Collecting Digital Art in the Age of Abundance. The Legal Aspects

By Etienne Verbist - Tuesday, October 31, 2017
Collecting Digital Art in the Age of Abundance. The Legal Aspects

Interview with Rory Blain - Director Sedition Art: Sedition brings you an art experience for your digital life. Collect and enjoy limited edition artworks, exclusively created in digital media by the world’s greatest contemporary artists. Sedition securely stores your collection so you can access it anytime, anywhere, on any screen, across your devices.

Collecting Digital Art in the Age of Abundance. The Legal Aspects

Interview with Rory Blain  - Director Sedition Art

Rory Blain (born 1972) is director of Sedition. He has over 15 years experience as an art dealer working alongside his brother Harry Blain, the founder of Blains Fine Art, Haunch of Venison and Blain|Southern.

Blain has lived and worked throughout Europe from 2005-2009 including Paris and Zurich where he ran the Haunch of Venison gallery, prior to joining Sedition at the start of 2013. He has always worked in the arts having previously pursued a career in dance before entering the gallery world. Blain’s wide experience in the art market has informed his current role in developing the concept of art collecting in the digital age at Sedition. He currently lives in Canterbury with his wife and 4 children.

Collecting Art for the Digital age. 

Original art for your computer, phone, TV, tablet or TV. 

Tracey Emin, I Promise To Love You. Digital Edition of 2,000.

Universal Everything, Transfiguration. Digital Edition of 1,000.

EVB:  What brings Sedition Art to the Art Economy?

RORY BLAIN: Sedition brings you an art experience for your digital life. Collect and enjoy limited edition artworks, exclusively created in digital media by the world’s greatest contemporary artists. Sedition securely stores your collection so you can access it anytime, anywhere, on any screen, across your devices.


Shephard Fairey, Peace Guard. Digital Edition of 5,000.

EVB: What do we buy when we buy a digital artwork? 

RORY BLAIN: This depends very much on the context and specifics of the ‘digital artwork’ in question.

Digital art is a catch-all banner that encompasses a wide (and evolving) range of possible practices.

On Sedition for example, a purchaser buys a virtual work – a work of art created for, and intended to be viewed on digital media – screens, projectors and so on.

The purchase is intended to closely mirror buying a physical work of art, and whilst it has an accompanying certificate of authenticity and a particular edition number, the lack of physicality is what sets it apart for those accustomed to more traditional artwork forms. However some artists working in this field specify hardware and provide the materials with which to view or otherwise engage with that piece of art, which attaches a physical existence of some form to the work.

 Others insist that ‘digital art’ can only be so-called if the creation of the work itself happened in digital form – a work written in computer code for example, versus a digital recording of a performance piece.
The truth is that ‘what do we buy when we buy a digital artwork?’ offers no more ready definition than ‘what do we buy when we buy an artwork?’


Mark Amerika, New Aesthetic TV. Digital Edition of 300.

EVB: What is a digital artwork?

RORY BLAIN: This is a fluid conversation, but widely accepted definitions – for now – encompass works primarily created with, or intended to be viewed/performed/engaged with via digital media.


Mat Collishaw, The End of Innocence. Digital Edition of 500.

EVB: Are there no risks of conflicts of rights?

RORY BLAIN: Any artist working in any field is alive to the possibility of unauthorized use of their work, and the potential for conflict certainly exists in the digital sphere as well. In this case the framework for some working rules is well established – perhaps the most fundamental of these is that the artist (digital or not) retains copyright of their work unless they specifically sign it over to someone else. This understanding underpins the general tone and approach to conflicts of rights. Over time we may see a more tailored ‘digital code of conduct’ but the rights and protections that exist already are mostly still applicable when applied to digital art.

EVB: What are the processes for creating a digital artwork? Is it necessarily human intervention? Is the simple idea protected? What is the place of originality in digital art work?

RORY BLAIN: The processes are incredibly varied, and just as there is no universally accepted definition of ‘what is digital artwork’, there is no single process for creation that can be pointed at as ‘the way to make digital art’. One can argue for any method at all that produces a work classifiable as digital art.

 A fascinating aspect of the digital sphere is that, through coding algorithms, the use of Artificial Intelligence, random data inputs and much else, works of art are being produced without human intervention (although it can be argued that the intervention is still there – it just comes at one remove, earlier in the process).

Which opens up new conversations about the necessity (or otherwise) of a human intention, or at least a human element to art. Which is of course not a new conversation at all – ‘what is art is a question that has been around for as long as art itself.

EVB: What are the peculiarities associated with the nature of the digital artwork: what reproducibility of the digital artwork? The problem of copying digital works of art?

