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  • S Fetouh and M Bacina

Putting a (safety)pin in it: reviewing the CryptoPunks NFT licence

Updated: May 3

Yuga Labs, recent purchasers of the IP in popular NFT project CryptoPunks, today announced terms of use governing the intellectual property rights that Punk holders enjoy. We unpack those terms below.

Yuga Labs is going to continue to hold the intellectual property rights in the CryptoPunk art associated with a Punk, including all rights, title, and interest in and to such art, such as copyrights, trade marks and other intellectual property. This is a fairly sensible approach and commonly seen in NFT projects.

Prior to the acquisition, there was a bit of debate in the community as Punks were sold without any licence whatsoever initially, and in 2019 it seems Larva Labs adopted the Nifty Licence for the project (but whether that is legally binding is unclear).

There had been some situations of Punks being used in derivative works, such as the CryptoPhunks project, with DMCA takedown requests being issued around certain Punks (but not others).

From this new position of clarity Yuga Labs provides Punk holders with a licence to use the associated art corresponding to their owned NFT for as long as they own that Punk. The licence allow the holders to 'reproduce, distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit', and even create derivative works from the NFTs, so works based on the artwork associated with the Punk can be made. The licence also allow holders to make use of the artwork for both commercial and non-commercial purposes, in any media.

This means that the owner of a Punk can do all sorts of things, including making other products and services and selling them, involving their Punk, but upon sale of their Punk, can no longer make those derivative works or objects.

There is a twist, that Punk holders own and hold any rights to any derivative works in accordance with United States copyright legislation, which opens up the licence to any decisions or changes of law in the US.

Some more restrictions apply, including:-

  • The licence to the artwork only extends to the artwork as a whole, and not to the traits of each Punk, so Punk holders have to exploit the whole art, and not the 12 pixels which make up the hairpiece, for example;

  • Any registration of trademarks in derivative works have to be lodged while the holder owns the Punk used in those works and have "actually been used in commerce";

  • No use of derivative works for hate crimes;

  • No use of derivative works which violates "applicable law" (whatever that might be);

  • Yuga Labs gets to use any derivative art to promote the collection;

  • The owner of a punk indemnifies Yuga Labs against a half a page of potential things; and

  • Any disputes are to be addressed in arbitration under the American Arbitration Association's Consumer Arbitration Rules.

The Terms are a mixture of community minded and accessible language plus some lawyer grade boilerplate terms which underscore the importance, when buying an NFT, of understanding just what it is that is being purchased. In time we would expect to see more standardised licensing terms emerging which will assist consumers, but for now the terms applicable vary greatly. Who would have thought buying expensive jpgs would expand your reading list so much?


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