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The ultimate goal of any artist is to create unique and engaging content for people to discover and experience. There are many different mediums artists can leverage such as visual arts, music, and written word. And, with the advent of the Digital Age, artists have even more tools at their disposal to both create and distribute their content to new fans and patrons around the world.
While the Digital Age has created many new opportunities for artists, one of the biggest challenges has been around digital rights management and royalties. Digital files of any kind can be easily duplicated, so how does one discourage piracy while still leveraging the amazing global distribution network of the Internet? How does one make sure artists are able to reliably receive ongoing royalties for their work as digital versions of their content pass between buyers and sellers in both primary and secondary markets? And, how can you prove the digital artwork you own is “the real thing” versus just a digital copy?
In the past, this response to this challenge has been to centralize and consolidate markets. The net effect has been to restrict where artists can sell their work (i.e. exclusive “authorized” marketplaces) and add more intermediaries between artists and their patrons (i.e. labels and agencies). While ostensibly operating in the best interests of artists, the overall effect has been to marginalize the reach and opportunities for smaller and less established artists.
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are a powerful new platform for artists who want to create content, retain control over how that content is used, and more deeply engage with their fanbases. By leveraging blockchain technology, smart contracts, and cryptographic signatures, NFTs provide decentralized distribution networks as well as built-in royalty structures that give artists new ways to monetize their work, engage with fans, and expand their network of patrons.
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At the core of the NFT phenomenon is a movement from centralized control to self-sovereign digital rights management. When an artist creates an NFT, they can leverate a decentralized blockchain-based data storage network (e.g. IPFS) to reliably host the digital files that represent their artwork, removing the need to rely on centralized data hosting services like Google or Amazon. 
An artist can also specify a royalty payment structure that will remain linked to their artwork, guaranteeing a specific percentage for royalty payments in both the primary and secondary markets and automatically delivering these royalties to the artist in the form of direct cryptocurrency payments. And lastly, an artist can attach legal documentation to their NFT that clearly specifies whatever permissions they wish to grant to the current owner of their creative work in terms of copyright licensing. The artist is in full control of how they are compensated for their creative work and how it can be used by others.
With art being embodied in the form of an NFT, a creative work is provably unique (using cryptographic signatures) and its provenance is publicly visible on the blockchain (each change of ownership represented by a unique transaction) while its current ownership is cryptographically provable based on the current owner’s cryptographic private keys. This adds even more value to an artist’s work, removing the classic problems of forgeries, uncertain ownership and questionable provenance paths.
As more artists engage with patrons and fans via NFT sales and ownership, there’s an additional opportunity for artists to use NFTs as membership tokens. With blockchain technology, it’s trivial for someone to prove they own an NFT. By simply scanning a QR code and clicking a “sign this transaction” button in their wallet app, a patron can prove to any website or smartphone that they own a specific and genuine NFT. Artists and content creators can leverage this to create new engagement opportunities for fans both online and in real life venues. 
By holding a particular NFT created by a particular artist, you can be granted access to that artist’s members-only fashion line in stores, special access to live performances, and a whole range of evolving membership benefits over time. And, finally, imagine the broader possibilities as different artists come together to form creative collectives via blockchain-based Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs), fostering collaborations between creators and fueled by the direct financial support of patrons and fans via content sold as NFTs (a beautiful example of this type of creative collective innovation is happening right now at hedsDAO).
NFTs create a decentralized and disintermediated landscape that democratizes opportunities for artists and content creators while more directly connecting them with their fans and patrons. By providing artists with more reliable ways to create oncoming royalty-based revenue streams while also giving them the power to define copyright licenses directly, this landscape will grow to address the real needs and desires of content creators across the world. All this will ultimately encourage more artists to create and release even more new creative work. That’s a future I believe we can all agree is worth cultivating and embracing.
 John Lester is VP of Operations at Oneiro.
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