Much of the following content was submitted as a Pecha-Kucha assignment for the Conceptual Introduction to Digital Humanities module. As the Pecha-Kucha was subject to educational use-cases for copyright I have re-worked this content to ensure compliance with copyright legislation for digital publication. I think.

2021 marks the 25th Anniversary of John Perry Barlow’s seminal piece A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. A key text, written at the very beginnings of the World Wide Web, the declaration argues for the emancipation of the internet from the bureaucracies of nation states.

Image source:

“Legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here […] Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere but it is not where bodies live.”

A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace

In his earlier 1994 piece for Wired magazine entitled An Economy of Ideas Perry argued that “Digital technology is detaching information from the physical plane, where property law of all sorts has always found definition”. As we move ever more rapidly towards the reality of the non-physical, how do we make sure that our digital creative labour is properly acknowledged and financially rewarded ? 

Attribution: Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When acquiring a digital artwork is simply a matter of cutting and pasting, or copying with a right-click, how do we ensure that artists are getting financial recompense for their intellectual investments ? Just how do we assign ownership and value to born-digital artefacts in the meta-verse ? The solution seems to have been found in a three letter acronym. Named by Collins Dictionary as its Word of the Year for 2021. The NFT.

Collins Dictionary Word of the Year 2021

But just what are NFTs and how might they help us to acknowledge the rights of content creators and provide a mechanism for their payment ?

NFT stands for Non-Fungible Token. Although NFT might sounds complicated, once you know that fungible is a word which means interchangeable, it all starts to make sense. 

Fungible items are interchangeable because their VALUE defines them, rather than their unique properties.

Oil. Gold. Currencies. All are fungible.

These are a few of my fungible things…
(Toni Frissell, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

So Non-Fungible is an economic term used to describe things are NOT interchangeable. A piece of art, your favourite coat, the picture you take of an autumnal sunset, all are non-fungible. A non-fungible TOKEN, then, is a unique and non-interchangeable unit of data stored on a digital ledger, more commonly known as a blockchain  – and it is by using the technologies of blockchain that these unique tokens – NFTs – can be created and managed. 

A chain block. Not to be confused with a Blockchain.
(5 Cent Dollar, CC BY-SA, via Wikimedia Commons)

Blockchain uses distributed ledger technology to create immutable records that contain smart contracts. By recording each transaction showing the movement of an asset from owner to owner, and by building each block on the previous one, it forms an irreversible chain that is tamper-evident. 

While Blockchain technology is revolutionising the way business is done it does have a major downside. By its nature it requires millions of micro calculations to be undertaken every second on the distributed network. And each calculation uses computing power. Which in turn uses energy, energy that is currently supplied by traditional fossil fuels. This, obviously, has a serious impact on the environment, which is, and should be, of huge concern in these times of rapid climate change. It’s a an issue that I’m going to set that aside for now but it should always be a consideration when we think of blockchain technologies.

My focus here is on why I consider NFTs to be a good thing for digital artists. Barlow perhaps unwittingly references the heart of the challenge for creators in the digital space, stating ‘whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost’. We now inhabit a world where tools such as the free and open source image editor GIMP allow for the creation of digital content at no cost to the creator. And the acquisition of the skills to use those tools are also freely available via YouTube and other online tutorials.

But once a digital artwork comes into being how can the creator record their authorship and ownership? The solution has been found in the form of the NFT – analogous to a certificate of authenticity for digital content. But an NFT can also contain additional data in the form of rules. One rule could be that every time the transfer of ownership occurs a residual must be paid to the original creator. This represents a major shift to how artists are paid at present.

The first major sale of digital art took place in 2013 at Phillips auction house, but none of the works sold came with a guarantee of authenticity. It took until February of this 2021 when Christie’s auction house sold artist Beeple’s Everydays…for born-digital content to hit the headlines. The piece was a collage of five thousand individual digital images that he had created, one per day, over a period of 16 years.  

A snapshot of ‘Everydays’ by digital artist Mike Winkleman, aka Beeple

The piece sold for an astonishing $69.3 million, and rocketed the previously unheralded digital creator to number three in the most expensive living artists charts. It presented a paradigm shift in the art world by changing the perception of what makes art valuable and asking for a re-examination of the definition of high art.

Not only art but ALL digital artefacts – any “unique thing that can be bought, sold or traded online” can be monetised by NFTs. And the infrastructure enabling NFTs development is expanding rapidly.  The biggest company in this space is Open Sea – an NFT marketplace that streamlines the process of NFT transactions for both creators and collectors. With a tagline that says “Own what moves you, and share it with the world.” The platform is rapidly consolidating the legitimacy of the NFT space by enabling creators to generate their own NFTs for free, as well as providing a mechanism for collecting royalties on all sales…and subsequent sales.

