While anyone can access NFTs online with just a few clicks, they are still considered property owned by whoever created them. As a result, there are laws surrounding them and their ownership and rules to prevent NFTs from being unrightfully stolen.
It’s legal to screenshot an NFT as long as you don’t sell it somewhere else or pass it off as your own or post it online or wherever you want or make a physical copy. If you do this, then the owner of the NFT could sue you for copyright infringement, or you could face other criminal charges.
Disclosure: Before we go any further, I must disclose that I am not an attorney and that the following is not legal advice. If you are seeking legal advice, hire a qualified attorney.
Here is an example of this concept provided by Zach, the founder of Mintable. He says, “Taking a picture of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre is not exactly the same as owning a piece from Leonardo da Vinci. The same concept can be applied to NFTs for digital artwork. By taking a screenshot of an NFT, does not make you the rightful owner of the artwork.”
The following article is a more in-depth explanation of why screenshotting an NFT is illegal and how NFT copyright laws work. It also includes a brief description of the potential consequences that can occur when you screenshot an NFT.
Why Screenshotting an NFT Can Be Illegal
Screenshotting an NFT is illegal if you sell it to someone else or pass it off as your own work. It discredits the original creator of the NFT, especially if it’s an art form, and breaks established copyright laws.
The practice itself of screenshotting an NFT and saving it to your computer or phone isn’t necessarily illegal. If you want to screenshot an NFT to remember what it looks like, save it for your own inspiration, or just be able to find it easily again, then that’s legal.
However, an issue occurs when you try to sell the screenshotted NFT to someone else and pass it off as your own work. That’s significant fraud and will harm your Karma.
When it comes to ownership, creators of NFTs own the file or image digitally, assuming they have minted their artwork or creation. Also, as soon as you create original artwork, your work is copyrighted. This means that there’s a digital fingerprint on the NFT that the creator made.
Creator’s mint NFTs so that the NFT can be easily tracked because whenever someone else interacts with the NFT in any way like buying, trading, and selling, it’s recorded onto a digital log. The digital log and smart contract records when the NFT was created, when it was sold, keep track of royalties on secondary sales, and other general metadata, just to name a few of the primary functions.
Check this article to learn how to verify ownership of an NFT: How to Check the Ownership of an NFT (7 Methods).
So, if someone takes a screenshot and sells it as an NFT, the original creator has proof of ownership, who created it, and when the artwork was created.
This becomes an issue when the person that screenshotted the NFT tries to pass it off as something they created, whether selling it to someone else or claiming as much on a social media website.
This action infringes on copyright laws established for NFTs. When you claim a screenshotted NFT as your own, you discredit the original creator by not acknowledging the rightful owner and the work they put into the NFT.
Furthermore, if you try to sell the screenshot of the NFT, you are profiting off of someone else’s work. This also infringes on copyright laws and can also be subject to fraud and theft charges.
This has become a significant problem with the NFT world, and platforms are combating it, which you can read here: Do NFT Platforms Prevent Copying?
As long as you don’t claim the NFT as your own or try to sell it, then taking a screenshot is legal. Please don’t take my word for it, though; get informed by the US Government Copyright Office and read their take.
How Copyright Laws Work With NFTs
Copyright laws for NFTs are very similar to copyright laws for other art forms, such as painting or writing. The only difference is that everything is digital, so the NFTs are tracked digitally based on who accesses them.
Since NFTs are a digital version of things that people own, copyright laws on them are extremely strict. For example, even if someone unknowingly sells a copycatted NFT, that person could have to pay fines of up to $30,000 for copyright infringement and up to $150,000 if the seller knew they were selling copycat artwork.
The reason that copyright laws are so strict when it comes to NFTs is that anyone can access them at any moment with a computer and internet connection.
With traditional assets, mainly art, only a few hundred or a few thousand people could access them at a time. This made it much more difficult for thieves or scam artists to sell or pass off assets as their own since they didn’t have an easy way to collect the asset or easily copy it and then sell it.
This made it much easier for scam artists to collect work and then sell it as if they made it themselves. To help avoid instances like these, detailed digital records are kept of where the NFT was accessed and who accessed it.
Everything from who viewed it to who bought it is recorded, creating a digital fingerprint. This helps make it easier for creators to keep track of their work and ensure it isn’t being stolen or sold without their knowledge.
Even if a creator keeps track of the activity on their NFT, someone could still screenshot it and sell it without them knowing. While the internet does make it easier to create a digital fingerprint on an NFT, it can still be difficult for a creator to find everyone who obtained their work illegally.
Consequences For Screenshotting an NFT
The most common consequence of screenshotting an NFT, claiming it is yours, and reselling it, is facing criminal and civil charges. The original creator of an NFT could sue someone for screenshotting their work and selling it without their knowledge. Charges can range from copyright infringement to fraud and theft.
Despite the severity of the copyright laws, most NFT screenshotters and scammers don’t face official consequences unless the original creator initiates them.
As of right now, there aren’t any officials keeping track of the NFT world, especially when it comes to art. While there are official laws, most people aren’t fully aware of them, and there isn’t an official source backing them up.
As a result, people usually receive consequences for screenshotting an NFT if the original creator sues the screenshotter themself.
The most common charge is copyright infringement, and the screenshotter has to pay some heavy fines, and the case is closed. But if the actions are more severe, such as selling the stolen art or claiming it to be one’s own creation, then the charges can escalate to fraud and theft, which may entail time in prison.
The consequences for screenshotting an NFT vary on a case-by-case basis, but those are the most common consequences that can be faced.
Mint Your OWN Projects
As you know, stealing is just plain stupid. Learn how to make your own artwork and start minting them. The cool thing about NFTs is that it’s not that difficult. There are so many things you can do too.
You can develop some digital art, create a meme, record some music, or write a poem. From there, go to one of the major NFT platforms like OpenSea or Rarible and mint your creation (don’t forget to add royalties for all future sales).
Now, I have to say minting an NFT is not cheap, and the lowest I’ve seen recently is $70, but it can go up into hundreds of dollars depending on the demand. These two articles will help minimize the cost or rescue it completely:
It’s primarily up to the original creators of the NFTs to ensure that their work is kept track of. Even if they find out someone has stolen or sold their work without their permission, it’s still up to them to press charges and have the perpetrator face consequences.
If NFTs keep growing, then some official sources will be necessary to enforce the copyright laws that are meant to protect NFT creators.
Curious about where NFTs are going in the future? Check out this optimistic vision: 10 Reasons Why NFTs Will Change the World.