Star Wars Stormtrooper helmets made by artists including Sir Anish Kapoor and David Bailey have been photographed and sold as non-fungible tokens (NFT) without their consent, with images selling for millions of pounds in total on Monday.
Curator Ben Moore took photographs of some of the helmets from a project called Art Wars, created by more than 300 artists since 2013, and sold them for cryptocurrency as NFTs on the trading platform OpenSea. More than 1,600 ethereum (£5m) had been transferred since the collection of 1,138 images was put on sale yesterday.
One NFT attributed to Kapoor had a price tag of 1,000 ethereum when it was already being marketed for resale on the site on Monday, while another work attributed to Bailey was on resale for 120 ethereum. Both images have since been removed from the site.
About 12 artists are considering legal action against the project, according to legal representatives.
A representative for Bailey said he had not given permission or received any of the proceeds of the sale. They said they would be looking into the matter. Kapoor’s team declined to comment.
Damien Hirst, whose work was included to promote the collection but not sold as an NFT, did not respond to a request for comment.
The Art Wars NFT page on OpenSea was taken down yesterday. OpenSea said it had received a copyright infringement notice and complied with it.
The dispute highlights the debate around the ownership of NFTs. Buyers of NFTs do not own the physical artwork and digital versions are sometimes sold without the original owners’ permission, leading to conflict over intellectual property.
Moore sent an email to artists on November 4, informing them of the collection, but some artists said the email went into their junk folders, their lawyers have claimed.
Moore did not deny claims that he created the NFTs without permission from the artists. “[Art Wars] regrets that some of the artists were taken by surprise and have since expressed a preference not to be included — of course, we’ve respected those wishes,” he said.
Any artists remaining in the project would “receive royalties in the usual way”, Moore added, saying the NFT project had raised £30,000 for charity.
Meanwhile, a recording of Moore shared on Twitter and originally posted on his Instagram Stories early on Monday appeared to show him wearing a Stormtrooper helmet, shooting a gun in the air and bragging about making “two mil on NFT”.
Moore said people may presume he was showing off, but it was a “little token of celebration”.
London-based artist Helen Downie, who goes by the name Unskilled Worker, is among those threatening legal action after she found out that two of her helmets sold as NFTs through Twitter.
“I was initially tagged in a tweet from a buyer who said they were delighted to own a piece of my work,” she said. “The problem was that I had no idea how they had purchased it.
“If exploiting artists’ IP goes unchallenged, this behaviour will ruin and corrupt what is a truly exciting space for artists and collectors alike.”
The photographs of Unskilled Worker art were successfully removed from the Opensea platform, following a request.
The Design and Artists Copyright Society said the minting of NFTs without artists’ permission has the “potential to destroy how we, as a society value creativity”. It is making inquiries for several artists involved.