Posted on February 9, 2022 in Technology

Dune and Crypto Bros

You might have seen a tweet circulating about a couple of people who bought the movie concept book for Dune, and seemed to think they’d just bought the IP.


The Culture Of NFTs

There’s a lot of confusion over what an NFT actually is. An NFT, or Non-Fungible Token, is a blockchain-backed token that can’t be exchanged for other tokens equally. For contrast, a bitcoin is worth one bitcoin, and the two can be exchanged without the owner noticing, the same way one dollar bill is exactly equal to another dollar bill. NFTs are different – they’re tied to a specific, unique item. That item can, right now, before regulation, be a huge number of things, but the market is flooded with art because the easily customized mass-produced pop-art NFTs are easy to make.

NFTs are valuable because they’re valuable. That is, if everyone decided they weren’t valuable, they wouldn’t be. NFTs are hardly unique by this measure, but because they’re shiny and new, they’re not being recognized for what they are, and the culture surrounding them actively works to prevent them from becoming better understood because that could lead to a market crash, and then all of the people at the top would be out their investment.

What Actually Happened

While it’s being reported that a bunch of dudes bought the design book with the idea that they owned the IP, that’s not quite true – or it’s not what the group is claiming happened.

Here are the facts: in an auction, crypto-group Spice DAO spent 266,000,000 pounds on a book that had been valued somewhere between 26,000 and 35,000 pounds by the auction site. They then tweeted this:

And while it looks like they thought they bought the IP itself, we don’t have a lot of evidence suggesting that’s the case.

See, this isn’t actually Dune – it’s a concept book for a movie that never happened, a film adaptation by Alejandro Jodorowsky. As it’s not the original Dune, only a handful of copies exist. They still waaaaay overpaid for it, but it isn’t just another copy of Dune like many people commentating on Twitter seem to think it is.

Secondly, in the tweet, they say they’d like to produce an original animated series inspired by the book – inspired. That’s a tricksy word used for tricksy things, but giving them the benefit of the doubt, it’s possible they understood they didn’t own the IP and really did just want inspiration for their own project, a sort of supplementary material guide for the stuff not seen in any existing Dune movie that could have been done better if it wasn’t restricted by the source materials. Of course, you can’t just rip off this book either, but it adds material.

Picture making a new Bond inspired movie with a concept book from someone else – the fresh perspective might be just enough to give you something like the Mission Impossible series, which, if not inspired by Bond, is definitely Bond adjacent. It’s possible this team is looking to make something Dune adjacent, not Dune itself, citing the words ‘inspired by’ in that tweet. Again, we don’t know exactly, but buying it for inspiration seems more plausible than buying it because they thought it was literally the copyright to the material.

You can’t just make a movie out of a book you bought, but there are levels between copyright infringement and original IP that may make this possible… if they do it right. 50 Shades of Gray was a Twilight fanfiction with a couple of tweaks to evade IP stealing, it’s not unbelievable that this group could do that with this movie concept book for Dune.

 Why they needed to spend 100x the asking price to do this, and then announce their plans without followup clarifying what they’re actually doing? It’s possible they wanted headlines, and knew this was an easy way to get that necessary attention. Regular marketing would have been significantly cheaper, but this is certainly interesting – it’s gotten a lot of eyes on it that otherwise wouldn’t have looked twice. It also shows just how much money they have to blow on their project, which attracts even more attention.

Bad Mashup

I doubt this would have been such a kerfuffle in the news if

A) They’d bought the book without that tweet,

B) they’d paid less money for it, and

C) the group wasn’t a crypto group.

NFTs are coming into the limelight as a poorly regulated and likely inflated market propped up by people who don’t understand what they’re buying, but it does sometimes work out for those people because the market is still so new. People on Twitter have discovered via Twitter that they don’t own the picture, they just own the token – and anybody can copy/save the picture off of the Twitter user’s profile image because there’s nothing stopping them, legally or technologically, from doing so. Everyone has access to the art, and the owner still retains all their copyright permissions – spending money on an NFT just means that you own a token of said art, and literally nothing else.

It’s not a giant leap to assume the crypto group SpiceDAO may be some of these people with a poor understanding of how NFTs work, and that saw this book, bought it, and assumed they owned it like so many NFT buyers think they own the art they just bought the NFT to. That’s a huge issue in the community, and it’s one that would be disadvantageous to solve. Until it is, and the market is propelled by more than just hype, though, NFTs are too volatile to trust.