CryptoKitties essentially sells crypto art NFTs to collectors on the Ethereum blockchain. However, the pictures of the cryptokitties are stored on the company's server, since the NFT merely represents ownership of the image. The artist/creator of the NFT always retains a perpetual obligation and right to store the image, whether it be on the NFT platform where they minted the NFT in the first place, whereas the collector does not have any whatsoever.

If the company's website or the company itself were to go down, then that cryptokitty would disappear. In other words, despite the collector owning the image via the NFT, they have no control over the actual online existence of the image. Even if they saved a copy of the image somewhere, the NFT can't be rewritten to redirect the link to the image, embedded in the NFT itself, to the collector's own copy since, upon its minting, the NFT's link permanently points directly to the cryptokitties server forever.

Now, think of this, people are known to dump $1,000,000's into these NFTs and other similar NFT collectibles. Do they not realize just how little control they have over their so-called "possession"? The fact that the image is stored off-chain on a server that the collector doesn't own or control, doesn't this jeopardize and undermine the whole idea of "ownership"?

1 Answer 1


There are several questions here. Let's review.

If crypto art is stored off-chain, how does the collector have any control over their NFT's contents if the server where it is saved shuts down?

Answer: they have no control. Please refer to Entriken's law.

ENTRIKEN'S LAW: Your ownership of assets on a ledger is only as valid as your trust in the custodian who has physical control of the assets.

In many cases, the physical custodian for a digital asset is the server that hosts the asset, as you have identified.

Do [collectors] realize just how little control they have over their so-called "possession"?

Typically, no they do not realize.

I am basing this answer off of experience I have in interviews with media on this topic. The latest related is this CoinDesk article. I try to stay involved and in front of collectors, developers and other interested parties in this industry and so I hope more people can understand this.

The fact that the image is stored off-chain on a server that the collector doesn't own or control, doesn't this jeopardize and undermine the whole idea of "ownership"?

The original NFT standard, ERC-721 specifies that NFT tokens can "represent ownership over digital or physical assets". This is a representation, again, see Entriken's Law above for how this translates into an actual ownership.

Here is a question you are maybe thinking and didn't ask:

How do we improve transparency of these issues and promote something that is closer to actual ownership of digital assets?

Answer A: your digital asset will live trustlessly on the same system as the NFT. (What?) For example an NFT that grants usage/authority to a smart contract or other asset on Ethereum Mainnet, when that NFT is on Mainnet. This is how ENS domains work.

Answer B: somebody with a reputation that you trust claims they will not shut the server down and will act in good faith. An example of this is Su Squares, the first standards-complaint NFT. The project claims "We commit to keep this website online for at least ten years from our 2018 launch".

Disclaimer: My wife and I are the authors of Su Squares and we benefit if you buy a square.

  • would decentralized domains or the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) answer the problem of digital assets residing on the creator/minter's server (rather than in direct custody of the collector/owner), given that decentralized domains, and the distributional file-sharing of IPFS, both hum the same motto of "can't be taken down"?
    – user610620
    Feb 28, 2021 at 20:51
  • Yes. Assuming you believe IPFS will stay online forever and host your content for free. Also also assuming the rest of the world will continue to recognize contract 0x2398374... on Ethereum Mainnet is the authority for who owns that asset. Then yes. Feb 28, 2021 at 21:02
  • i wonder why its more economical (costless, relatively, asides from their hosting fee) to store data on IPFS than the Ethereum blockchain. If IPFS is not even a blockchain, then maybe all blockchains are a poor vehicle for the distributed storage of large data files
    – user610620
    Feb 28, 2021 at 21:06
  • 1
    It is because IPFS does not guarantee that all data will be stored permanently whereas Ethereum does guarantee as a primary commitment that all will be stored permanently. That, and Ethereum runs a lottery where participants compete to burn fossil fuels, which is very expensive. Mar 1, 2021 at 19:12
  • 1
    Yesish. More concretely, I can say: an ENS domain will work as long as Ethereum is still working; but a file on IPFS will stay up only if the people that have your file are online Mar 4, 2021 at 0:55

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