a peer-to-peer sale and there's no middle-man, the buyer is still getting a copy of Paul's file, not the original.

The only way someone could legitimately buy the original file is to buy the computer that Paul has it stored on, since then you don't need to make a copy. Although even then you're getting a copy if Paul has upgraded computers since 2001 and he's copied it to another machine (or two or three or ten…).

Now if you want to say that the many versions of the file don't matter, then fine, it's all about having a record of you being the owner of the file (even though you lack things like copyright or distribution rights). I would just say that we need to be precise in how we talk about this stuff.

P.S. If I'm off the mark here and there is a way to get the original file, not a copy, from a seller, then let me know, but everything I know about computers tells me this is wrong and NFTs are being fundamentally mis-sold on this premise.