WSOP NFT video collection announced, project triggers still photographers’ ire

Haley Hintze
Published by:
Posted on 11/18/2021

The World Series of Poker has jumped onto the growing NFT (Non-Fungible Token) bandwagon with a series of video moments. The moments honor what the WSOP describes as “some of the most iconic moments in World Series of Poker ‘Main Event’ history.” The first digitally-signed videos to be auctioned are a collection of six “Gallery of Champions” videos highlighting some of the most famous Main Event moments of recent years.

The first of the six 1-of-1 “Champions” videos to be auctioned launched yesterday. The debut NFT video features 2003 Main Event winner Chris Moneymaker’s unlikely rise from an online-satellite winner to the World Championship and a legacy as one of poker’s most iconic figures. Each auction lasts for seven days. Other Main Event winners to be included in the introductory collection include Stu Ungar (the ME winner in 1980, 1981, and 1997), Phil Hellmuth (1989), Scotty Nguyen (1998), Doyle Brunson (in a non-Main Event moment, his 10th bracelet win in 2005), and Johnny Chan (1987 and 1988).

The NFT-signed videos are issued via the WSOP’s new partnership with the Worldwide Asset eXchange (WAX), which added the digital signatures to the videos and is hosting the auctions at https://wdny.io/wsop/. The bidding on each auction is conducted via WAX’s private crypto currency, WAX Coin. Each WAX Coin is worth about $0.90 at current exchange rates, meaning that the Moneymaker video jumped from an opening bid of about $90 to more than $800 in early bidding. It’ll likely climb much higher.

Yet there’s at least a mild controversy behind the story of the WSOP dipping its corporate toe into the NFT waters. Poker.org has learned that the WSOP’s original plans called for a collection of classic photographic images, signed as NFTs and marketed as a related digital offering. However, that part of the original NFT plan was shelved, due to a wide disparity between what the WSOP offered to the photographers (who still own reproduction rights to the photos) and what those photographers wanted as compensation.

Harkins lashes out on Twitter

Image Masters founder Eric Harkins was one of several still-image photographers contacted regarding the possible use of his photos in the WSOP’s NFT project. Harkins balked at the 4% rate offered by the WSOP for the photo’s use in the project.

When the WSOP announced its NFT partnership with WAX on Tuesday, Harkins expressed some of his frustration on Twitter:

Harkins retired from active poker photo shoots after a quarter century of working in the limelight, including a never-ending presence shooting player photos at the WSOP. He may possess the world’s largest library of poker photos, numbering into the millions.

Harkins’ gripe about the WSOP’s lowball offer drew immediate support from other industry pros, particularly freelancers:

Giron confirms 4% offer

Joe Giron is another veteran photographer contacted by the WSOP through Poker Royalty, which attempted to secure rights to his photos on behalf of the WSOP. Giron spent several years, through 2019, as the lead photographer on the WSOP floor. Each year, he assembled several photographers into a semi-independent team that offered thorough photographic coverage for several years.

Giron and his team worked closely with the WSOP and PokerNews. Giron’s outfit operated as an independent contractor, leaving him in possession of the reproduction rights to his images. Giron confirmed the 4% figure, and noted it was actually worse than that, since it would’ve been paid on net proceeds from the planned NFT auctions. That meant his cut would’ve come after WAX and the WSOP deducted their associated project expenditures.

The disappointing interaction with the WSOP over the NFT project comes in addition to a continuing copyright battle between Harkins, Giron, and other photographers against Brett Butz’s PokerPaint startup. PokerPaint allegedly misappropriated images for use as stylized artwork. The artwork in turn was offered for sale to the public, with no royalties whatsoever offered to the original photogs.

Outright theft is part of the frustration that freelance content creators chronically face. Harkins expressed that emotion via a follow-up Tweet offering his entire photographic library for sale:

Contract included with initial rights inquiry

One of the reasons the photographers balked at the offer was because the 4% share was so tiny compared to the 20% offered to the players’ themselves. Reproduction rights for such third-party projects typically involve roughly equal shares going to the producer of the content (the photographer) and the subject of the image (the player).

Poker.org has learned that a contract including the proposed 4% royalty rate came with the initial inquiry. The contract included four main points. As the proposed deal explained:

  • WSOP will be launching an NFT collection around past WSOP Main Event champions, Poker Hall of Fame inductees and other famous moments/players in WSOP history.
  • The initial launch of NFTs will involve photographs only — easiest to think of these as digital, collectible trading cards.
  • This would be a non-exclusive deal and you’d be free to do any other NFT projects.
  • Royalty Rate = 4% (equals 20% of the players’ royalty rate.

The legalese confirms that the NFT video moments being auctioned through the WAX partnership are actually a Plan B of sorts. They video idea arose when the initial NFT-signed photo concept ran into the royalty-related headwinds. The WSOP had a more straightforward path to securing the rights to do the video-moment NFTs via its ongoing partnership with poker-content site PokerGO.

Original concept would’ve mirrored WPT’s NFT offerings

Had the WSOP’s original concept come to fruition, the end result would’ve been a package of related NFT offerings similar to what the World Poker Tour (WPT) launched earlier this year. The WPT is believed to have had a different rights arrangement with its photographers, with most of its imagery owned in-house. That allowed for a much easier process of securing the images needed for its own still-image NFT collection.

Meanwhile, the WSOP could still come back to the table and renegotiate, though the series and the photogs appear far apart. The end result is that the world’s largest poker series has had to switch around its NFT marketing plans and launch with only part of its original vision. The video-moment auctions may still prove to be wildly successful. If so, they could even spur the WSOP to return to the negotiating table to expand its own NFT market.

Featured image source: https://wsop.wdny.io/auction