What in the World are NFTs?


Leah S-V, Editor-in-Chief

What is an NFT? That seems to be a question everyone is asking recently, NFT stands for nonfungible token. A piece of art, or a file that can not be duplicated. Unless of course, someone takes a screenshot or recording and posts it all over YouTube. The popularity of NFTs has skyrocketed recently and so has the price, as well as the environmental concerns of these collections of megadata.


NFTs are stored on a blockchain, a database created for tracking the transaction of cryptocurrency. The person making the original piece of art depicting a cartoon turtle for example, creates a certain amount of digital copies and then sells them. An article from the website for Concord Law School explains it like this,“When someone purchases a painting, they own that physical object. They generally do not own the copyright to the work unless the artist specifically transfers it to them. When someone purchases an NFT, they are buying the digital artwork itself and the metadata stored in the token.” Simplified, the person who buys an NFT now owns the data that makes up our exemplary digital turtle and in most cases has the right to resell or do whatever they want with that turtle. They now own the rights to it. It’s similar to commissioning artwork. If someone needs a turtle to be the logo of their new company, but they aren’t much of an artist themselves, they can commission a drawing of said turtle from an artist for a price. Once they pay that fee, they own the turtle and can freely use it for their branding without crediting the original artist, unless previously specified.  


The concept of an NFT dates back to 2012 when a cryptocurrency known as Colored Coins was created. But the market for NFTs really took off in 2020, where a character in a series called Cryptopunks sold for 7.5 million dollars, setting off a chain of commerce regarding this new product. In February of this year, someone sold an NFT of a ten second video for 6.6 million dollars. He’d bought it four months earlier for just 67 thousand dollars. 


The problem with NFTs is that they create environmental concerns. An article by Rishi Iyengar and Jon Sarlin from CNN Business says “By one estimate, Ethereum — the cryptocurrency system on which most NFTs are built and traded — now consumes as much electricity as all of Ireland.” Yikes. “My view is that if you are participating in NFTs, you are disproportionately profiting from an ecological collapse,” said Rainbolt, an artist who frequently sells his work in the form of NFTs. 


Several celebrities have jumped on the NFT train to sell these tokens to their fans. British musician Liam Payne for example, created several NFTs of a 3-D sculpture of a fly named Lonely Bug, inspired by a drawing he’d made during quarantine. Liam described them as a form of self expression for him, helping him to process the pandemic. 


One thing’s for certain, as long as they keep making people money, NFTs are sticking around, but it’s good to think twice about their impact on the environment. Just because something is digital doesn’t mean it’s harmless.