CC0 NFTs: NFT Copyright Designation Controversy

    NFTs are still at their early stage of development, and they only gained mainstream popularity last year in 2021. That means, legal connotations of the use of these non-fungible tokens are still misleading and can spread confusion among NFT enthusiasts. One major legal issue the non-fungible community faces is copyright and intellectual property rights. Who owns what is the question of the year amidst the spiral of this new technology. Although we have a detailed guide on what NFT copyrights are and how they fit in the Web3 era, some NFT collections are ditching the idea of copyright altogether and opting for CC0 NFTs. 

    What is CC0 NFTs? How are they a benefit to the non-fungible assets? And are there any collections following this kind of licensing agreement? This article will guide you to the controversial emergence of copyright-free NFTs. 

    NFT Copyright

    Before we discuss the implications of the CC0 copyright on NFTs, we’ll refresh our minds on NFT copyright in general. The confusion circling NFT copyright stems from the misconception some people have about what they get when they buy an NFT. NFTs are immutable records of ownership that prove that you own something. Whether it’s an image or a song, if it’s linked to an NFT, that means whoever holds the non-fungible token can prove that they made a transaction on the blockchain to obtain the token. 

    However, owning an NFT linked to an image doesn’t necessarily mean you own the copyright or intellectual property of the artwork. In most cases, NFT collections will state that the copyright of any artwork sold under the collection goes back to the artist. If you navigate to Azuki’s website, under license, it clearly states that “When you acquire an Azuki NFT, you own all personal property rights to the token underlying the Azuki NFT (e.g., the right to freely sell, transfer, or otherwise dispose of that Azuki NFT), but you do not own the associated artwork, brand, or other intellectual property associated with that Azuki NFT”. 

    NFT Copyrights

    However, some NFT collections like Bored Apes Yacht Club and Cryptopunks grant holders of the NFT to own the intellectual property of the artwork linked to the NFT and ONLY the NFT they own. That means if you own the NFT BAYC #2533, you can create derivative work using the artwork. 

    What is CC0?

    Creative Commons Zero, or CC0, allows creators to classify their work as “no rights reserved”. That means that all creative work that falls under this agreement has no copyright. Instead of the usual CC licenses that grant specific permissions while keeping the copyright, CC0 opts out of copyright protection. While CC licenses are owned by the artist or the creator, no single person or entity can claim the rights of any creative work following the CC0 copyright. Thus, all intellectual property rights go back to the public. So, what does that mean in the world of NFTs? 

    CC0 NFTs

    CC0 NFTs are simply NFT collections that opt out of any copyright protection. They are considered open-source intellectual properties. NFTs following the CC0 license allow anyone to use the underlying artwork for commercial purposes without attributing it to the original creator. That means the artwork can be edited, rebranded, shared, adapted, and distributed with no legal constraints. 

    However, unlike BAYC, where they grant you the intellectual property of the NFT you own, CC0 NFTs’ rights are not limited to the owner of an NFT. Instead, you can use any NFT in a CC0 NFT collection for commercial purposes without owning any NFTs. Even if you are the proud owner of a CC0 NFT, you do not own the copyright, because there is no copyright!! Therefore, all artwork or media linked to these NFTs belong to the public domain.  

    The first NFT project to popularize CC0 NFTs is the Nouns project. This NFT collection was among the first who experimented with open-source NFTs. The project opened doors for many derivative projects to surface, like Noundless, a PvE game that uses the original Nouns NFTs. Another successful derivative was 3D Nouns which transformed the Nouns NFTs into 3D avatars. In addition, more and more NFT collections started following the CC0 copyright. Collections like GoblinTown, Loot, Chain Runners, Mfers, and CrypToadz also used the CC0 IP right. 

    However, handing off intellectual property rights for something someone has clearly worked hard for is a bit strange, right? Not really. CC0 NFTs actually have many benefits to using this type of licensing. 

    Benefits of CC0 NFTs

    There are many benefits to using a CC0 copyright in an NFT collection. So, Here is where CC0 comes in handy with NFTs: 

    Web3 Values in Action

    First, the open-source nature of CC0 NFTs builds upon Web3’s open and decentralized values. No single entity, in this case, central governance, owns the rights to an artwork. That means, the artwork itself becomes decentralized as it is owned by everyone. 

