DeviantArt finding 40,000 fake NFTs a month

fake NFTs

So you got a great deal on your brand-new mutant ape yacht puppy NFT?

But is it legit?

NFTs are clearly the new gold rush (you have mine, right?) But where there’s gold, there’s thieves and opportunists, and apparently, that’s just as true of NFTs as crypto in general.

DeviantArt is the world’s largest art community and has been around since 2000. It now has over 61 million members, and it’s getting involved to ensure its members’ art doesn’t get stolen. The community is now scanning 5 million NFTs a week, and every month, it’s finding 40,000 stolen, infringing, fraudulent NFTs.

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In other words, the people minting the NFTs don’t actually own the images in the first place … somewhat ironically since the whole idea of an NFT is prove ownership.

In this TechFirst with John Koetsier, we chat with DeviantArt CMO Liat Karpel Gurwicz and COO Moti Levy.

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TechFirst podcast: Fake NFTs


Transcript: DeviantArt finding 40,000 fraudulent NFTs a month

(This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)

John Koetsier: NFTs are clearly the new gold rush … you have mine, right? But where there’s gold, there’s also thieves and opportunists, and apparently that’s just as true in the NFT world as in crypto in general.

So the world’s largest art community is getting engaged. DeviantArt is a social art platform, it’s been around since 2000 so it’s like an old-age citizen almost, these days on the internet. Around 61 million members are there. Here to chat about the problem, we have DeviantArt CMO, Liat Gurwicz and COO, Moti Levy. Welcome! 

Liat Gurwicz: Thank you. Thanks for having us. 

Moti Levy: Hi John.

John Koetsier: Liat, let’s start with you. How big is this problem? 

Liat Gurwicz

Liat Gurwicz, CMO, DeviantArt

Liat Gurwicz: This problem is huge and growing all the time. So, we released our Protect service in September last year, and since then we’ve already sent our users over 120,000 alerts regarding infringements in the form of minted NFTs.

So that’s pretty huge. Today we scan approximately 5 million new NFTs every week. So we’re scanning public blockchains to monitor for potential infringements. And that too is growing exponentially week over week. 

John Koetsier: Moti, let’s bring you in here a moment … you scan, you find something, what happens? Walk us through.

Moti Levy: So basically with every time we’re finding an art infringement — a potential art infringement — while we’re scanning the blockchain, we send an alert to the artist whose art is being infringed.

The artist will get a notification through email or through notification center on DeviantArt and we’ll show him or her the infringed content, the infringement piece, and they will have the ability — if the match is correct and if the art was infringed and it’s not authorized by them — to go and file a DMCA with the relevant marketplace or platform where the infringement actually happened.

John Koetsier: Now, so they have to go there. They have to do that, they have to do some manual stuff there. Is that usually successful? And if it is, how quickly? 

Moti Levy: Well, I don’t know if the word successful is very big. I think it’s successful in the sense that we do find, as Liat mentioned, we do find a lot of art being infringed, unfortunately. So the success in the sense of putting a flashlight on the phenomena of art being stolen from platforms like DeviantArt and being published on the blockchains and then putting up for sale on different marketplaces.

So that’s, you know, a successful act is happening for the DeviantArt users. In terms of the takedowns, we … obviously the volume is huge — 120,000 alerts in three months — and the Web3 platforms and marketplaces are relatively young, and it’s overwhelming … it’s overwhelming amount of alerts that they’re getting just from DeviantArt.

So it might take those platforms, those marketplaces a few days, maybe a few weeks before they’ll be able to take any action against those disputes. We know that because users, our users are coming back to us and saying, ‘Can you help? Can you do something? The piece is still on.’

And unfortunately, DeviantArt, we are a little bit limited when it comes to taking out content which is not hosted on our platform. 

John Koetsier: Yeah. I mean, nobody can do that unless they’re going to hack in, right?

So, I totally get that. It’s almost like the platforms, the big NFT platforms like OpenSea, should have an API that maybe you could connect to and somebody’s going to mint something they can connect in and say, ‘Hey, do you have this? Does this previously exist? Is this okay? Has somebody said they want to mint this?’ or something like that.

Any possibility of something like that? 

