On March 11, 2021, Christie’s auction house made a landmark sale by auctioning off an entirely digital artwork by the artist Beeple, a $69 million transaction in Ether, a cryptocurrency.1 In doing so, the famous auction house put non-fungible tokens (“NFT”), the product of a decentralized blockchain, in the spotlight. While many extol the benefits of such crypto asset technology, there are also significant risks associated with it,2 requiring greater vigilance when dealing with any investment or transaction involving NFTs.
What is an NFT?
The distinction between fungible and non-fungible assets is not new. Prior to the invention of blockchain, the distinction was used to differentiate assets based on their availability, fungible assets being highly available and non-fungible assets, scarce. Thus, a fungible asset can easily be replaced by an equivalent asset with the same market value. The best example is money, whether it be coins, notes, deposit money or digital money, such as Bitcoin. On the contrary, a non-fungible asset is unique and irreplaceable. As such, works of art are non-fungible assets in that they are either unique or very few copies of them exist. Their value is a result of their authenticity and provenance, among other things.
NFTs are crypto assets associated with blockchain technology that replicate the phenomenon of scarcity. Each NFT is associated with a unique identifier to ensure traceability. In addition to the art market, online, NFTs have been associated with the collection of virtual items, such as sports cards