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Will the Spice Flow?

January 20, 2022
image of the Dune book


I closed out 2021 with a piece about NFTs, mainly about how they would be a good idea if they had the proper regulation and oversight. And yet again, this issue reared its ugly head in the form of a book sold at Christie’s Paris. Last November, a group called Spice DAO shelled out €2.66 million w/p (about $3 million) for a book of sketches and concept art compiled for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s unmade adaptation of Frank Herbert’s book Dune. Its contents include pieces by artists like H.R. Giger and Jean Giraud. The book is only one of ten copies printed, mainly to give to film executives to pitch the movie. The group paid one hundred times the specialists’ estimate but is now running into a problem. They want to create NFTs based on the book’s contents.

While the sale happened in November, Spice DAO’s intentions to mint NFTs were first made known on Twitter on January 15th. They said they wanted to do something “technically innovative and culturally disruptive, a first-of-its-kind”. Not entirely sure what that even means, but fine. They also stated that they would burn the book after minting the NFTs, filming the destruction, and selling the video as another NFT. This was when everyone jumped on them, pointing out that the book’s contents have been available for free online since 2011. So they’re a little late to the game in that regard. It also seems that the members of Spice DAO were under the impression that just because they bought a copy of this one book, that means they own the rights to create merchandise based on the contents. They spent $3 million on a book they could’ve easily bought for $40,000. And now they just learned their money-making scheme is illegal because of a misunderstanding of basic copyright and intellectual property law. This may be one of the greatest and most comical examples of naïveté I’ve encountered; schadenfreude at its best.

But I don’t think anyone could blame them for wanting to make NFTs of the book’s contents. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt at Dune was a monumentally ambitious project. Pink Floyd was set to write the score, while the cast would have included Geraldine Chaplin, Salvador Dalí, Mick Jagger, and Orson Welles. Dalí asked for $100,000 per hour for his time. If Jodorowsky got his way, he would have made a 14-hour-long film with outrageously complicated special effects. For context, this was still a few years before the original Star Wars came out. Science fiction films were still living in the shadow of 2001: A Space Odyssey and not exactly known for great design or technical work. Examples of concept art from the book are beautiful by themselves; a brief glimpse at a vision that never was executed. With the popularity of the Dune franchise among science fiction fans, the Jodorowsky designs from the 1970s would probably go for a reasonable price as NFTs. But because of this misstep, the spice will definitely not flow for Spice DAO.