I require a bit of help regarding NFTs. Can someone please fact check my understanding of how NFTs work, and answer a question about how NFTs are accessed? I have one big question about what is stored in the metadata, that relates to a number of 'smaller' (yes/no) questions:

Assume that I buy an ERC-721 NFT of a piece of digital art. I understand that the NFT is basically metadata that stipulates that I am the owner of a piece of art. The provenance of the art is traceable through the history of exchanges between wallets of the NFT, right?

  1. Is the provenance stored in the metadata or is it the history of transactions (with origin of the NFT tied to the artist's wallet) that ensures authenticity?

  2. Is my understanding of the following correct? The NFT might not include full metadata, but rather that it can hold a pointer to a .JSON file that is stored (hopefully) on Arweave or IPFS, and not on a centralized server.

3)The metadata will contain a link to the artwork, wherever it is stored (again hopefully somewhere like Arweave), right?

4)If I were to move the art from Arweave to my local drive, I would basically, in deleting the work stored on the network, void the proof of ownership represented by the NFT, correct?

5)Now say that I leave my art on Arweave, and someone else copies it and tries to make an NFT out of it and sell it -- can I assume that there is a system somewhere that would check for duplicates? (Maybe checking for duplicate hashes of content?)

6)Finally, is there a way in which the NFT can lock access to a digital art file, such that it can only be accessed via the token, enabling the token holder to govern where and how the NFT can be seen, and preventing anyone (who does not own the NFT but has the link to the file) from seeing the artwork?


Generally speaking, the NFT is just that: an NFT. It has no copyright or other usage implications, unless there's a legal contract made up for that separately in the traditional sense.

To answer your questions:

  1. No, authenticity is not guaranteed by ERC-721 NFTs themselves. There would have to be some other system in place for that.
  2. ERC-721 tokens have a tokenUri which usually points to a JSON file on a decentralized network like IPFS.
  3. Yes, most likely the above mentioned JSON contains a link to an image, video, or some other creative artwork, etc.
  4. How would you be ablte to delete the artwork from the network? You don't control the IPFS nodes hosting it.
  5. Let's say somone was to copy the artwork and change just one pixel, the hashes wouldn't match up anymore, right? Anyhow, on some marketplaces sellers might be required to deliver proof of authenticity of the artwork they link to. But technically that's not part of the ERC-721 standard, but belongs in the are of marketplace terms of service.
  6. No. Think of NFTs as digital deeds. In this early form they are traded like digital baseball cards. Artists don't implicitly turn over ownership of their creative work, when they sell you an NFT. That would require a contract on a different level, and has nothing to do with the ERC-721 token standard.
  • Thank you so much for clearing up my newbie confusion! (Your help is truly appreciated) – NeilD Apr 8 at 19:23
  • Can I ask a follow-up question? The metadata extension for an NFT (ERC-721) is optional, right? But can I assume that the NFT for every digital artwork must have identifying metadata? In what cases might one not include metadata? thanks! – NeilD Apr 8 at 22:54
  • It's reasonable to assume all artists should add metadata to their NFTs. Even though strictly speaking it's optional, so it's not a must. You could for example set up an off-chain document that references the tokenId and explains what it represents, without the token itself having metadata. – pwagner Apr 9 at 5:55

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