Eugene, OR asked in Criminal Law for Oregon

Q: Would it be legal to make and sell manipulated images of US currency as NFTs?

The images would be color, one-sided, based on real denominations, without the treasury seal included. The manipulation would consist of expanding the bill into a large square and including added pictures. There is no intent to print them or pass them as real. Thank you.

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1 Lawyer Answer
Gabriel A Watson
Gabriel A Watson
  • Portland, OR
  • Licensed in Oregon

A: This could get tricky and run anyone down a number of legal rabbit holes. But all things being equal, if you were doing this as art, and not passing the manipulations (for lack of a better term) as currency or counterfeit...I don't think you'd be in trouble for what you're proposing.

Again, NFT's are a rapidly emerging and changing--unregulated--and often misunderstood phenomenon. What is and isn't, how it is valued, etc. all of these issues are 'new' which means the law hasn't caught up. When this happens--and somebody takes issue with what someone is doing (whether you or someone else) they may try and pigeonhole the facts for a specific case into old, unrelated, or similar laws...they may be able to do this or may not. It gets complicated.

And while it may not be 'illegal' which, I suspect you mean a violation of federal or state criminal laws...I can imagine a private party who buys NFT's and is unhappy with the value, resale, or return...arguing that because the NFT said $100 they believed based on what you were doing--it was worth $100. Whether this claim would survive is a different story--but it's always best to avoid claims than defend them. Even if you win. It's expensive.

Depending on what you plan to make on this project it could make a lot of sense to hire an attorney to look at this. There are ways to insulate yourself (like setting up a business entity) that could help avoid being personally on the hook for any claims. It is a very fact intensive analysis. If this is a pet project and you don't plan to make a whole lot, it still would be good to get specific legal advice (but we live in a real world where costs and benefits weigh into real life decisions) so you'll have to determine where your situation lands.

Sorry it's tough to be more specific--an attorney with experience in this area should be able to ask the right questions and from the answers determine the best way to navigate your situation.

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