Liat Gurwicz: Right. I mean, we’re absolutely working towards whatever level of integration we can implement with the marketplaces. So we’re currently in discussions with several marketplaces. Unfortunately, we don’t have any major announcements for you today, but our goal would be to automate that DMCA all the way through to the marketplaces.

Our Protect service was actually originally developed for DeviantArt, so it was to identify potential infringements being uploaded to DeviantArt.

So on our own platform, the DMCA process is completely automated. When a user receives an alert about a potential infringement, they can begin the takedown process. All of the information that they need, all of the evidence that is required for the DMCA is prefilled into that takedown request. So it’s ready just in a matter of seconds of identifying, saying ‘yes, this is an infringement,’ and then filing the DMCA.

So our goal would be to offer that same level of service with the various marketplaces. So hopefully we can get to that stage. For now though, users are dependent on whatever system those marketplaces have in place. 

John Koetsier: Very nice. And you kind of wonder, right? I mean, did somebody already make 20 ETH or did they make a few hundred thousand dollars by the time it’s caught, by the time the DMCA gets issued, by the time the platform investigates it, by the time something actually gets taken down, right?

Liat Gurwicz: Right. I mean the catch is pretty immediate, so I think the advantage of our platform is that we are scanning the blockchain and we’re identifying NFTs as they’re being minted.

So that alert can be within a matter of seconds or minutes from when the piece is posted. So, essentially artists are finding out about it in real time. Ideally they’ll also be able to then file that DMCA in real time and have it taken down just as quickly. 

John Koetsier: Wonderful. Moti, let’s bring you back in here a moment. You’ve obviously built this for DeviantArt. You’ve got a massive platform. What you’re basically shining a light on though, is that there’s a huge issue here just on one platform — and now you are massive, 61 million members, been around for 20 years — but there’s other places people get art and imagery and other things like that.

I mean, this problem could be 10X, 100X, 1000X the size. Any ideas on what can be done at that scope? And any ideas around taking your platform for this protection and making it more widely available?

Moti Levy

Moti Levy, Chief Operations Officer, DeviantArt

Moti Levy: No, absolutely. And I think you’re absolutely accurate with the fact that art is being infringed not just on DeviantArt. We know as a fact, we’ve seen examples from artists mentioning that pieces of their art that was not published on DeviantArt — published on different platforms — have been stolen and published on those marketplaces.

There was an example by gaming companies that — a game company, that 5,000 pieces of art related to their game was downloaded and uploaded to a marketplace and just being stolen.

So we know examples from other platforms for other games that this phenomenon is happening. And we’ve seen bots attacking DeviantArt, and fortunately we’ve been able to block those bots a month ago. But those bots doesn’t care if it’s DeviantArt, if it’s ArtStation, if it’s Twitter, any other platform, right? Any other hosting images platforms is being attacked and taking advantage of the fact that it’s pretty easy to copy/paste and just to put it on those marketplaces.

The service we’re doing for the DeviantArt users is right now working for DeviantArt, but we’ve been calling other platforms to join us, to join forces and to use the knowledge and the technology that we’ve implemented for DeviantArt but for other creators on their platforms. So we’re reaching out and we’re saying, ‘Join us. Let’s protect the community and the art and the creators’ community at large from this phenomena of art infringement coming from NFTs.

And you’ve mentioned, where there is money there will be bad players, right? For sure, and where there’s big money … even bigger, bad players and thieves. So, we would like to scale and to enable the service and this piece of technology outside of DeviantArt … absolutely.

John Koetsier: Let’s bring Liat back here, because we’ve seen the rise of NFTs and it’s very much like any other new, interesting field. You get a gold rush phenomenon, you get a whack load of interest in there, a bunch of money … you kind of hit this peak of expectations, you go into the trough of disillusionment — which we might be sliding into right now, I’m not entirely sure — but there’s clearly something going on here.

And you’ve got a community of 61 million artists who are creating incredible art which, there’s some really neat NFTs out there, but there’s some really crappy ones, too [laughing].

What are you doing in terms of DeviantArt around this phenomenon and making it maybe available, maybe as an option on platform/off platform for monetization for your members? 

