two paintings

Who owns the NFT copyright of physical works?

Amberfi engaged the services of Lance Koonce of a leading Web3 intellectual law firm, Klaris, to answer questions from members of the community.  

Have a question about digital collectibles and the law? Let us know and your question may be answered in a future column. Ask the Attorney appears Wednesdays in Amberfi.


Q: I’m an artist who has sold physical works. Can I turn a photo of my painting into an NFT? Who owns the IP rights to the work?


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A: If you’re the artist, when you created the painting to begin with, you own the copyright in it. When you sell the physical work, even if it’s the only copy, you retain ownership of the copyright.


If you sell the one painting that’s hanging on the wall, you do not transfer the copyright interest in what we would call the intangible work of art. The intangible work of art is just the art itself, not limited only to what appears on that singular original canvas. 


The person who buys the canvas can buy and sell the work appearing on that canvas, but they don’t actually have the rights to make digital copies or make multiple canvas prints or create NFTs from them.


Only the artist retains that right of the intangible artwork. And so long as the artist has hung on to some digital copies that he or she can use, then the artist can go right ahead and make NFTs from it because they retain all the legal interests in it.


Images at top by Brett Sayles and Jan Kopriva


Editor’s note: This is another in a series about NFTs and the law. Check out our blog for additional articles on the subject that will appear each week. Listen to our podcast episode with Lance Koonce on these topics here.


Disclaimer: The information provided on this Web page does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information and content on this page are for general informational purposes only. You should contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter, and you should not act nor refrain from acting on the basis of information on this site without first seeking legal advice from an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.

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