    No Copyright Concerns

    How could there be a problem regarding something when that “something” doesn’t exist anymore? The NFT community has been dealing with legal issues concerning copyright infringement. Many cases of art theft have been reported, and considering NFTs are still in their infancy, legal authorities are not doing anything to accommodate these complaints. Therefore, if there is no copyright in the first place, there’s nothing to steal as the artwork’s IP belongs to the general public. Keep in mind that CC0, although relinquishing IP rights, it still ensures artists are compensated through royalties

    Original NFTs Increase in Value

    CC0 NFT Value

    Original NFT collections gain much attraction when having derivative works floating around the NFT space. Cultural significance and widespread reach are key elements for the success of an NFT collection. So how does CC0 copyright help with that? Derivative works of an NFT collection can act as a brand promotion. The bigger the pool of derivative works, the greater the original NFT collection increase in value. For example, derivative works of GoblinTowns and Nouns have made the projects gain public attraction. Nike for example used one of the Moonbirds artworks on their shoes which improved the NFT collection’s outreach. 

    The Controversy

    Although CC0 NFTs seem a step further down the Web3 lane of decentralization, part of the NFT community is not happy about these copyright-free NFTs. The free liberation to use the artwork of an NFT collection could reap benefits for the creators. That is however if it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

    Recently, Winnie the Pooh has entered the public domain since “US copyright law means that works of authors are available to use either 70 years after the author’s death or 95 years after publication”. That means the beloved character is not under Disney’s copyright anymore and it is free to use by anyone for anything. That hasn’t been an issue until someone adapted the cuddly honey-loving bear into a horror movie where he becomes a serial killer. 

    The underlying issue of CC0 NFTs is that when in the wrong hands, the artwork could be used to incite violence and other notorious acts. This will most likely damage the reputation of the artist and the original NFT collection itself. 

    However, major outcries spiraled up when Moonbirds announced that the collection will shift to a CC0 license after 5 months of release. Many NFT enthusiasts, like Pranksy, have stated that the CC0 license further strengthens the “right-click and save” aspect of NFTs. Their argument is that if NFTs don’t provide value, in this case, intellectual property rights to a certain artwork, then what’s the point of owning an NFT in the first place? In addition, Moonbird’s initial release didn’t say anything about CC0 license. Therefore, holders of the NFT feel tricked into investing in the collection. 

    CC0 NFT Collections

    With all the controversy and downsides of CC0 NFTs, many counter-arguments have surfaced that state that having derivative works of an NFT collection makes it more popular. And there are several notable NFT collections that referred to CC0 licensing. 



    The GoblinTown NFT collection consists of 10,000 NFTs of unsightly creatures like goblins, dragons, trolls, and more. The website literally states that “No roadmap. No utility. No Discord. CC0”. Meaning that GoblinTown uses a CC0 license making it easy for derivative work to spread. Many derivative projects took over Opensea’s volume chart. Projects like Goblin Girlz, Hobotown, Baby Goblinz, and many more made the original GoblinTown popular amongst other NFT collections. 



    CrypToadz is an NFT collection of 6969 toad-like creatures created by the artist Gremplin. The success of the collection owes to its CC0 attribute. The artist released CypToadz NFTs into the public domain with no rights reserved. Meaning they are free to use by anyone for anything. 



    Seemingly a meme NFT collection with no roadmap or any utility, Mfers is an attempt to see the implications of CC0 licensing on an NFT collection. And it actually worked. The collection gained attraction from its CC0 copyright terms and secured millions of dollars in trading volume!

    The Future of NFT Copyright

    To this day, the implications of NFT copyrights are all over the place. With little control over NFT art theft and copyright infringement cases, CC0 NFTs might be a solution to get rid of the issue altogether. It is a real step into the decentralization of art as we know it. Which is a motto the Web3 era is trying to achieve. 

    Considering that a lot of NFT collections that had nothing to offer except their CC0 attribute are getting mainstream attraction, that gives us an idea of what collectors are looking for. Liberation and freedom of expression with copyright-free media is something a lot of people are asking for. Even though opposing arguments on whether art should be completely free to use by everyone, CC0 NFTs are still acknowledging the original artists through royalties.


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