The battle digital artists face when using the internet has been hard fought for decades. Monegraph hopes to solve licensing issues with an easy to use online platform, leveraging Bitcoins blockchain.
In 1985, Andy Warhol created digital art using a Commodore Amiga, at the computers launch party in the Lincoln Center, New York. Warhol manipulated a monochrome image of Blondie’s lead singer, Debbie Harry, using the graphics program ProPaint.
The process was caught on film, and the digital art was saved on a floppy disk. It was only last year that a New York artist, Cory Arcangel, discovered the disks, which had been stored in the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Today, Digital Art takes on many forms, all made with the aid of a computer. Digital Art can be sketches that are originally on paper, but scanned and edited on the computer, or maybe Photoshopped images or CAD designed models.
Digital artists today face many issues when it comes to protecting the authenticity and ownership of their pieces, this is particularly true with images. At TechCrunch New York 2014, one of the creators of Monegraph, Kevin McCoy, discussed these problems. “They make work and then they give it away. They have to put it out onto social media platforms where it circulates and they will fight for attention, meanwhile, the basis for any sort of market that they have is undermined by the action of giving it away and it floats out to billion dollar platforms that then monetise it."
"artists don’t have any direct way of profiting off of the art works that they do, which is not the case if they were painters.”
— – Kevin McCoy, Monegraph
This issue is underpinned by the internet’s ever present battle, copyright infringement. Even if content is registered, putting it online essentially makes it a free for all. In an exhibition “New Portraits,” at the Gagosian Gallery in New York last year, artist Richard Prince controversially sold other people’s instagram photos. Prince did not ask for permission from the posters. He merely added his comment below the image, printed them on large canvases, and sold them for a rumoured $100,000 USD each.
“Not sure how to feel about this…’artist’ Richard Prince is taking people’s Instagram photos and selling them as his ‘artwork’ at the Frieze Art Fair here in NYC this weekend, including a shot taken from our good friend @DoeDeere’s account of her dressed as her #PidginDoll.
"Unfortunately the caption, credits, and context have been extracted and neither of us alerted to this image being used in this way.”
— – PidginDoll
DoeDeere also commented on the use of her image. “Figured I might as well post this since everyone is texting me. Yes, my portrait is currently displayed at the Frieze Gallery in NYC. Yes, it’s just a screenshot (not a painting) of my original post,” said Deere. “No, I did not give my permission and yes, the controversial artist Richard Prince put it up anyway. It’s already sold ($90K I’ve been told) during the VIP preview. No, I’m not gonna go after him. And nope, I have no idea who ended up with it!”
There are systems in place to protect images, but registering and understanding the licensing process can be complex. Recently launched, Monegraph intends to curb this ongoing issue.
The company hopes to make it easy for digital image creators to construct licenses for the commercial use of their work. “With Monegraph, anyone can buy and sell fully licensed digital media directly. We bring artists, photographers, designers and illustrators together with collectors, publishers, advertisers and brands,” states the site.
“Monegraph allows you to create and customize a license contract that establishes the usage parameters for your media. These licenses are binding legal agreements between the owner of the work (initially the creator) and a buyer of the work. They are legally enforceable in a court of law and are a prerequisite for many major commercial entities to do business with you.”
— – Monegraph
There are currently four types of Monegraph license. The Artwork license, for non-commercial use; The News Photo License, for non-commercial editorial use; The Product Image License, a commercial rights managed license; The Snapshot License, a commercial agreement which gives all rights to the buyer once the piece is purchased.
In addition to their own database, Monegraph is using new cutting-edge technology known as the blockchain. “This helps provide an independent verification of the attribution and ownership information, so you stay in control of your intentions around your work. It also is part of the digital signature process that shows that a contract has been executed and a hand-off of rights has occurred,” states the company.
“Currently, Monegraph manages all of the blockchain transactions, so you don’t have to know anything about it, own any Bitcoin, or keep track of any private keys. In the future, we will support the ability to export the blockchain records of your license contracts for those who want to self-manage the rights licensing process themselves.”
— – Monegraph
The blockchain is a public database, a core part of the digital currency Bitcoin. The information about who made a work, who owns it and the license terms are stored in Monographs own database, but it is also stored in the Bitcoin Blockchain. This helps provide an independent verification of the attribution and ownership information, so the artist stays in control of the work.
“Initially, Monegraph supports JPG, PNG and GIF image files. GIFs can be animated or not. File sizes up to 100 MB are supported. Our system will work for many other kinds of digital files, and we are working hard to support more. Next up will be support for video files and various types of source files. Stay tuned.”
— – Monegraph
Monegraph also provides an online catalogue for artists, it can be work that is for sale, or work that is registered. Payments can be made for pieces using Stripe. In order for an artist to be paid, they are required to register, and the user must supply their bank account details, the last four digits of their Social Security Number, and their home address.
This information is then passed on to Stripe directly. Monegraph is not privy to the transaction, but do take a transaction fee of $0.60, plus 9.5% of the sale amount. “These fees will be deducted from the listed retail price with the remainder being transferred to the seller. These fees include our payments to Stripe and Bitcoin network fees.”