Star Wars Stormtrooper helmets made by artists including Sir Anish Kapoor and David Bailey were photographed and sold as non-spongy signs (NFT) without their permission, with images selling for millions of pounds on Monday.
Curator Ben Moore took photos of some of the helmets of a project called Art Wars, created by more than 300 artists since 2013, and sold them for cryptocurrency as NFTs on the OpenSea trading platform. More than 1,600 ethereum (£ 5 million) have been transferred since the collection of 1,138 images went on sale yesterday.
One NFT attributed to Kapoor had a price tag of 1,000 ethereum when it was already marketed for resale on the website on Monday, while another work attributed to Bailey was resold for 120 ethereum. Both images have since been removed from the site.
About 12 artists are considering legal action against the project, according to legal representatives.
A representative for Bailey said he did not give permission or receive any of the proceeds from the sale. They said they would investigate the matter. Kapoor’s team declined to comment.
Damien Hirst, whose work was included to promote the collection but was not sold as an NFT, did not respond to a request for comment.
The Art Wars NFT page on OpenSea was taken down yesterday. OpenSea said it had received and complied with a copyright infringement notice.
The dispute highlights the debate over ownership of NFTs. Buyers of NFTs do not own the physical artwork and digital versions are sometimes sold without the original owners’ permission, leading to conflict over intellectual property.
Moore sent an email to artists on Nov. 4 to inform them of the collection, but some artists said the email went into their junk files, their lawyers claimed.
Moore did not deny allegations that he created the NFTs without the permission of the artists. “[Art Wars] regrets that some of the artists were surprised and have since expressed a preference not to be included – of course we respected those wishes, ”he said.
Any artists left in the project will “receive royalties in the usual way”, Moore added, saying the NFT project had raised £ 30,000 for charity.
Meanwhile, a recording of Moore shared on Twitter and what was originally posted on his Instagram stories Monday, appears to be that he is wearing a Stormtrooper helmet, shooting a gun in the air and boasting that he is making “two miles on NFT”.
Moore said people may suspect he was showing off, but it was a “small sign of celebration”.
London artist Helen Downie, who goes by the name Unskilled Worker, is one of those who is threatening legal action after she found out that two of her helmets were sold by Twitter as NFTs.
“I was initially tagged in a tweet from a buyer who said they were delighted to own a piece of my work,” she said. “The problem was that I had no idea how they bought it.
“If the exploitation of artists’ IPs remains undeniable, this behavior that is a truly exciting space for artists and collectors will be devastated and corrupt.”
The photos from Unskilled Worker Art have been successfully removed from the Opensea platform, following a request.
The Design and Artists Copyright Society said hitting NFTs without artists’ permission has the “potential to destroy how we, as a society, value creativity”. It makes inquiries for various artists involved.