Lazy minting's golden chance to defeat art theft
Let the sloth consume the scam.
10 min read
Table of contents
The hype around gasless minting draws a lot of attention even among crypto enthusiasts who think it's the next best thing since sliced bread.
It could just be and let me explain why.
Gasless minting or Lazy Minting is actually a misnomer - nothing gets minted and it sure as hell does not happen without gas. It merely delays the minting of an NFT by preparing the code needed for it and inserting it into the purchasing transaction, leaving the buyer with the gas bill and minting the NFT upon purchase.
Ever since Lazy Minting was implemented on the leading NFT marketplaces OpenSea and Rarible, creators have flocked to put more artworks up for sale as all they needed was to mine the registration transaction to get their account on the platform and the rest is merely preparing listings without having to pay any more gas fees.
Unfortunately but also undoubtedly, this opened the floodgates even more for art thieves.
No, not the "tech support" jokers who ran off with a bunch of BAYC apes after conning their holder into clicking something while sharing their screen on Discord. I am talking about the much bigger menace that victimises many of those who aren't even in the cryptospace - the art thieves who attempt to mint NFTs of art that they do not own. This includes but is definitely not limited to copyminters.
WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY
Previously the minting of said NFTs were only doable as and when they were uploaded. A series of transactions minted the token then added it to the marketplace if the creator so desired for it to be up for sale or auction.
Since Lazy Minting does not process any transactions until the time of purchase, there is no token minted on the blockchain yet - but the intent is clear that the uploader wants it to be minted as an NFT. At this point of time the coinbase for the minting of the NFT has been signed and is being put up for sale.
Between the uploading of the artwork or file and the actual minting of the token nothing is permanent and the process can still be stopped in its tracks.
NIPPING IT IN THE BUD
It is in this window of time that public marketplaces who provide Lazy Minting services can act on reports and complaints regarding the token. Previously when complaints were received the most that the marketplace could do was to prevent the listing or sale of the fraudulent NFT on their platform but this does not destroy the NFT. Once minted, only the holder of the NFT is able to destroy the token if the minting contract permits.
Fraudulent tokens should have no home on the blockchain. Previously when barriers to entry were high, when token contracts needed much more technical skill, much less bad actors had the patience to learn how to code and then spend their Ether on such new technology. Once NFT marketplaces and dapps took off, however, the further democratisation of the technology led to the surge in stolen artwork being minted on the blockchain.
The advent of Lazy Minting came across as a way to maximise profit from the sale of NFTs. Although designed to benefit artists and creators, those who seek to profit through stolen artwork tend to follow the path of least resistance. Right now it provides them with an avenue to conduct their scam and theft with even lower risk than before.
I won't defend the misuse of the blockchain. That's definitely a bad thing - but it does provide a chance at making things right.
WHAT CAN BE DONE
DeviantArt, one of the world's largest online art galleries has implemented a paid service being DeviantArt Protect, which scans the internet for possible matches of artwork uploaded to the platform. Through computer vision and machine learning, it has been able to detect when similar artwork is uploaded.
Now it has expanded its coverage to include NFT matching and detection which alerts artists on its platform when one of their works is minted as an NFT, possibly without their permission.
In my humble opinion, this is what OpenSea needs to do. If they feel confident enough in doing an IPO, they can sure as hell afford this - and any other aspiring NFT marketplace that wants to make a mark on the NFT scene should pay attention too.
1. Slam the brakes on lazy minting
The odds of coming across an art thief who's ready to mint on Ethereum is far less likely than an art thief who wants to try to get in on profits without spending a single cent - hence why the gates need to be put up around lazy minting. Before an item can be listed, it should be withheld for image matching and a delay be implemented.
Lazy mint NFTs are confined to the OpenSea platform since the data is not on-chain yet. Sure, the terms and conditions say no copyright violations allowed - but let's face the truth its happening and its more rampant than ever thanks to lazy minting.
In fact, OpenSea has even admitted this - over 80% of the NFTs created with their "free minting tool" are 'plagiarized works, fake collections, and spam'. No prizes for guessing what a majority of those were.
2. Don't half-ass collection verification
OpenSea used to take the diligence to verify collections on their platform that so requested it. This recently changed to merely saying that they will only verify collections that they see are fit for it and there is, at the time of writing, no way to put in a request.
There are also some verified collections that anyone can mint on at OpenSea, such as the one in the image above. These are mintable collections, meaning that anyone can select this as their target collection on OpenSea and mint into the collection. The result? A blue-check verified NFT without any of the oversight that verified collections should have.
