What do artists need to know about NFT copyright, ownership and verification?

There was a time when you’d need a printing press to make a copy of an artwork. But in today’s ever-digital world, where more than three billion images and 700,000 hours of video are shared online every day, it’s as simple as Ctrl+C. 


Some creators are now turning to non-fungible tokens (NFTs), unique digital items that can help artists protect their work and prove ownership — a bit like a limited-edition print, but in an online setting. 


So, is NFT blockchain metadata enough to shield your work from copycats? And where does good old-fashioned copyright law come in?   


In this guide, we’ll talk you through NFT copyright law for digital artists and creators wanting to make an NFT — from protecting your images to proof of ownership.

a selection of digital polygons, coloured gold


NFT copyright — protecting your images.

If you bring an original idea to life in a fixed, tangible medium, you have the right to prevent others from copying it. That’s where copyright law comes in. In theory, this prevents other people from:


  • Copying your work

  • Distributing, selling, renting or lending copies of your work

  • Performing, playing or showing your work publicly

  • Adapting your work

  • Putting your work online


So far, so straightforward. In short, if you created it, you own it. No one else (with a few exceptions) can use your idea without your say-so for up to 75 years. 


Are NFTs copyrighted?

NFT copyright laws work the same for NFT artwork as any other artwork — the original creator holds the rights. So, if you’ve created an image, logo, graphic, social media post or artwork and want to make it into an NFT, you can. It’s yours to reproduce and distribute as you see fit. 


But here’s where things get a bit trickier. Some people might create an NFT based on work that exists elsewhere. For example, an NFT might bear the likeness of a cartoon character or it could be a meme based on a famous TV show. 


In this case, the NFT creator might own the NFT, but they do not own the copyright to the original content. This could land them in hot water were the artist to sue for copyright infringement. 


Likewise, if someone acquires an original NFT from someone else, they wouldn’t automatically acquire the copyright to the original artwork. They’d need to ensure that they had the right to display the original artwork or risk a penalty.


How to copyright your artwork. 

If you create an original NFT artwork — whether it’s an 8-bit pixel character, a 3D sculpture, a music video or a computer game — you automatically own the copyright. 


  • You don’t need to fill in paperwork, head down to a dusty patent office or even register it online. You can simply mark it with your name, date and a © sign. 

  • It’s also a good idea to write a copyright statement that can sit as a footer on your website or elsewhere. This could be as simple as “All rights reserved” — which means that no one can use your work without your permission. You can also go into more detail and specifically prohibit the unauthorised use of your work. 


However, you’re under no obligation to mark your work as copyright or write a statement. Your work is protected either way.


People and organisations who wish to use copyrighted work must apply for a licence — but some, such as schools and libraries — might be exempt.  


Protecting artwork after it’s been launched.

Once you’ve launched your NFT, you’re responsible for defending the material against NFT copyright infringement. 


Registering your work with a licensing body is an important step to protecting your work. They can agree licences on your behalf.


If you think someone is using your work without the permission or licence, you can check the licences register. From there, the licensing body can take up the case with the Copyright Tribunal

a selection of three copyright signs in black and white circles

Copyright-signs in-black-and-white

Learn how to create and make NFT art.

Create NFT Art from scratch or turn your artwork into an NFT.

NFTs and intellectual property.

As we’ve discussed, NFT ownership does not cover the underlying asset — only the NFT itself.


When it comes to NFT IP rights, you can think in the same way as traditional art. As an artist, if you were to sell a print of your work at a museum or gallery, the new owner of the print has a legal right to it hang it on their wall. But, crucially, they haven't got any legal right to reproduce the print or any stake in the original artwork behind it. 


However, if you chose, you could pass the artwork and the intellectual property to a new owner or license certain elements of the work out to different owners. For example, perhaps an advertising company wanted to use your painting as part of a billboard campaign. In this case, you could give them specific rights to do so. 


