Can You Go to Jail for Screenshotting NFTs?

NFTs have absolutely skyrocketed in popularity recently. Many now wonder how NFTs get their value—after all, they are only images, and images can just be screenshotted without consequence, right? Are there any laws that prevent you from doing so?

You can’t go to jail for simply screenshotting an NFT. However, NFTs are owned property, so there are copyright laws in place for their protection. You can not pass the screenshot off as your own work or sell it. Doing so will have legal consequences, which may include jail time.

In this article, I will break down the technicalities related to the screenshotting of NFTs. I’ll explain what it means for you, and why screenshotting NFTs even became a big deal in the first place.

Why Screenshotting NFTs Is Legal

Right off the bat, let me make it clear that it is not illegal to screenshot NFTs. There will be no legal consequences if all you do is take a screenshot. NFT owners who are more knowledgeable on the topic usually won’t have a problem with someone taking a screenshot of their NFT.

Disclaimer: This is not intended to be legal or financial advice. Please consult a lawyer or a financial advisor before making critical decisions.

NFTs are considered to be owned property, meaning that there are copyright laws protecting their ownership rights. How come screenshotting an NFT isn’t illegal, then? 

The main reason is that taking screenshots of NFTs does not do any real damage to the NFT or the owner. It does not break any copyright laws either.

Here’s why taking screenshots of NFTs is not a problem:

  • Taking a screenshot of an NFT doesn’t make you the owner of it. Sure, the screenshot might be very easy to acquire and very—or completely—similar to the original NFT, but so are screenshots of all other types of digital property or physical property. A great example of this is real-world physical paintings. Taking a photo of these paintings does not make you their owner. 
  • NFTs are highly transparent in terms of their ownership. NFTs operate on the Blockchain, allowing every transaction carried out on an NFT to be recorded on a public ledger, which is available for all to see. These records trace back to the NFT’s inception and contain necessary metadata regarding the traders and owners involved. This record makes it so that proof of ownership is always available.
  • Unlockable content. It is often the case that the image or other digital data associated with the NFT is not the actual asset itself. It is the ownership of the NFT. The ownership of an NFT may bring along with it content that is unlockable and accessible only by the owner.

What Is Illegal to Do With NFTs

Even though the act of taking a screenshot of NFTs is not illegal in itself, there are some laws that dictate what you can do with that screenshot. It’s important to be aware of these laws.

NFTs are protected by copyright laws. If you want to be as thorough as possible in learning what these laws are, here is a PDF file that details the copyright laws set by the U.S. Copyright Office.

Put simply; you may not:

  • Attempt to pass off the NFT as your own work.
  • Attempt to sell the screenshot of the NFT.
  • Pretend to be the current owner of the NFT.

Doing so infringes on the ownership rights of the current property holder and is subject to legal consequences.

Consequences of Illegally Trading NFTs

The consequences for the illegal sale or trading of an NFT are similar in nature to copyright infringements of other copyrighted content. The punishments may, however, be surprisingly strict.

Major offenses may even constitute fraud and theft and can be punishable by massive fines and jail time. Section 504 of the Copyright Act dictates that a seller who makes a sale that infringes copyright laws unknowingly can be liable for damages up to $30,000.

If a sale is carried out with the seller being entirely aware of the fact that it is a copyright infringement, the seller may be liable for up to $150,000 in damages.

The presence of such heavy fines means that while you definitely don’t want to infringe copyrights knowingly, there may unfortunately also be cases where there is a chance that you might do so unknowingly. 

An example of this would be buying an NFT that infringes existing copyrights. Doing so can lead to you being involved in the proceeding legal entanglement or a sudden drop in the value of the NFT you invested in, both of which are highly undesirable outcomes.

It’s crucial that you carry out your own research before buying and trading NFTs to avoid ending up in situations like the ones I just mentioned. You may also consider consulting with a financial advisor or a lawyer to qualify investments in NFTs.

It is also important to note that since NFTs are a relatively new phenomenon and are entirely digital, a low level of legal monitoring is present in the NFT environment by default. Most cases are filed only when an NFT owner takes notice of an infringement on the property and decides to take legal action.

Besides being categorized as intellectual property or copyright infringement, serious offenses can also involve the offender being charged with fraud or theft.

Where the Idea To Screenshot NFTs Comes From

The idea of screenshotting NFTs came from the online community’s response to the rising popularity of NFTs.

NFTs are viewed by many as harmful to the digital economy and insulting to physical works of art, which are very commonly drawn inspiration from or almost identically transformed into NFTs. I think it’s safe to say that the general online community has not received NFTs in a very welcoming manner.

NFTs have been met with skepticism because their art can easily be imitated or screenshotted without much consequence. The notion of simply screenshotting NFTs has largely been used to mock those who spend entire fortunes on them. Screenshots of the NFT art look exactly like the original, and they’re free. This implies that NFT artwork isn’t worth what it’s being paid for.

Another reason for the public’s disapproval of NFTs is that they are responsible for high carbon emissions. Minting an NFT requires gas fees to be paid through mining, similar to cryptocurrency.

According to the NFT Club, an average NFT will emit a total of 211 kg (465 lbs) of Carbon dioxide into the atmosphere throughout its lifespan. For reference, a single tree offsets 60 kg (132 lbs) worth of CO2 on average. This means that 3.52 trees are required on average to offset the carbon emissions produced by every single NFT.

The public’s negative impression of NFTs has not stopped dedicated traders and investors who saw an opportunity in these tokens from successfully profiting off of the gold rush. 

Conclusion

Screenshotting NFTs will not send you to jail. It is not an act of stealing, as the ownership rights of an NFT are embedded within the smart contract through which it was purchased. The Blockchain makes it so that transactions related to NFTs are recorded on a public ledger which is available for everyone to see.

Even though screenshotting is fine, you need to be careful about copyright infringements. You may not use the screenshot to pass yourself off as the creator or owner of the NFT or attempt to sell it for profit.

Sources

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