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Illustration by Mitchell Preffer for Decrypt

As the NFT profile pic trend continues, so too do the arguments over usage rights, permissions, and who gets to show off their cartoon ape or punk.

On Boxing Day, Jillian York, an author and director at digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, noticed her portrait was being used in a new NFT collection called “Cipher Punks.”

The collection had intended to honor key players in the Cypherpunk movement, a broad term that references advocates of cryptography and other privacy-enhancing technologies (like blockchain). The term stems from an eponymous mailing list first launched in 1992. 

But some of the esteemed cypherpunks that were tokenized weren’t having any of it. Jillian York tweeted: “I don’t approve of this whatsoever and would like it removed.” 

Now we see what happens when creators purloin portraits of digital rights activists without asking them… In retrospect, the project, despite good intentions, was ill-advised. On December 28, it shut down and returned all the funds it raised.

In an apology posted to Medium the next day, the project wrote: “Unfortunately, many Cypher Punks were against this idea and didn’t want to participate in any way. We respect that. We really do. So we apologize to each and every Cypher Punk for not taking consent and creating your NFTs.”

Cipher Punks burned most of the offending NFTs, except the ones that had been sold. They have offered to buy back the sold NFTs and burn them, and if any remaining NFTs weren’t returned within 24 hours, they’d donate the…

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