This is a gaping hole in the system since verification is supposed to allow people to buy with confidence knowing that there was some degree of manual verification by the creator of the token. Instead this problem remains unresolved till today with nothing more than a little yellow exclamation mark next to the the collection name stating that it's "mintable".
3. Don't make an enemy out of artists who aren't doing NFTs.
OpenSea, meet deviantArt - perhaps the world's biggest art gallery.
Before NFTs were all the hype, deviantArt took the initiative to implement image matching. If anyone was serious about stopping art theft in its tracks, it would be them.
Now they are coming after NFTs and they have good reason to. First it was bad actors who reupload deviantArt artwork to OpenSea. Now they have gotten so used to it that they are botting the OpenSea system, pulling artist bios, profile pictures and more into freshly generated (and often empty) Ethereum wallets. With barely any sunken cost and just a computer running several lines of code, these abusers successfully fool art collectors into thinking they really bought from the artist.
It dilutes the whole concept of NFTs supporting artists directly which has come under intense fire lately for how detrimental it is to artists' online presence instead.
The nail in the coffin here is that there are barely any captchas on OpenSea. There are little to no anti-botting measures in place to prevent the system from becoming overrun by these automated art theft operations. It's not like captchas are difficult to implement - we click through them every day and there are plenty of captcha providers out there to choose from.
This is where it's really critical to ask someone if they're a robot.
4. Modernise your reporting system
Seriously, an email address!?
Artists whose works are being plundered are having to deal with inboxes that are flooded with takedown requests and replies from the answering machine at OpenSea.
Saying that the insane number of reports was a justification for removing the old reporting form is simply taking the lazy way out. Worse, it's taking the apathetic way out.
As a former journalist my writing instincts tell me not to hurl allegations but I simply cannot see any other attitude from OpenSea that can quite describe their attitude towards the reporting of stolen artwork and copymints.
5. Implement image matching
Let's step back and seriously think about this - would any good NFT artist upload their work anywhere else before they mint it?
This is a responsibility that can be easily borne by NFT artists. It's simple, really. If someone attempts to mint an artwork - or any digital image that can trigger a match with a high enough similarity on another part of the internet, that image should never be minted, nor should OpenSea or any other public minting service allow for it to be minted, whether through lazy minting or not.
It's really not too much to ask for NFT artists to keep their artwork to themselves until they so decide to mint. Forget about art streaming and WIP uploads. If you really value your artwork and want to push it out as an NFT, there are responsibilities that you can and should uphold to take care of your content.
There's more than enough technology out there to implement this. Check every image uploaded. Heck, run matches on videos and 3D models too. There are plenty of open and proprietary source computer vision software out there that OpenSea and other minting services can use for this.
There is absolutely no need to rush when minting an NFT. OpenSea is currently the biggest marketplace out there and they pride themselves on it. It's time to walk the talk if the reputation of the platform means anything to them.
6. Learn to say no
Platforms acknowledge that art theft is rampant but do they do anything about it?
Sure they do! When the cameras are rolling and the artists who've had their art stolen begin to make noise, that's when there's action. When the pressure is on, they'll do it like how OpenSea delisted a Bored Ape derivative project PHAYC merely out of pressure from the fragile egos of several Bored Ape holders.
However, there's definitely a lack of preventive measures taken that can stop this from happening in the first place. OpenSea needs to not just match stolen artwork against the greater internet but also their own marketplace. Copyminting of existing NFTs is already happening and OpenSea among other marketplaces, do not seem bothered to check if something has already been minted or not.
If YouTube can scan and detect ContentID matches during content that is streamed live, it means the technology exists and should be implemented right here where it is most needed.
Again, it's not like OpenSea can't afford it.
WHY OPENSEA NEEDS TO LISTEN
OpenSea prides itself on being the world's biggest digital asset marketplace and I am not here to challenge that. Their work has democratised digital asset creation to a fault by allowing absolutely anyone who has a computer to begin their journey.
Once upon a time that required a computer and some crypto but lazy minting changed that forever.
Lazy minting is unfortunately one of the implementations of NFT creation that allowed art thieves to exploit the system with virtually zero risk. However there are good reasons for lazy minting to exist. Aside from lowering the barrier for legitimate NFT artists, lazy minting consumes less gas at the point of sale and thus, has a lower energy consumption since it puts less nett load on the blockchain.
If left unchecked, OpenSea will be the bane of digital art on both web2 and web3. It will force artists to retire their artwork from web2 art sharing services like DeviantArt. It will degrade the quality of the NFT art world. It will be the home of rampant copyminting and art theft - and because it's all on the blockchain, it affects us all. That would include artists who do not want anything to do with web3, whose choices must be respected.
The rest of you NFT marketplaces with minting functionality? You best be listening too before you also screw up the NFT scene for all of us.