  • NFTs are no different. Some NFT creators include certain commercial rights in their tokens, so new owners can use the image or graphic as they see fit — whether to share it on their own website or to merchandise as t-shirts.

  • You’d need to stipulate any transfer of the intellectual property in writing. This can be in the NFT smart contract or through another form of contract. 

  • But remember — if you create original NFT artwork, you own the intellectual property and copyright until you say otherwise.

vector art bulldog NFT images in different colour combinations


How to verify NFT ownership.

You can prove you own a given NFT relatively easily through its metadata. But you might need to prove you created the original artwork too — and this can be a bit trickier. 


Here’s what you can do to prove you own your NFT — and the creative idea behind it.


Artwork metadata - what it is and how it works.

Metadata is the underlying information that accompanies all digital files. It generally covers where the file originated from, as well as the date, time and devices used.


When it comes to proving ownership of your digital art, metadata is therefore essential. You can include your name, publishing date and copyright statement — which would be very handy to prove your ownership later.


All image and video file types record some form of metadata. But some particularly useful file types include:


  • EXIF (Exchangeable image file format) — this standard image file type is popular on digital cameras and automatically adds its own metadata. 

  • IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council) Core/Extension are developed for professional use in the media industries and contain useful extra info on copyright and ownership for stock usage.

  • XMP (Extensible Metadata Platform) was originally created by Adobe and offers standard and customisable metadata for a range of images and resources.


Want to find the best file type for your digital art? Check out our image files comparison pages to learn more.


Digital art storage.

Another way to protect your artwork is to store it safely. This can be essential to proving NFT ownership — as you’ll be able to provide original files as well as metadata in a copyright claim.


Some digital artists choose to store their files in three separate places — on a computer, on a back-up drive (such as cloud storage) and in an external location away from your computer. This should cover you for lost files, theft and hardware damage. 


“Minting” and NFT signatures.

NFTs are traceable and verifiable due to blockchain code. When you “mint” an NFT, you generate unique data to represent your token in the blockchain and trace it back to you. 


There are two data components that make an NFT unique:


  • TokenID — generated on creation of your NFT.

  • Contract address — an address within the blockchain, viewable by anyone with a blockchain scanner.


Only one NFT in the world will exist with a given combination of tokenID and contract address. Once an NFT is created, smart contract programming will record any transfers of the NFT, as well as acquisition terms. 


As a result, NFTs in themselves relatively secure. But you’ll need to make sure you can prove ownership of your artwork too.

an image of HTML metadata on a computer screen


Verifying an NFT.

If you ever need to provide NFT proof of ownership, you can do so in a number of ways.


  • Smart contract metadata. First things first, head to the Details section of the NFT smart contract. This should include info on tokenID, contract address, blockchain hosting, metadata status and encoding standard.

  • Digital certificates. On some NFTs, you can include an authenticity certificate in the metadata. You can include your name, date and NFT copyright details here too. 

  • NFT verification services. You can also add your tokenID and contract address to an NFT verification database. This is a great quick reference point to prove the legitimacy of your NFT. 


Want to shore up your NFT and prove ownership? Adobe Creative Cloud can help. Our programmes offer in-depth tools metadata and content credentials via:


a silhouetted person in an abstract digital artwork


NFT authentication: FAQs.


Can NFTs be sued for copyright?

NFTs can be sued for copyright in the same way as other physical or digital media can. While an NFT owner may legally own the NFT itself, they may not own the rights to the original content or artwork it derived from. However, some NFTs may include licensing rights, so it’s always important to check.


Is NFT just proof of ownership?

NFTs include proof of ownership in their unique metadata in the smart contract. However, this doesn’t equate to ownership of the original artwork — only of the token itself. The creator owns the copyright of the original work. As a result, the NFT is still subject to copyright law.


What makes an NFT authentic?

NFTs are authenticated using their tokenID and contract address. This combination of data is unique to each individual NFT, so you can use it to trace its authenticity.


Discover more information and guides on NFT design and creation.