In the early 2000s the paradigm shift in software brought about by the technological developments in cloud computing moved software from a physical product to service. In much the same way the metaverse of 2021, based on blockchain technologies is moving art from the physical to the digital realm. 

Beeple’s latest artwork is entitled Human One – a hybrid digital and physical artwork. Described as a ‘generative sculpture’ the owner not only purchased a physical object, they have also bought continual access to the artist updating the piece throughout his lifetime. 

Human One by digital artist Mike Winkleman, aka Beeple

I talk more about NFTs elsewhere on this website. If you want to see how I made my own NFT then have a look here and if you’d like to make one yourself I have completed a step-by-step guide on my NFT Create page.

There’s a comprehensive overview of NFTs in this NFTs for Beginners blog.

An NFT Bibliography

91+ Blockchain Statistics, Facts, and Trends For 2021 (2019) TechJury. Available at: (Accessed: 10 December 2021).

Associated Press (2021) Collins Dictionary crowns ‘NFT’ as Word Of The Year, Available at: (Accessed: 25 November 2021).

Barlow, J.P. (1994) ‘The Economy of Ideas’, Wired. Available at: (Accessed: 15 November 2021).

Barlow, J.P. (2016) A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, Electronic Frontier Foundation. Available at: (Accessed: 26 November 2021).

BBC News (2021a) ‘Beeple’s NFT digital art nets £50m at Christie’s auction’, 11 March. Available at: (Accessed: 25 November 2021).

BBC News (2021b) ‘Jack Dorsey’s first ever tweet sells for $2.9m’, 23 March. Available at: (Accessed: 29 November 2021).

Beeple (2021) Beeple on Instagram: ‘introducing HUMAN ONE’. Available at: (Accessed: 30 November 2021).

‘Beeple “Everyday” NFT brings 69m’ (2021). Warrior Trading News. Available at: (Accessed: 28 November 2021).

‘Beeple’s First-Ever Physical Sculpture Evolves Over Time’ (2021) SURFACE, 2 November. Available at: (Accessed: 28 November 2021).

Collins Dictionary (2021). Available at: (Accessed: 29 November 2021).

Dale, B. (2021) It’s an NFT Boom. Do You Know Where Your Digital Art Lives? Available at: (Accessed: 30 November 2021).

Digital Art’s First Auction (2013) The L Magazine. Available at: (Accessed: 29 November 2021).

Don’t let FUD give you FOMO or you’ll end up REKT — crypto slang, explained (2021). Available at: (Accessed: 3 December 2021). Flood, A. (2021)

Get your crypto at the ready: NFTs are big in 2021 (2021) Collins Dictionary Language Blog. Available at: (Accessed: 29 November 2021).

‘It’s an NFT Boom. Do You Know Where Your Digital Art Lives?’ (2021). Coindesk. Available at: (Accessed: 30 November 2021).

Johnny Harris (2021) NFTs, Explained. Available at: (Accessed: 25 November 2021).

‘NFT Artist Beeple’s First Physical Sculpture Fetches About $28.9 Million’ (2021) WSJ. Available at: (Accessed: 25 November 2021).

‘NFT beats cheugy to be Collins Dictionary’s word of the year’, The Guardian, 24 November. Available at: (Accessed: 25 November 2021).

‘Non-fungible tokens (NFT)’ (2021). Ethereum. Available at: (Accessed: 25 November 2021).

OpenSea (2021) OpenSea, the largest NFT marketplace, OpenSea. Available at: (Accessed: 29 November 2021).

Rose, B. (2021) ‘Beeple Will Update a New $29M Piece “For the Rest of My Life”’, Wired. Available at: (Accessed: 25 November 2021).

Simplilearn (2021) NFT Explained In 5 Minutes | What Is NFT? – Non Fungible Token | NFT Crypto Explained | Simplilearn. Available at: (Accessed: 25 November 2021).

‘Tim Berners-Lee’s NFT of world wide web source code sold for $5.4m’ (2021). The Guardian. Available at: (Accessed: 29 November 2021).

‎Waldy and Bendy’s Adventures in Art: Season 3, Episode 13 on Apple Podcasts (2021) Apple Podcasts. Available at: (Accessed: 25 November 2021).

What is Blockchain Technology? – IBM Blockchain (2021). Available at: (Accessed: 28 November 2021).