Can NFTs Be Copied?

Last Updated October 12, 2021
Luci Goodman
Luci Goodman

Although you can duplicate the image of an NFT, you cannot copy the code into a new non-fungible token. When explaining whether or not an NFT can be copied, you do need to have a basic understanding of how these digital items work.

There are a few instances in which the image of an NFT has been shared for years, long before the current craze to buy and sell NFTs was in full swing. The CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, sold his first Tweet in auction for the equivalent of $2.9 million. Chris Torres, the creator of Nyan Cat, sold the viral meme for $590,000. 

Many people look at the hype surrounding these images with skepticism, pointing out that they can just hover over the image and save it to their own device. What they don’t understand is that it is the token with the unique identifier that is valuable. The smart contract on the Ethereum blockchain is being purchased. 

While some will have value because of the image, others will have value due to their history, the artist who created them, or the utility of the NFT. Like physical objects such as trading cards, many digital assets fueled by blockchain technology will likely rise in value over time. 

Are There Fake NFTs? 

In the same way that “real-world” traditional art has been copied for centuries, there have been NFTs made of famous NFT collectibles. Copyright laws aren’t always followed and NFT marketplaces can only enforce them to a certain extent. 

Fake CryptoPunks

One example is that of CryptoPunk #3100. Using the Foundation marketplace, Ryder Ripps listed and sold a near duplicate of this rare punk on June 29, 2021. The digital work had a different colored background and a slightly higher resolution than the original. The “fake” sold for 2.189 ETH.

Ripps explained why he added these pieces to the NFT market in an Instagram post. Beyond saying that the “punk” in “CryptoPunk” is now gone due to the digital artwork being accepted by the mainstream art world (and sold at establishments like Sotheby’s and Christie’s), he stated that his work was a critique of the industry at large. 

Larva Labs submitted a DMCA notice, but Ripps claimed that his work fell under “fair use.” He subsequently minted NFTs of the email notice they sent as well as an image of the takedown notice (which sold for 1.11 ETH).

Beyond Ripp’s copy, there are hundreds of CryptoPunk #3100 variations available on OpenSea. While most of them have been altered substantially from the original NFT art, you can see how relatively easy it is to republish these avatars as your own. 

Do Fakes Lower the Value of the Original?

When it comes to CryptoPunks, it is unlikely that duplicate digital files will ever lessen the value of the original digital tokens. They are a part of NFT history and will be valued long after “the fad” has died down. You can easily tell if a CryptoPunk is real by ensuring the smart contract is part of the original collection. 

That being said, copied intellectual property of a lesser-known original artist could damage the value of their work of art. Additionally, artists who mint multiple non-fungible tokens of the same image will likely see that their work isn’t as valued as it would be if they sold a one-of-a-kind image.

Once an artist is established, however, they could potentially earn a lot through selling limited editions of their work. Digital artist Mike Winklemann (better known as Beeple) sells numbered editions of several pieces of his artwork. 

How to Know If Your NFT is the Original

If you are looking to invest in non-fungible tokens, it is a good idea to do as much research as you can before spending your cryptocurrency. Once you know what you want, look for real NFT sales in that collection by completing the following: 

Step 1: Visit the OpenSea website and sign up for an account with your MetaMask Wallet. 

Step 2: Search for the digital collectibles that interest you by using the search function and the filtering system. 

Step 3: Look for the blue verification symbol to ensure you are in the right place. 

That being said, if a fake was listed on another marketplace (such as Foundation or Rarible), it will also have the blue verification symbol listed as the name of the marketplace. If you wanted to buy CryptoPunk #3100, you would see the real punk as well as Ripp’s punk both listed with verification markers. The difference is that Ripp’s is listed under “Foundation (FND)” instead of “CryptoPunk.” Always look for the name of the collection. 

Images vs Tokens

As stated above, the image of an NFT can be copied and shared multiple times across the internet. It is the token that is unique. In fact, the actual digital art is not on the blockchain. Instead, the image, video, or gif is stored on the IPFS (Interplanetary File System), a decentralized file system. 

This is due to the fact that the image files are too large to be properly recorded and transferred. In theory, the NFT market could be rocked if the images were lost, changed, or manipulated in some way. 

Additional NFT Value

It is important to remember that not only is the metadata of the token unique, but there is utility added to several projects, giving the asset a secondary value in the real world. You should note, however, that many of these perks are lost in the resale of the NFT. Make sure you read the terms thoroughly when making your purchase. 

Some NFTs also give nostalgia. Not only are they designed around specific genres or games, but you can also collect NBA Top Shot NFTs to collect plays. People collect these sports moments similar to how people collect baseball cards. 

It took years for the average person to accept bitcoin and take blockchain technology seriously. As more people understand the crypto ecosystem and mint their own projects, we will likely see a rise in overall use and value in the market.