Illustrator says his work was illegally copied and sold as NFTs

Josh Kirby has built his business on tattooing and illustrating all kinds of art. His favorites are Looney Tunes characters, Mickey Mouse, and even Spider-Man. Josh goes by Mr Squeeksy and boasts nearly 25,000 Instagram followers. 

The NFT marketplace is a digital marketplace of nonfungible tokens where artists can sell their work digitally and hand over their work to an interested buyer. Josh's business was booming online until he came across a slew of messages one day from his legions of followers.

"I woke up and had a fan asking me is this your artwork? I never had NFT's. I have no idea what you're talking about," Josh said. "So I went and found out that this person had five different websites pretending to be me, talking to my friends as me. Talking to my customers as me."

It turns out his own illustrations were stolen and resold to unsuspecting NFT buyers. The scammers went onto Josh's Instagram account, took screenshots of dozens of his pieces and offered them up to trade on OpenSea, one of the largest NFT platforms.

"It was quite a shock to see 30 pieces of my work completely stolen and sold," Josh said. 

Josh is just one of a growing number of artists who've had their online images stolen. The rise in NFT thefts is becoming a trend with the nonfungible token market surging during this past year. The fraud against these hardworking artists has prompted some to call for change.

Dylan Aiello is a high-profile artist who has started an online petition urging OpenSea to crack down on thefts.

"The idea is to get OpenSea to put in some type of verification steps or penalty when they discover stolen art," Dylan said. "So if you're an artist and you find out you're art is stolen, that shouldn't happen, and Open Sea should figure out a way to make that stop."

Dylan has asked the site to put in place monetary penalties, which would pay back the original artist once the stolen art is discovered.

OpenSea told FOX 5 NY that its policies prohibit plagiarism, which it regularly enforces in various ways, including delisting and, in some instances, banning accounts. OpenSea also recently launched image recognition technology to go after scammers.