RORY BLAIN: Reproducing digital works is inherently easier and much more precise than with traditional media. Digital artworks such as the works shown on Sedition are capable of such perfect reproduction that there is really no difference at all between one and another – which calls into question the entire notion of a ‘reproduction or original vs copy. This is not a problem per se – just the nature of the medium.

It does lead to some interesting conversations about the inherent ‘value’ of art – is value derived from scarcity? Execution? Concept? Is there any more value inherent to an arrangement of pigments on canvas versus an arrangement of pixels on a screen?


Noritoshi Hirakawa, A Morning Light, Tokyo. Digital Edition of 250.

EVB: What are the different ways of circulating digital works of art? With or without transfer of ownership: loan or lease, gift, sale (different types of sales).

RORY BLAIN: This is as variable as the artists and artworks themselves. On Sedition we deliver the artwork files online – as a stream, or downloaded into the Sedition app.

Some artists deliver their work on a hard drive, a USB – or on a processor if required. In some cases digital artworks can be licensed for a specific usage / event, sold directly, rented or loaned Ultimately it comes down to two essentials – either a virtual delivery such as a collection of code that can be passed through the Cloud, or online file-sharing services – or a physical delivery, such as a hard drive or storage device upon which the digital data is contained.


Bill Viola, A Phrase from "Illumination" (2011). Digital Edition of 500.

EVB:  Should the protection of the rights of the purchaser of digital artwork be strengthened? Should buyer information be strengthened? Is there a right of withdrawal for the buyer? The problem of the authenticity of a digital artwork / is there an increased risk of counterfeiting because of the technique used? What is the protection of the buyer in case of sale on the Internet (responsibility of the seller, the host, the broker, the auction house ...)

RORY BLAIN: The laws and regulations that govern the digital landscape are evolving alongside the digital space itself, so I expect we will see more detail in this area in the years ahead. There does not appear to be a distinction between the purchasers rights online versus the physical domain, so a buyer will have certain statutory rights – however jurisdictions, and the matter of which country’s laws are relevant becomes an obvious area for clarification.

 Often the buyer may be in a different country to the seller, conducting business on a platform hosted in yet another country – which laws take precedence here? Buyers should ideally be aware of the terms and conditions of the company they are buying from, so they understand which avenues are available to them in the event of a dispute.

The main driver for counterfeit artworks is of course, potential profit. As such – with the more established (and higher priced) physical market, the incentive for counterfeiting traditional works is very high. This does not exist to the same extent in the digital domain – yet. Certain ‘digital’artworks lend themselves readily to easy reproduction, but on the other hand the digital medium also offers tools (such as encryption for example) to protect themselves that are not available in traditional media.


Miguel Chevalier, The Origin of the World. Digital Edition of 500.

EVB: Investment advice: what guarantee for the purchaser of a possible obsolescence of the technology used for the creation of the digital artwork?

RORY BLAIN: This is a question being engaged with by many of the collectors and artists of today. There are differing solutions – one of them (by no means universal), is that artists are less likely to specify particular hardware or devices for the display of their art. The artists I know who specialize in this field tend t  o plan obsolescence into the work – either with instructions on how to upgrade the accompanying technology, or a focus on the resulting experience over the medium of delivery: for example, a video / film that may have been first viewed on a VHS video but is now watched as an MP4 file. The two are not always so easily distinguishable however. This is a fascinating area – and one of the challenges facing collectors today – many of the contemporary artworks we see now are created in media that has no tried and tested longevity; collecting, preserving and archiving this history is incredibly important!


Angelo Plessas, Portrait #4. Digital Edition of 1,000. 

EVB: Insurance: what should be ensured: digital media or the digital art created through the medium? 

RORY BLAIN: This comes back to the question of value – in the case of a digital media display there is definitely some sense in insuring the equipment; projectors and such-like can be very expensive pieces of kit in their own right.

But what I think you are really asking is how to insure the art – and in that case it would depend upon what is defined as the artwork? The jpeg? The MP4 file? The code that ‘generates’ the work?  In some cases the accompanying certificate of authenticity has been deemed to carry the financial value of a given work. There are too many types of work and expressions of digital media to have a one-size-fits-all answer.


Frederik De Wilde, NuMi.RROR#1 - Skeletons and Ecorchés. Digital Edition of 200.


Etienne Verbist is an authority in the field of crowd sourcing, disruptive business modelling and disruptive art. After a well filled career with companies such as GE, Etienne was an early adopter of crowd sourcing. Etienne is manager Europe and Africa for Crowd Sourcing Week, a board advisor to a broad range of companies on innovation and new technology, curator of the Disruptive Art Museum – the smallest museum in the world – and columnist for ArtDependence Magazine.

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