French luxury fashion brand Hermès is suing American digital artist Mason Rothschild who created the MetaBirkins series of NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens), a rapidly growing part of the crypto world.
The lawsuit has once again shed light on the ongoing debate over NFTs – the uniqueness and real value of these digital artifacts and the criticisms against them.
Why is Hermès suing Rothschild for MetaBirkins?
Hermès accused Rothschild of taking advantage of the company’s trademark “Birkin”, a tote bag introduced by the company in the 1980s.
To be clear, Rothschild did not make actual tangible Birkin-type bags. He made digital art inspired by it and titled his artwork “MetaBirkins”, which is a series of colorful images of tote bags. Subsequently, he sold this work as an NFT online.
According to The National Law Review (NLR), Hermès International and Hermès de Paris have filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York for trademark infringement and trademark dilution. In its complaint, the brand detailed the origin and fame associated with the Birkin bag. According to NLR, Hermès has an American trademark for the word Birkin.
Due to the trademark rights held by the brand, the brand alleged its infringement in its complaint. He further stated that it was a case of “unfair competition” based on the artist selling the NFT and advertising his work as “MetaBirkins”.
NLR reports that the complaint also mentions an allegation of cybersquatting associated with metabirkins.com. Cybersquatting refers to the unauthorized practice of registering names that are similar or identical to those that are the subject of a trademark.
However, Rothschild seems fearless and announced on Instagram that he will fight. In a statement posted online, the digital artist said: “I do not create or sell fake Birkin bags. I have made artwork that depicts imaginary Birkin bags covered in fur.
But why are NFTs considered unique digital assets?
An NFT is a unique, irreplaceable token that can be used to prove ownership of digital assets such as music, artwork, even tweets and memes. The term “non-fungible” simply means that each token is different from a fungible currency such as silver (one ten rupee note can be exchanged for another and so on).
Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum are also fungible, meaning one Bitcoin can be exchanged for another. But one NFT cannot be exchanged for another NFT because both are different and therefore unique. Each token has a different value, depending on the asset it represents.
NFT transactions are recorded on blockchains, which are a digital public ledger, with most NFTs being part of the Ethereum blockchain. NFTs became popular in 2021 as they began to be seen by artists as a convenient way to monetize their work.
What are the other reasons why NFTs are in high demand?
Another attraction is that NFTs are part of a new type of financial system called decentralized finance (DeFi), which removes the involvement of institutions such as banks. For this reason, decentralized finance is considered a more democratic financial system because it facilitates access to capital for lay people by essentially eliminating the role of banks and other associated institutions.
Even so, as NFTs operate in a decentralized system, anyone can sell a digital asset as one. This can sometimes create problems. For example, if you were to sell someone else’s artwork as NFT, you could essentially be infringing copyright. This is also what happened in the case of MetaBirkins.
What happened at some recent NFT auctions?
In October last year, The Economist created an NFT of one of her issue’s cover images which depicts Alice from “Alice in Wonderland” looking down the rabbit hole which gives her a glimpse “into this strange new world” where words such as cryptocurrencies, Ethereum blockchains and the metaverse are entering the mainstream.
In March 2021, former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sold the platform’s first Tweet as an NFT. The tweet, which Dorsey posted in March 2006, read “just setting up my twttr”. This tweet which would probably offend grammar pedants earned more than $2.9 million. This amount was reportedly credited to Dorsey’s crypto wallet.
What is the criticism against NFTs?
One of the criticisms of NFTs is that they create value where none exists, such as selling memes and tweets for large sums. Another more common criticism of NFTs is the greenhouse gas emissions associated with making these transactions, given the high amounts of electricity they consume.
According to the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, the amount of electricity consumed by the Bitcoin network in a single year could meet the University of Cambridge’s total electricity needs for 993 years or could power all the kettles used to boil the water in the UK for 30 years.
The “Valuables by Cent” website, through which Dorsey auctioned his tweet as an NFT, allows anyone to place a bid on any tweet. Purchasing a tweet means that the individual receives a digital certificate, which is signed and verified by the creator of the tweet, proving that they own the tweet.
Once an individual purchases a tweet, they can resell it on the website or display it in their online gallery. Buyers can also choose to keep the tweet in their private collection.
But why would anyone buy a tweet in the first place? The website lists this question in its FAQ and offers the following answer: “Every day, precious moments happen in the space of a tweet. Turning those moments into NFTs captures that value in the form of digital collectibles. Buying an NFT from someone creates the start of a direct relationship between you and them. That’s pretty cool.”