The Story Behind Emily Ratajkowski's NFT

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Alexandra Lozovschi

She just released a book titled My Body, but Emily Ratajkowski has been taking strides to regain ownership of her image long before her collection of essays hit Amazon last month.

Earlier in April, the supermodel and entrepreneur, 30, who has been modeling since she was 14, made headlines for creating her very first NFT, a digital non-fungible token. (The Inquisitr explains in detail what an NFT is here.)

The London-born model promoted the piece on Instagram, selling it at Christie's a month later. Here's why she made it and what she got out of it.

'Buying Myself Back'

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Titled "Buying Myself Back: A Model for Redistribution," Ratajkowski's NFT was a link to a digital image of the model with a convoluted back story.

In the image attached to the NFT, the Inamorata Woman owner was posing in her home next to a print of a Sports Illustrated picture she had shared on social media. That magazine photo (her first appearance in SI), in which she wears a body-paint bikini, had been taken off of her Instagram account by New York artist Richard Prince, who blew it up and transferred it to canvas along with a comment he posted.

Prince later used that photo for profit without permission, along with another black-and-white nude shot of Ratajkowski that was originally taken for the SI Swimsuit Issue's cover, which he also grabbed from Instagram. The artist exhibited the nude at Gagosian in 2014 as part of his collection of paintings, "New Portraits," comprised of a series of repurposed Instagram screenshots.


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Attempt To Buy Prince's Piece

Instagram | Emily Ratajkowski

Detailing the episode in her widely-read essay, “Buying Myself Back,” published by The Cut last September, Ratajkowski recounted the great lengths she went to in order to get hold of Prince's nude "painting" of her.

After unsuccessfully trying to buy the piece from Gagosian (it had been purchased by an art collector), the Vogue model contacted Prince’s studio, securing the second “Instagram painting” of herself.

Ratajkowski forked about $80,000 for the piece, splitting the cost with her then-boyfriend. When the couple broke up, she bought her ex's half of the painting, as well as a smaller “study” the studio had gifted her, which cost her $10,000.

"I was paid $150 for the shoot and a couple grand later, when the magazine came out, for the 'usage' of my image," Ratajkowski wrote in her essay.

NFT Idea

Instagram | Emily Ratajkowski

The idea to make an NFT using Prince's "painting" of her occurred to Ratajkowski one month after giving birth to her son this March.

“I was just honestly high off of postpartum hormones and spinning out of control. Everybody was talking about NFTs and I had my first glass of wine post-pregnancy and was like, ‘This makes me think about…,’” she told Vanity Fair.

The model, who promoted the NFT on social media as seen below, later put it up for auction at Christie's, where it fetched $175,000 after fees.

"I hope to symbolically set a precedent for women and ownership online, one that allows for women to have ongoing authority over their image and to receive rightful compensation for its usage and distribution," Ratajkowski wrote on Twitter in April.

The model will receive a cut every time her NFT is resold, therefore gaining some degree of continued ownership over her image.

Meanwhile, Prince has defended the appropriation of photos for his "New Portraits," arguing that publicly available Instagram images constitute fair use.

Before the auction, Prince wrote in a since-deleted tweet: "I have no idea who Emily Ratajkowski is or what she does. I have never met her and I have never done her portrait. I have no interest in NFT's, Bitcoin, cryptocurrency."

Copyright Nightmare

Instagram | Emily Ratajkowski

Since the NFT Ratajkowski sold was a link representing a composite image that featured a photograph of herself in front of a print by another artist that contained a photo (of herself) taken by yet another artist, the entire thing is a copyright nightmare.

According to The Verge, there are many layers of copyright infringement to be considered. For one thing, even though Ratajkowski owns a physical copy of Prince's painting, she likely doesn't own the rights to digitally reproduce it.

"You’ve gotta assume Richard Prince isn’t suing over this," writes the publication.

The Prince "painting" itself is a major copyright headache. Not only does it include a SI image, of which the magazine and/or its photographer might claim a "reasonable degree of ownership," but also Ratajkowski's profile pic on Instagram (likely a selfie), as well as comments written by followers, explains the Los Angeles Times. Naturally, the copyright issues that can be applied to Prince's "painting" are also applicable to Ratajkowski's NFT.

"If we’re counting: there seem to be at least four images within this single image. We can reasonably assume that Ratajkowski owns two of them (the core photo of herself, plus her profile picture inside the Richard Prince painting)," The Verge tries to make heads and tails of the situation. "Richard Prince owns one of them (although that could be litigated). And Sports Illustrated and/or a photographer associated with Sports Illustrated presumably owns the final image."