Establishing the authenticity of a work of art is a costly affair in the terms of both time and money. At the same time, the number of fake, forged or misattributed artwork uncovered and publicised each year is a mere fraction of the total in circulation.
The problem is not new but, until now, establishing a trusted database that tracks provenance has been problematic as high net worth collectors have been unwilling to trust intermediaries and have steered clear of relatively high fees associated with such services.
According to the team behind Codex Protocol, a decentralised solution with rewards built into the system and which leverages blockchain trust is a logical step forward.
Codex Protocol is a decentralised title registry suitable for art, antiques, collectibles and indeed any other kind of high value good requiring a provenance solution.
Initially though, the company will focus on the Art & Collectable (A&C) market which, it is claimed in the white-paper, is worth around $2 trillion.
In storing ownership and provenance details, Codex will provide an official trail that records the history and story of an item whilst ensuring privacy for the collector.
Enlisting the help of an A&C consortium that incorporates a host of online marketplaces, software providers and auctioneers, Codex Protocol expects to be integrated into the systems of 5,000 auction houses in over 50 countries.
It is this level of adoption which the team behind the project believes will lead it to become the new industry standard in the Blockchain era.
The Biddable DApp has already been launched and enables buyers to conveniently find what they are hunting for and use cryptocurrency to purchase that item at auction. It is estimated that over 10 million items a year worth $6 billion are purchased in this way.
There are also plans for future applications that provide escrow, asset-backed lending, insurance and fractional ownership. All of these processes move a lot smoother and faster when provenance has been established.
Industry players understand this and so existing consortium members, such as Luxury Asset Capital (lending) Feral Horses or Maecenas (fractional ownership), are already onboard to be part of the Codex Protocol ecosystem.
White-Paper and Roadmap
The white-paper is functional rather than visually appealing but the format works well and provides an accessible explanation of the market, the proposed platform and accompanying dApps as well as the economic and governance models associated with the token.
These things are often open to personal preference but many readers may feel the one small blot in the document is the lack of an easy-to-view company roadmap. Although the details are generally outlined – the key developments of pre-launch and phase two are described adequately – there appears to be a lack of substance for the long-term future development vision of the project.
At the same time, the authors have explained that they “…have decided to be intentionally vague here because the future is uncertain…However, Codex Protocol will pursue its mission as previously described.”
This may be a minor gripe but our own suspicion is that a few more readers may have preferred a much more comprehensive assessment of future growth.
The Codex Protocol is based on the Ethereum blockchain and uses its native ERC-20 compatible CodexCoin (CODX) to power its platform. There are various components to the protocol. These can be simplified as:
- CodexCoins which are used for fees/rewards in the registry.
- The staking contract where token holders can stake to receive a discount on fees.
- The proxy contracts through which the core contracts are accessed.
- The Codex Registry itself which is an ERC-721 compliant contract that can link to any crucial metadata.
As provenance is central to this project, it is worth mentioning that metadata can incorporate previous appraisals of artwork along with restoration records, receipts, photos or anything else that can help to establish its authenticity.
While anyone can create a record, the majority are expected to be initially done by the auction houses within the ecosystem.
When items are loaded onto Codex any associated information needs to be validated. The validators will be rewarded with CODX, which in time is expected to be determined by a reputation-based system.
Most users of the platform will probably access it through an application layer, like the company’s own Biddable App, which should be an added attraction for the less-technically minded.
Someone wishing to sell an item can delegate viewing permissions to potential buyers, selecting to remain anonymous or go public as they see fit, allowing bidders to view the provenance held on the blockchain.
The young team are extremely academically qualified and have recent, if brief, relevant and at times high-level experience of the fine art market.
For example, CEO and Harvard graduate Mark Lurie was the founder of lofty.com, an expert-curated marketplace for valuable fine arts while Co-founder and COO Jess Houlgrave studied at Oxford University and Sotheby’s Institute of Art producing a thesis on Blockchain: A Critical Assessment Of Use Within The Art Ecosystem.
In having over 6 years as Senior Software Engineer at Microsoft, John Forest makes up the trio of co-founders and is CTO of the project.
All have embedded and well-linked social media profiles.
