An artist died. Then thieves made NFTs of her work
An account on Twinci, an app that markets itself as the first NFTs social marketplace, listed one of Qing’s more popular pieces, titled “Bird Cage,” which she posted just one month before her death. The artwork depicts a girl’s ribs trapping her heart, which is drawn as a small, fragile bird. At the time Qing published it on social media, she was placed in the cardiac intensive care unit and placed on extra beta blockers.
With relative ease, anyone can start collecting tokens on Twinci. All they need is a pre-existing cryptocurrency wallet – such as Metamask or imToken – that they connect to Twinci. Once connected, a profile is automatically set up and a user can start creating and collecting NFTs. Wallets such as imToken don’t even require an email address to set up. A user just needs to give their wallet a name and a password.
Once connected on Twinci, all someone needs to do to create an NFT is to upload an image of an artwork and name their price in their chosen cryptocurrency. Twinci then mints a token and the collectible goes on the marketplace. Similar platforms such as OpenSea and Rarible exist for the digital artists who want to monetise NFTs but can’t draw the millions that NFT’s at the auction houses of Christie’s or Sotheby’s make.
“Regardless on [sic] what side of the debate you’re on about that, that’s just a morally shitty thing to do,” Ze tweeted on April 18 after being told about the NFTs. “So, please stop profiting off of my dead sister.” In reality, though, Ze says he felt more apathetic, perhaps because he was powerless.
The rapid rise of NFTs has been, almost inevitably, accompanied by scammers trying to profit from the craze. Their quick emergence is matched by a lack of controls or specific regulation. “It’s weird to say this, but I wasn’t too affected about it because I knew that there wasn’t anything realistic I could do and it wasn’t worth my time or energy,” Ze says.
“The most I could probably do is just let everyone know and I emailed [Twinci], after that there was no use in me worrying,” Ze says. The fake NFT was removed after Ze emailed the company and Qing’s Twitter fanbase began ringing alarm bells. An outraged tweet highlighting the fraudulent listing gained over 11,000 likes and 3,500 retweets, while her fans began reporting the listing and commented below Twinci’s official tweets with their complaints.
Twinci says it investigates claims like these and if account owners cannot provide proof that they have created an artwork, Twinci deletes their NFT and the account is given a lifetime ban from the marketplace. This is what happened with Qing’s Bird Cage listing.
But like most emerging technologies, it was the tip of the iceberg. On Twinci alone, there are five other listings with Qing’s art. Some NFTs are being advertised for up to 500 TWIN (Twinci’s own crypto-coin), which converts to around £400 at the time of writing. There was even an instance where an artist minted an NFT attached to an apparent plagiarism of Qing’s work – the one she had posted alongside her cancer diagnosis.
Qing’s case is perhaps one of the more morally repulsive examples of a much larger problem in the emerging NFT space. While Qing was unable to witness the theft of her artwork, other artists have been fighting their own battles. RJ Palmer, a concept artist who worked on the movie Detective Pikachu, is another victim. A service that allows people to tokenise Tweets was used to steal one of Palmer’s hyper-realistic Pokémon renderings alongside his caption: “I always really appreciated that Pokemon could bring us together regardless of where we are in our lives.” Comic artist, Derek Laufman, had their artwork stolen on the platform Rarible. “This is 100% NOT me,” he tweeted on March 13, “Apparently super easy to scam people. What a joke that platform is.”