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  • Writer's pictureJ.T.

An Artist Donated This Innovative NFT to the Public. Someone Stole it Immediately.

Updated: Jul 7, 2022

Last week, artist Steven Baltay, who goes by the handle @realimposter on Instagram, minted a and daring experiment in NFT art. He called it Public Domain, and declared that, "This NFT will belong to the public. The artwork itself holds the seed phrase to the wallet containing it. Please do not buy, sell, trade or destroy this art. It belongs to everyone."

The work shows a graffitied Statue of Liberty bobbing atop an undersized cargo ship in rough seas. Liberty is chained to the ship; the golden chains sway and clink, tangling around her crown and torch. Her tablet is clearly visible, and on the tablet is inscribed the seed phrase of the wallet holding her.

For those unfamiliar, a seed phrase is a 12-word phrase that acts as a recovery mechanism for a crypto wallet. The phrase must be kept secret, or else the contents of the wallet will become forever accessible to intruders. An NFT, as a tradeable object living on the blockchain, must be kept inside a wallet. Baltay had set up a dedicated wallet, placed this Public Domain inside it, then effectively gave the keys to the public.

It took about one hour for liberty to be snatched.

According to the transaction history on Opensea, a collector with the username FriesFrame transferred the NFT to their own collection shortly after it was minted. On Twitter, FriesFrame (@ChasFries) replied to the artist's tweet announcing the piece, saying, "nabbed it 😆."

When a user challenged Fries Frame, asking, "Doesn't it literally say "don't transfer it"

😂🤔", he defended himself on a technicality: "it does not - it just says dont buy, sell, trade, or destory....i traded nothing for it".

According to Fries Frame's Twitter bio, he is a Chicago based collector and "Niftygateway Moderator" (Discord?). He seems to be quite active in the space, tweeting frequently about NFTs, and his Opensea profile shows a collection of dozens of pieces.

On Twitter, I asked him what he was intending to do with the piece - lock it up indefinitely (that is, to hold it) or turn it for a profit (sell)? His answer - "why are those the only two options?" - was noncommital.

It's interesting to consider Fries' options. If he holds it, he can claim the distinction of being the only owner of this unique NFT - though that will always come with some notoriety. He could sell it, certainly, and any price he charged would be pure profit into his pocket. But to return the piece to the original wallet would presumably cost him gas fees - meaning if he chooses to put it back in its place, he will actually need to pay money to do so. At the time of writing, the gas fee might range from $50-$100 - not quite pocket change (at least in USD!). What would you do?

I love this piece as a tribute to and a test of the technology it's built on. It wouldn't work as anything other than an NFT. Because of the blockchain, we can always know who owns it, and who has taken ownership of it at any point in time.

At face value, Public Domain is an optimistic yet naive tribute to the crypto community. But being born of the community itself, I think we can conclude that it is in fact a statement on the value of trustlessness - central to blockchain technology and crypto ideology. When you allow people to take something for free, they will. Passwords, seed phrases, wallet keys, and all the other accoutrements of the blockchain are the essential tools that enable this community to thrive in spite of our tendencies toward opportunism.

With all of the excitement in the crypto space last week - the Coinbase IPO, the multi-day Pak drop extravaganza on Nifty Gateway, the Artvatars launch, and the Paris Hilton NFT debut - Public Domain seemed to fly under most people's radar. I believe that this piece is an early classic of NFTs, and whoever owns it - Fries Frame, the public, or anyone else - will be holding a piece of history.


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