The co-founders and core management team clearly have an affinity with the sector they are operating in and this has come across well in their marketing and editorial content published elsewhere.
One common bug-bear with ICO investors is that new companies often lack specialised blockchain knowledge within their ranks. Codex seem to have anticipated this and enlisted the help of two advisors with links to the decentralised prediction marketplace Augur, Joey Krug and Abe Othman, to work alongside the technical team.
Presently, Codex Protocol has attracted modest attention, engaging with 6,000 Telegram members and around a couple of thousand of Twitter followers but this is in part mitigated by the fact that interest largely appears to be organic at this stage – a reasonably healthy sign.
Marketing efforts are underway to address these numbers, however, including the creation of an upcoming Youtube channel. At the same time, one could question the need for public engagement for a project like this which is essentially operating in a niche domain.
The project team has also scooped up some praise for being part of the Ethereal charity fundraiser in New York recently. Love them or hate them, it is hard to ignore a company that can sell a CryptoKitty for $140,000, even if it is for a good cause.
Record $140,000 CryptoKitty sale going to the great cause of supporting creatives working at the intersection of blockchain and art.
WELL DONE! @rareartlabs, @EtherealSummit, @CodexProtocol @CryptoKitties https://t.co/B3iySG930J
— Crypto Gamers Community (@Cryptoandgamers) May 13, 2018
To compliment this push, the team has been engaged in its own blockchain road show, having attended events in Berlin, California and Cannes to raise the profile of the project. They are also in the line-ups for two more London events in July – The European Start Up Awards and Christie’s Tech Summit.
Tucked away on page 35 of the whitepaper is a section that deals with post-July 2018 and refers in passing to a marketing campaign to educate and raise awareness of Codex Protocol once the token event is over.
Whilst noting that existing cryptocurrency holders are to be informed of the benefits of diversifying into the art market, it is probably just as reassuring that the company will actively target those still wedded to fiat.
In particular, the Asian market has been singled out for attention as, in many cases, collectors there are currently excluded from western auctions. The dApps associated with Codex protocol will remove this barrier and provide a welcome gateway for wider participation.
The Codex Protocol token (CODX) is an Ethereum compatible utility token and will be priced at $0.067 during the ICO with a minimum contribution of just 0.05 ETH.
Around 40% of the total 1 billion CODX tokens will be available in the crowdsale and the hard cap is set at $25 million with a soft cap of $15 million.
Team members and advisors will have their allocation locked up for an 18 month period.
The public sale is scheduled for the end of July but potential participants must complete KYC whitelist registration and join the Telegram channel between 2-6 July.
Two pre-sales have taken place with bonuses ranging from 0 to 24% meaning the lowest price was $0.043 per token, requiring a minimum lock-up of 3 months.
Diversity of investments is rule 101 for traditional financial advisors and whilst there are counter-arguments, cryptocurrency holders could do worse than copy this mantra.
If holding physical precious metals, garaging classic cars or owning priceless pieces of art is not an option then diversifying into tokenised assets as an alternative maybe an attractive option for some.
To do this confidently, though, buyers must first trust the information they are given about any item. Which brings us back to provenance and explains why Codex Protocol is well-placed to capitalise on the new tokenised economy of artwork and antiques.
Competition in the space is growing but as yet there is no clear leader. For example, Verisart has been offering limited certification services since 2015 but has been on the receiving end of recent negative publicity, and the forthcoming Allpublicart ICO has similar intentions to Codex Protocol but has yet to launch. Additionally, none of the competitors are yet displaying the MVP, dApps or array of supporting outlets that Codex Protocol have.
Provided that it engages well with its news partners, Codex Protocol should be fast out of the gate to build upon early successes and establish a firm presence upon the sector.
To paraphrase the company’s roadmap, the longer term forecast is harder to determine. Much will depend on factors outside of Codex’s control, such as how the physical identification of artefacts and masterpieces is received and how this correlates to a decentralised provenance register.
RFID chips as well synthetic DNA are making rapid strides and linking those initiatives with a separate blockchain ledger could either hinder or accelerate adoption for Codex.
Either way, the Codex Protocol proposition represents substantial improvement on the status-quo and there is certainly enough substance here to warrant interest in the project.