The Pipe Dream of Blockchain Art Fraud Prevention

Crypto Art Sep 21, 2020

A common refrain from those most entrenched among the crypto art space is that tokenization of artworks on a blockchain somehow helps to either completely prevent or largely mitigate common traditional art problems like counterfeiting and forgery.

"Tokenization will protect artists from being ripped off..."

Artists and collectors alike must be aware that current blockchain technologies actually do extremly little to prevent traditional art counterfeiting techniques.

In fact, public permissionless blockchains and the ecosystems around them often amplify or accelerate the issue such that counterfeiting is in fact far simpler to pull off for the perpetrators in crypto art than it is in the traditional art world.

As can be observed in numerous cases over the course of 3 years, this notion that blockchain somehow adds preventative properties against art fraud proves to be untrue.

"FAKE RARES"

In the old Rare Pepe crypto art scene, all 1773 real Rare Pepe artworks were certified as  "Rare" by The Scientists, a discerning and mysterious group who curated the art and also assured its authenticity to collectors.

It's this little humanistic touch, this putting in of real work to do something right– it's these scientists and their dedicatation to curation and validation that made Rare Pepe truly unique in crypto art projects even to this point in time.

Put simply, if The Scientists did not certify your Pepe as "Rare" then it was by default a "fake rare". No maybes, no questions, no 'report content button' for retroactive ass covering. Not certified means fake. Period.

The totally generic, financially, and legally motivated know your customer (KYC) approach focusing so much on the artist, takes away a lot of attention from the art itself. As a result, it is possible for even a "verified" artist on most platforms to steal art (usually from outside the crypto art space) and attempt to pass it off as their own if they want to.

Blockchain technology and smart contracts alone do nothing to prevent this scenario from happening. The newer platforms could all take note of the excellent curation on platforms that preceded them, and maybe do things differently.

In cases like these, the artist is verified, but the art is not; how exactly is blockchain helping us with the problem again?

FAKES ON RARIBLE

Rarible is more open to new artists than virtually every other platform in the crypto art space. Notably, there are 2 important differences in how it operates compared to other platforms in the space:

  • There is no application and approval process for artists. Literally anyone can sign up and begin minting and selling crypto art on Rarible right away. On the one hand, this is amazing and gives us a world of art from artists at all points on their respective journey, but on the other hand, defense against abuse is at best, up to the users themselves by reporting content.
  • There is zero attempt at know-your-customer (KYC) in place. This is related to the first point, but basically zero authentic identifying information is required of any user who wants to create accounts to sell their (or someone else's) art on this platform.

Here are several prominent cases of fake art minted on Rarible in the name of a legitimate existing artists.

Karan Singh

On February 8, 2020, acclaimed artist and illustrator Karan Singh contacted Rarible about their art being misused. Their original tweets have since been deleted, but the Rarible responses remain to pick up on the thread from.

Followed soon after by user observations about already purchased NFTs...

and questions about what to do about people who profited even after knowing the works were not legtimate:

Ryan Seslow

On July 2, 2020, the artist Ryan Seslow tweeted at Rarible that there was a user selling his work.

Fake "Ryan Seslow" store on Rarible selling NFTs based on their art. Page is still live at the time of this writing, though no more fake NFTs remain for sale.

The account doing this was noted to be linked to the address 0xf1f68b598345f094cd3c8a750555d2ceecd5d481. If you look at Etherscan analytics for this address, a distinctive pattern appears to culminate on July 6, 2020– or 4 days after the report to Rarible from the real Ryan Seslow.

"Man looking at butterfly asks is this a pump and dump?" Seriously though, the two spikes could indicate that this address pulled the art fake thing twice...

Alpacawhal has not done complete analysis of the related transactions, but in just reviewing the summary and noting the two sharp spikes, with the second concluding a mere 4 days after being reported, it's almost as is if the controller of this address did this twice in a row before being discovered. This person appears to have made about 50 bucks on stealing Seslow's original art.

Kenze Wee

On September 10, 2020 the pixel artist Kenze Wee tweeted a warning that they were not responsible for an entire Rarible store full of art.

The account was linked to an Ethereum address 0xca2e6a4d8706ba42b63ff25158c8c36011c5bc32, presumably that of the individual who set up the Rarible account.

Fake Kenze Wee page on Rarible is still live at the time of this writing, though no more fake NFTs remain for sale.

Between the timeframe of that tweet and September 15, that address received a total of roughly 7.7 ETH, and the address appears to have been used solely for this purpose, so one could infer that the fake Kenze Wee profited by approximately $2800 USD over the course of 5 days or so and cashed most of it out via uniswap.

This wild west style theft continues to this day on Rarible– it is without doubt, the worst example of the issue given its free-for-all nature. Here is just the latest example at the time of this writing.

Here, Canadian artist Kunwar Arshnoor Phull is on the receiving end of yet another Raribling.  There is a way to report questionable content on Rarible now, but again it defers curation and validation responsibilities in this regard solely to the collectors.

FAKES ON OTHER PLATFORMS

In case you think this research and article is about exposing issues with Rarible alone, fear not, dear reader. While they are certainly the most egregious example, they are not alone.

There are examples with other platforms as well.

Luca Di Bartolomeo (Diba) on KnownOrigin

In this example, the super talented illustrator Diba was being conterfeited, but the attempt was actually headed off presumably before anyone could purchase a fake.

The Editional Fakes

The now defunct crypto art platform Editional was also the source of numerous fake art schemes back in 2019.

An Ineffective Cure-All

The longer you use the technology and more familiar you become with the crypto art scene, the more you will likely come to understand that the blockchain data structure is unfortunately an oversold panacea. It is applied to use cases for which it is often an extremely poor fit, and most non-technical users have no idea how they even work in the first place or what properties they do or don't provide.

Crypto art itself is barely a functionaly concept that is difficult for outsiders to wrap their head around, mainly because of the token / media disconnect. Blockchain certainly doesn't make crypto art any more advantageous than traditional art with respect to fraud, either.

Rather than dangling a token near a blockchain and declaring it free from the effects of traditional art woes, a durable means of authentication is required for serious collectors who do not wish to become art historians or be duped. Effective measures from the traditional art world (see also: Pest Control) could be embraced in the crypto art world rather than trying to pin all hopes on the blockchain, for example.

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