Darren Hudson Hick


Ontology & Ownership


In 2022, a group of investors purchased a rare copy of a book commonly referred to as Jodorowsky’s Dune, with the plan to leverage their purchase to adapt the book into an animated series, and to digitize the book as an NFT—a non-fungible token—destroying the physical object in the process. I use the case to tease out an argument for how different sorts of objects imply different sorts of ownership. Where ownership, broadly speaking, consists in the exclusive right to exploit (or authorize exploitation of) one’s property, how one exploits a thing will depend on the sort of thing that it is. Material objects—concrete particulars—are centrally exploited through occupation or possession, so the right to a physical thing like a book is the right to keep others from possessing it. Authored works—the stuff of copyright; abstract particulars; types—are exploited through being instantiated or entokened, so intellectual property rights centrally consist in the right to make copies, and to keep others from doing so. NFTs, however, are a curious case. Commonly associated with digital art, NFTs seem to be special sorts of tokens distinct in kind from either material objects or authored works. I will argue, however, that the nature of NFTs is commonly misunderstood, and that, given the nature of NFTs, their ownership looks more like the ownership of concrete particulars than of copyright ownership.


June 22nd / 19:00 / aula magna