Quentin Tarantino recently announced plans to auction off seven scenes from the 1994 motion picture Pulp Fiction as non-fungible tokens or NFTs. These “Tarantino NFTs” will include a collection of high-resolution digital scans of the original handwritten Pulp Fiction screenplay. The NFTs each contain scans of the uncut screenplay pages themselves that form a single scene from the movie. They will be auctioned on the NFT marketplace OpenSea and are built on the blockchain platform Secret Network, which launched in February 2020.
Secret Network, developed by SCRT Labs, has additional data privacy & encryption features compared to other blockchain platforms that implement NFTs. These additional features are used to keep information associated with an NFT secret. For example, the buyer of an NFT is better able to hide their identity. Further, content associated with an NFT can be kept private to the buyer if they so choose.
Miramax was quick to oppose this new venture, filing suit on the heels of Tarantino’s announcement. Miramax asserts that because Tarantino assigned to Miramax in 1993 nearly all of his rights to Pulp Fiction, Tarantino's remaining rights under the operative agreements are too narrow for him to produce, market, and sell NFTs. Tarantino’s reserved rights include “print publication” and “screenplay publication”, but Miramax contends that that is insufficient for Tarantino to produce NFTs. Miramax’s reasoning is that since each NFT is by definition unique and therefore a “one-time transaction,” distributing an NFT is not “print publication.” Miramax may find some support for that argument in the Copyright Act, which defines “publication” as “distribution of copies,” using the plural form and not the singular. Further, Miramax claims that Tarantino’s rights do not include a “future media” clause, supporting its contention that NFTs were not contemplated by the operative agreements, while Miramax’s rights specifically do. As Miramax states, “Tarantino’s conduct may mislead other creators into believing they have rights to exploit Miramax films through NFTs and other emerging technologies, when in fact Miramax holds those rights for its films.”
Ultimately, the dispute centers on these two questions:
- Is Miramax correct that an NFT is not a “printed publication” because it is a “one-time transaction?”
- Does the Copyright Act’s definition of “publication” as “distribution of copies” in the plural favor Miramax’s argument, since each NFT is unique by definition?
Tarantino’s announcement has generated intense interest in the cachet and bragging rights associated with owning a portion of his work. Like previous new technologies, however, NFTs may not fit neatly into existing legal structures. And since it has yet to be determined whether Tarantino has the rights to produce NFTs of the Pulp Fiction screenplay, interested buyers would do well to exercise a healthy degree of caveat emptor until the legal landscape is more certain.