What rights do NFT artists have? Katarina Feder from ARSNL tells us more

As art evolves, so too the rights of artists.

TEXT MARK LEAN

IMAGES KATARINA FEDER

In the wild west of Web3, virtual saloon slinging matches often take place on Twitter. Most times, the issues are about how artists and collectors navigate the current NFT space. Sometimes, comments are diplomatic; other times they are not. The central tangent of these discussions are often about intellectual property rights, and how these would—or could—apply when it comes to art on blockchain.

 

But given that NFTs as a medium is still rapidly shape-shifting, one might wonder if the role of artists is changing too. And to what extents, contexts and degrees? Brytehall taps the mind of Katarina Feder, Vice President and Director of Business Development for ARS (Artists Rights Society), as well as founder and CEO of its spinoff NFT platform ARNSL, to find out what potentially goes on behind the scenes for artists once their creative processes are complete, and how much control they have over their work once sold.

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Katarina Feder

Would you tell us more about your work with ARSNL?

Happily! ARSNL is a company that we formed out of ARS. For some background: ARS is a 35-year-old company that represents the intellectual property interests of over 120,000 artists worldwide; among them Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, Frank Lloyd Wright, Jenny Holzer, George Condo, Mickalene Thomas and so on.  

 

When the Christie’s sold their blockbuster Beeple ‘Everydays: the first 5000 days’ NFT, I had been leading business development at ARS. Perhaps not surprisingly, I started to receive inquiries about NFTs, from our member artists as well as from third parties who wanted to license the work of our members for their own projects. Fairly quickly it became apparent that many of these third parties really did not understand intellectual property and the rules surrounding it. Additionally, many projects presented to us seemed more concerned with cashing in on a new trend than they were in expanding the artists oeuvre, audience or legacy. It was clear that there was a hole that only we could fill. From there, ARSNL was born.

As creatives working within Web3 are global, are there plans to introduce protocols that protect the rights of artists unilaterally?

We are exploring ways to reflect copyright and licensing information on chain. We hope to create the standards and protocols for intellectual property protection, accessible to all artists around the world.  

 

We believe that creators are entitled to remuneration for the subsequent resale of their work, and that this right should be given to all artists, regardless of what country they were born to or reside in. ARS has long fought to establish the resale royalty through legislation it introduced in Congress. Automation of resale royalties and the cultural adoption it has had in the crypto market is a huge win for creator’s rights, and it is part of the reason we are so excited about Web3.

How would you describe the role and function of an artist in the NFT space?

Any ‘art’ project begins and ends with the artist. Our first drop, entitled ‘Geometries’, features 20 new works by iconic American artist Frank Stella. As early as the 1980s, Stella leveraged digital technologies—CAD and 3D printing—to create his sculptural work. ‘Geometries’ was born organically, and in many ways, it can be seen as the culmination of Frank’s 30-year dialogue with computation. Every bit of this project is true to Frank Stella.

Are there ways in which this role has changed from that of an artist in the conventional art space?

An artist’s primary concern is to create art. Their second concern is to try to get their art seen. 

 

This fundamental paradigm has not shifted, but Web3 does provide a level of transparency and accessibility for artists and collectors. Artists in the Web3 space know how to be their own managers and agents. They tend to rely less on gallerists and publicists, which results in two things: a greater level of control over their work and narrative, and much more time spent on self-promotion.

What have been the most concerns you have encountered when it comes to artists working within the NFT medium so far? What is clarity most needed for?

The pervasive pirating of existing intellectual property is a huge problem in the space—for artists as well as for collectors. Additionally, there is a fundamental lack of understanding when it comes intellectual property rights, and it can be difficult for a buyer to understand what rights transfer with the purchase of their NFT.  

The pervasive pirating of existing intellectual property is a huge problem in the space—for artists as well as for collectors.” – Katarina Feder

There is so much confusion across various projects regarding what rights accompany NFTs. This has only been exacerbated by the recent trend of giving away the intellectual property of an NFT with purchase. Some projects transfer the IP, but not the trademark; some encourage purchasers to manipulate the works to create “derivatives”; others stipulate that any transformative work be disavowed, and so on and so forth. 

 

For our initial drop with Frank Stella, the copyright will remain with Stella, but the right to create derivatives—in the form of 3D prints and augmented work—will accompany the NFT. These rights will be clearly articulated within the terms which will accompany each NFT. Our hope is to build trust with artists and collectors.