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The US Copyright Office and the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) have announced that they will collaborate on a joint study of intellectual property (IP) issues related to non-fungible tokens (NFTs). This study was requested by Senators Patrick Leahy and Thom Tillis in June. An NFT is not in itself a form of IP under current law. It’s a blockchain token that can be used to represent ownership of something like a work of art. Merriam-Webster defines ‘‘NFT’’ as ‘‘a unique digital identifier that cannot be copied, substituted, or subdivided, that is recorded in a blockchain, and that is used to certify authenticity and ownership (as of a specific digital asset and specific rights relating to it)” An NFT is thus similar to a receipt, and NFTs can be bought and sold. A work of art to which an NFT attaches can be protected under IP law but is a separate and distinct legal object. As Coindesk explained,
NFTs first emerged in 2015 and became especially popular in 2021 – and very lucrative for some. As the New York Times reported in March, 2021,
NFT prices are very volatile. The value of the NFT market grew by 299 percent in 2020, when it was valued at over $250 million. But as Bloomberg noted in September, NFT market trading volume fell 97% from its January peak. As Decrypt reported recently,
The USPTO/Copyright Office notice seeks written responses from the public to various questions about NFTs, for example:
Comments must be received by January 9, 2023. As the Federal Register explains,
The Copyright Office and USPTO also plan to hold livestreamed online public roundtables on the issue in January, on the following dates:
As the Copyright Office notes,
Additional information regarding these roundtables and instructions for registering to view them will be posted at joint-study-intellectual-property-rightsand-non-fungible-tokens. Additional information regarding the copyright roundtable and instructions for registering to view it will be posted at The roundtables will also be videorecorded and transcribed, and copies of the recordings and transcripts will be available on the above USPTO and Copyright Office websites. More details are in the Federal Register.
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