Change is on the horizon: over the last year, high-profile NFT projects like Nouns, Blitmap, Moonbirds, Chain Runners, Loot, Goblintown, mfers, and Shields and artists like XCOPY have been making their NFT copyright “no rights reserved,” effectively allowing anyone to use the works in any way and profit from their derivatives.
By issuing their NFT artwork through the “Creative Commons Zero” (“cc0”) license, creators can “allow” anyone to remix, reimagine, and reissue their work, even for monetary gain (whether the person buys an NFT or not). The trend is being dubbed the “cc0 summer” and is leaving many NFT creators wondering if they should be following suit.
So should they? To answer this question, let’s look into why creators are opting to waive all legal rights to their work, the benefits, drawbacks, and whether or not it’s something worth considering for your NFT collection.
Why are people issuing digital works through cc0?
The underlying philosophy of blockchain technology and web3 is based on the idea of a decentralized ecosystem made up of composable on-chain applications (smart contracts) that opens up new opportunities for everyone while eliminating any centralized control or governance of the platform.
These core pillars of decentralization and composability are part of what’s driving the move to cc0 licensing (as well as a number of other reasons for applying cc0):
At a fundamental level, manyWeb3 enthusiasts feel that to stay in line with the core philosophy of the movement, they should also relinquish legal control of their work, leaving on-chain data as the single source of truth for ownership of digital assets.
Put simply, they don’t want any central government or legal systems meddling in anything, including protecting their own rights to their work. Thus, legally, by releasing cc0 NFTs, they’re making it available to anyone to do whatever they want with it, and relying on the decentralized ledger of the blockchain as the only record of true ownership of the original work.
Programs on the blockchain, also known as “smart contracts” are often built to be “composable.” That is, many of their functions can be publicly called, allowing anyone to integrate them into their own applications or use multiple smart contracts together to build something new.
Just as many DeFi protocols are built upon invoking public functions from existing smart contracts and combining them in innovative ways, some NFT creators feel that they should open up the opportunity for anyone to create derivative works.
In this way, composability would be implemented into the creative side of the blockchain community, whereby anyone could create spinoff collections, merchandise, video games, etc. using characters or images from existing NFT collections.
This also allows communities around NFT collections to build additional components based on the original work to be used in the original or parallel ecosystems. For gaming platforms built around NFT collections, this essentially creates an open-source environment for the community to build extensions and expansions that original genesis NFT holders can automatically leverage with their tokens. The NFTs themselves are static, but the universes and characters built around them are limitless and can be endlessly iterated by an active community.
What are the benefits of cc0 for NFTs?
Beyond the philosophical underpinnings of the movement, issuing digital works through cc0 does theoretically hold some benefits for creators.
One of the biggest benefits of selling cc0 NFTs for creators is simply the fact that you can instantly avoid any legal matters around your work in one fell swoop. No need to worry about the particularities of how to license anything, terms and conditions, copyright infringement (or really copyright law at all). If you don’t want to deal with any legal “nonsense,” cc0 is a good way to avoid it (while waiving many of your rights to your creation).
The remix chain reaction
If you create a successful NFT collection issued using cc0 and encourage the community to create derivatives of your work, theoretically, every subsequent remix or reimagining of your work could cumulatively add to the original collection’s notoriety and value. Allowing an NFT to be used in whatever form by anyone who wants to could theoretically create a snowball effect that benefits everyone involved. Spinoff merch, collections, narratives, etc. can all contribute to cash flow for creators and NFT holders, and so eliminating the exclusivity of the intellectual property (IP) rights can actually be lucrative.
Modular community building
Releasing a collection through cc0 can allow NFT communities to build extensions and parallel ecosystems based on and interacting with your original NFTs. Leaving the construction and iteration of virtual universes up to the community can be a powerful catalyst for organic growth and engagement, and would not be possible with more restrictive licensing schemes. Many collections are already leveraging cc0 to encourage their communities to build modular add-ons and spinoffs to their platforms, and if you want to play the long game with the goal of creating a flourishing and active community of builders around your project, cc0 is a powerful tool that enables you to do so.
What are the drawbacks of cc0 for NFTs?
So far we’ve mostly been highlighting the benefits and opportunities that cc0 enables, but releasing your work into the public domain forever can obviously have some significant drawbacks, depending on your business model and goals.
Your rights to your work are severely limited (duh).
“No rights reserved” means neither you nor anyone else has any rights to claim any ownership over any aspect of your work. Some random Joe Shmoe could take your NFT’s image and make a TV show that goes on to earn billions of dollars in revenue, and nope, you wouldn’t be able to claim a cent of it.
It’s difficult to earn money off something you don’t own.
The reason copyright and IP law exists is to help creators protect their work and get their fair share of any money that is made off of it. By bypassing all copyright protection, nothing is guaranteed. Sure, it would be great if your NFT collection’s community went viral through a meme spinoff campaign which in turn caused the NFTs themselves and your royalties to skyrocket. But it’s not the most secure go-to-market strategy.
Now that we’ve considered the pros and cons of cc0, the clear takeaway as to whether or not YOU should release your collection through cc0 is:
If you want to focus on community and encourage them to create derivative works in hopes of achieving maximum reach and impact in the long-term, then cc0 might be a route for you to consider.
Just to be clear, it also might not drive any exposure, or if it does, you might not reap the benefits.
However, what cc0 doesn’t facilitate is protection of your IP and monetization of your work. If you want to control the rights to your work in any way and retain the ability to legally address knock-offs, derivatives, or unfair use, then cc0 is not the license for you.
Not to mention, a study conducted several years ago showed that cc0 artwork is perceived to be less valuable than something that must be purchased. So IP protection has the psychological effect on consumers of adding perceived value to your work, whereas cc0 artwork is perceived to be free, available-for-all, and thus worthless to many people.
It is our humble opinion at Artiffine that slightly more restrictive NFT licenses that clearly specify the conditions for personal or commercial use will probably be more suitable for the majority of projects being launched these days.
We cannot full heartedly recommend cc0 for any reason other than to free yourself from the burden of having to deal with any legal matters.
Want to learn more about NFT licenses? Check out our article on the topic.
The idealistic notions of sparking viral exposure, bypassing traditional legal systems by using the blockchain as the one true registry of ownership, or implementing composability into NFT artwork, really don’t hold up for us, legally or otherwise.
Need help creating an NFT license?
If you want to clearly specify how your work can be used by NFT holders in the future, our legal team can help. As founding members of the Harvard NFT Task Force and members of the CC licenses executive board, we are experts in intellectual property law and uniquely qualified to create legally sound and enforceable customized NFT licenses for any use case. If you need help, reach out, and we’ll be happy to help.