When a $70 million NFT sold at Christie’s last spring – a time before Bored Apes, Cool Cats and Lazy Lions roamed the earth – some scoffed at the fortune spent on computer pixels that could be copied and pasted on your screen for free. But the batch wasn’t just a jpeg, it was the jpeg – and the money went claiming the original work, or what we would call “authentic”. Remove that distinction, and yes, the file is without value.

It’s a high stakes game which is plagued by fraud, abuse and theft, and even the greatest players are not immune. But OpenSea, the biggest NFT marketplace on the planet, might have a few tricks up its sleeve. This morning, it is deploying two products to safeguard the authenticity of the collections on its platform. The former streamlines verification of creator accounts, and the latter banishes copymints, or spoofs of existing NFTs, using image recognition.

Verified badges are among OpenSea’s so-called “flagship” features that guide buyers to real NFTs. But to accumulate more, its process needed to become less opaque, the company explains. Creators previously had to guess if they were eligible to apply, but now those who have overseen more than 100 ETH in trading volume will receive targeted invitations encouraging them to apply.

Sales volume is one of the two main factors that are judged for verification, said OpenSea vice president of product Shiva Rajaraman. fast business. The other is fan chatter on social media – often Anime Collections rack up followings for their accounts on forums like Discord or Twitter, and these can be linked to OpenSea as evidence.

“It can be easy to fake a work of art, but it’s really hard to fake an active community,” says Rajaraman.

Talk matters

True to the spirit of DeFi, the community might be what OpenSea relies on the most. This will eventually expand verification eligibility to accounts with lower sales volumes, in which case trawling Discords could become mission critical. And it’s more nuanced than just who has the most followers. Considerations could include the voice of a community or if there are high profile members lending their own credibility. All of this would be done by human moderators, with the ultimate vision that the algorithms would take over, if or when they prove themselves up to the task.

But account verification is only one piece of the puzzle in thwarting scammers. Another, of course, is unearthing the copymints themselves – for which OpenSea will now use AI-based software. The program not only reports identical replicas pixel by pixel, but also flips, rotations, filters or other permutations – and will grow in sophistication over time with training. Further review will be done by human moderators, but again, until full automation is viable.

This could be dangerous territory – and to understand why is to know the tensions at the heart of the NFT world. The art of blockchain was born out of authenticity as a pure form of ownership. Yet, even as the community evangelized his revolutionary ideas, they also had to consider the fact that as NFTs grew into a burgeoning multibillion-dollar business, they spawned an army of copymints that flooded the markets. , deceived the unwilling and uprooted the very principles on which they were founded.

But to regulate would violate the other major principle of Web3, freedom, which is to flourish outside the control of any central authority.

OpenSea is no stranger to this dilemma. In December, after banning a series of reverse versions of Bored Apes, titled Phunky Ape Yacht Club, it caused backlash from the cryptosphere. And as to where creative play ends and plagiarism begins, that’s a fine line.

As Rajaraman notes, there are many spin-off projects that are embraced by the community. In fact, it’s a pride of the industry, with open-source blockchains for a reason: “Zoom out, and one of the keys to this world is that you can observe everything that happens and compose on it”, he said. You can create, for example, four avatars of furry animal friends, while someone else designs a wardrobe and someone else writes them in a playable game world. The Web3 philosophy in a few words? “Throw it out there and see what blooms,” Rajaraman says.

Blooming things have. Take “CrypToadz,” for example, a collection that transforms each of the popular CryptoPunks into frog shape. Or “Larva Lads”, which are CryptoPunk heads on a larva’s body. Also “Uncool Cats”, i.e. Cool Cats with broken glasses, monobrows and acne.

Repress deception

So where does OpenSea draw its line? Anne Fauvre-Willis, head of special projects at OpenSea, tells fast business that for now the team is focused on removing NFTs that “intend to deceive” or claim to be a different collection. As she notes, most of the copies they find are exact copies of multi-million dollar blue chip projects. “Our job is to help users find the ‘right’ collections on the site,” she says. Beyond that, he wants to keep a light hand: “Our goal is not to decide what is creative and what is not. . . we are not art experts, we are a technology platform.

Again, OpenSea hopes to exploit its community. In gray area cases, he says he could contact the rights holders of an original collection to decide if they support branching. Or he can rely on his own research – if, for example, he saw that the creators of two similar projects were in each other’s Discords and collaborated in the past, he might decide not to disrupt their ecosystem. .

“We don’t want to editorialize on behalf of creators, we want to give them a platform where they can do it themselves,” says Fauuvre-Willis.

However, neither she nor Rajaraman understood how this system applies to the famous CryptoPunk v1s vs. v2s debate – two collections of profile pictures that are identical except for a different background color, and are enclosed in a dramatic legal battle over authenticity that involved multiple delistings from OpenSea. (On the site as of now, V2s appear to have won the verification badge.)

Possible future products that OpenSea is tinkering with are better search functions that bring up real NFTs, and a feature to mark collections as “inspired” by other NFTs.

But ultimately, he says, the platform will serve the people. “We have creators betting on their livelihoods and they want the material value to come back to their fans,” Rajaraman says. “If we don’t offer a protective cloak, fans could be duped into scams based on someone else’s intellectual property being repurposed for quick cash. So we ask how do you reward authentic content? »