A Movie Theater NFT (Codex Vagus: essay 05)

A codex is a sort of volume that existed historically between a book and a scroll. The long sheets of leather used in scrolls were costly and difficult to prepare while smaller pages were easier to manufacture. It took a greater commitment to start work on a scroll. The individual pages could later be collected and bound if the end product merited it. Although a codex can be made of any material, it is generally associated with non-paper pages in the West. In Asia, it may be paper, but it is generally associated with hand copied transcripts. In the West they can be originals. A codex can be named after where it was kept, such as Codex Vaticanus, or the place of its origin, such as Codex Alexandrinus, or the type of material it was written on, such as Codex Atlanticus, or it could be named after its collector, such as Codex Leicester. By and large, the name “codex” has a vague implication of mystery and hidden knowledge.

Codex Vagus is the title I gave to essays unrelated to creative writing on this blog.

Codex Vagus: essay 05

Of all the Tulip Bubbles, Mississippi Companies, and Beanie Babies that graced the world, the Non-Fungible Token mania of 2020 seemed to be the one bestowed upon our generation. As if it were not enough that non-tangible Bitcoin, which started at a price that was a fraction of a penny, had risen to over $10,000 (on it’s way to the current price of over $68,000) in 2020, crude low-pixel images on the blockchain platform started selling for millions of dollars. Almost nobody initially understood what they were, let alone their value. Most people thought they were ridiculous. But some people thought they were the future. It took me a while to figure out how they might be put to good use.

The idea is this: Currently, NFTs are just small digital files, like low resolution still images or a short video clip of someone scoring a basketball shot. These small files are traded like Pokemon cards or rare stamps as static investment properties. But theoretically, NFTs can be much larger files, say a three-hour movie by Martin Scorsese or a 10-hour tutorial course on swing trading stocks. If we can attach a paywall to these large-file-NFTs, and make a pay-per-view-NFT, any video creator can in theory create their own Netflix-like platform. What was heretofore a static investment property will become a revenue generating asset.

Right now, if you are a small time movie maker, you can post your movie on YouTube, or if you have a course to sell you can post your course on any of the course selling sites and make money. So what is the advantage of creating an NFT out of your movie? Well, if someone wants to buy your movie, you could sell the rights to show it in theaters, to a streaming service, or just sell the NFT which is a theater unto itself. But if someone rips your movie off of YouTube and shows it at another movie channel, what can you do? You can sue, but that’s about it. If someone rips your movie off of a NFT, you can still sue, but (theoretically) the intrinsic value of your NFT will go up every time it is copied for the same reason that the intrinsic value of the Mona Lisa goes up every time somebody makes a silk screen of it.

This is particularly useful for music. You could pay to stream or download from the NFT, but if somebody rips it, which is inevitable, the intrinsic value of the NFT will go up making the musician richer (on paper until you sell it).

Also, since NFTs theoretically exist on blockchain forever, it will continue to generate revenue and rise in intrinsic value even after the copyright expires. The copyright has long since expired for the novel Alice in Wonderland, but the first edition continues to rise in price. And if you have a copy of the first edition, you could keep charging people who want to see it. The NFT should work pretty much in the same way.

Small time video creators, instead of being at the mercy of YouTube algorithms and monetization policies, can monetize as they please in effect owning their own platform.

People think of NFTs as extensions of cryptocurrency, which they sort of are, so they don’t seem to think about attaching them to a fiat dollar paywall. But this could be the wave of the future. After all, people are not selling their NFTs for monopoly money.

Shortly after I came up with this idea, Adam Benzine’s 2015 documentary Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah became the first motion picture and documentary film to be auctioned as an NFT. The file is too large to be stored entirely on the blockchain itself, so the actual file is stored off-chain at this point, although that may not be the case in the future. Anyway, it served as a proof of concept.

I tried to patent the idea, but I realized that I was not equipped for it. The technical jargon alone was major stumbling block. I never studied programing. I came up with an idea for Twitter back when cell phones could barely fit in brief cases. I came up with the idea of a video streaming service when we video rental stores were the new thing. But it’s not the ideas, it’s the execution. Leonardo da Vinci may have been right about many of his inventions, but he never gave most of them shape.

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