Liat Gurwicz: I think that right now the creative community is really torn about NFTs. And while there are some creators who have been able to monetize successfully and see the opportunity there, I think that a lot of the community is still very disillusioned with NFTs, and specifically also because of these massive issues that we’re seeing around art theft.

So, I think in the long term we really believe that Web3 holds promise and opportunity for creators, right, and we hope that they’ll be able to enjoy that. But right now, Web3 is not delivering on its promise to creators, at all. And it lacks a lot of checks and balances in order for that place to be safe and that ecosystem to be safe for creators.

So for us, our focus is primarily on expanding the Protect platform and creating that safety net for artists as Web3 kind of scales around us. And then what we do next will really depend very much on our community. So, DeviantArt has been around for 22 years. We have always evolved together with our community and figured out how to build into the platform what they need and want for their work. And we’ll continue to do that, but right now, what they need and want is protection … and that’s why we’ve chosen to focus on that for our initial steps into the space of Web3. 

John Koetsier: I think that’s a really intelligent answer. I think that there’s such a great amount of ambivalence right now about NFTs. On the one hand, there’s this promise … digital property, fractional ownership, certificate of ownership, chain of ownership, provenance, all that stuff — which is interesting as we become more digital beings, living more often in digital environments like we are at this very second, right, as anybody listening or watching to this is as well.

On the other hand, there’s this … it’s a picture, and it’s a copy of something, and it exists in my [laughing] in my cache just because I browsed it, but you own it. What does that mean? What’s that look like?

And I’ve talked to some people who are deep into Metaverse who have built platforms in VR and AR and stuff like that and said that the purpose of technology is not to create scarcity, it’s to reduce scarcity, and so they’re against it from that point of view.

It sounds like you’ve got some ambivalence there because there just is ambivalence in the community around … is this opportunity? Is this … cheesy? Is this, you know, not where we want to go? And I embrace that because I feel that same ambivalence. Am I capturing your thoughts accurately? 

Liat Gurwicz: I think you’re capturing it really well. And I think … until we really understand how creators want to interact in Web3 and what the right tools for them would be, right now our focus is on making sure that they’re able to function alongside that.

We have artists whose entire lifetime, a career of work, has been stolen and minted as NFTs. And you know, whatever promise somebody wants to come and tell them of Web3 is meaningless to that creator, right? They’re not seeing any of that. They’re not able to monetize in any meaningful way. They’re not enjoying that. And you can understand why that creates cynicism amongst the creative community, right, when that’s how people are treating them and abusing their work.

So, in the long term, I think any tool and any capability that creators have to be able to take more ownership over what they produce, over their work, any way that they’re able to build equity for themselves out of what they do, and move away from just a work-for-hire model is amazing and we would be all for supporting that in whatever way we could. But right now, that’s not what the NFT ecosystem is doing, at all, for creators. 

John Koetsier: I love your background by the way. I assume that’s art from the platform [crosstalk]. Looks amazing. 

Liat Gurwicz: Yeah this is a bunch of DeviantArt artists. Some art down there from my kids in the corner that you can see [laughter]. 

John Koetsier: They’re also artists. Maybe not quite as Deviant [laughter and crosstalk].

Liat Gurwicz: Yeah they’re not on Deviant yet. In a few years they can join. 

John Koetsier: We’ll bring Moti in for a moment. Any last thoughts? 

Moti Levy: Yeah, I just want to echo what Liat was mentioning — I think it’s super important — the technology Web3, especially for the NFTs and for the creator community at large, is in infancy mode. It holds big promise and I think it’s up for us, the platforms for the creators, to take responsibility and join forces and bring it from a promise to effect.

And if we’ll join forces with other platforms, whether it’s Web2 or Web3, and really put the right measures into action and provide the security and the ability for artists to deliver upon the promise of NFTs and Web3 — meaning move from more work-to-hire to really own your destiny in the creator space — we’ll see this NFT adoption becomes much more spread and it’s not just very small percentage of artists that enjoys that. So it’s up for us to make it.

John Koetsier: Wonderful. Well, I want to thank both of you for your time. Really do appreciate it, and have a wonderful day. 

Moti Levy: Thank you so much.

Liat Gurwicz: Thank you.

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