This text introduces Recovery, a fundamentally new mechanic that changes how NFT projects bridge ownership, creation and community.
Recovery’s first implementation on-chain will be in the Tomb Series. Here we will explain why we think Recovery is a necessary addition to the NFT project ecosystem (1), outline its fundamental mechanics (2), give examples of novel opportunities these mechanics create (3) and detail how, in addition to implementing it in the Series, we will partner with Zora to make its tools and protocols available to any creator or community who wish to use them (4).
We are 18 months into the popular adoption, distribution and collection of works on-chain. In that time, certain norms have emerged in the space with regard to IP, permissions, rights and community access to NFT projects, and the resultant cultural opportunities that those projects provide. Initially, a cultural ecosystem emerged that encompassed both one-of-one works in various media — image, text, video, audio — and higher volume, generative mint PFP projects. We are seeing, however, the increasing dominance — in terms of community adoption and the wider provision of tools and platforms — of the latter. The scope of cultural rights and creative responses that the space encourages is, regrettably, narrowing to those offered by these projects.
The opportunities for creative participation presently offered by large NFT projects to their communities share common fundamental limitations. Typically, holders of an NFT gain the right to remix, reuse or make derivative work featuring the primary IP of the NFT or its project. You can purchase a Bored Ape NFT and put it on a hoodie, or use the ape as your avatar, not just on social media but in public performance.
The promise is that your NFT becomes a social indicator that is able to be ported to whatever platforms that you, the owner, wish to bring it to. But these use cases are creative only in a strictly limited sense. The first is that this benefit is conferred strictly to the owner, and not the community, or its audience. And that even the benefit is itself a creative trap; the NFT holder is permitted only to replicate the already existing brand property, to reinforce its centralised IP, rather than to generate truly novel, counterfactual, or adversarial creative work. You can use the image in so far as it functions as an advertisement for the brand’s already stated values.
Under this paradigm, supposed “unrestricted” IP is actually deeply constrained — capable only of a circular, sycophantic mode of generation — and the much vaunted “roadmaps” for the future of a project increasingly take on a parasitic form. The roadmap becomes a Sisyphean endeavour; in which the captive audience of owners are provided with scripted opportunities to extend the lifespan (or pump the floor price) of the project by continuing to produce what essentially amounts to promotional material. This is not a tool of creative liberation, rather it is something which encourages the ceaseless treadmill of more replica culture, only to validate a centralised property which cannot survive outside of mimetic puppetry; getting its owners to say its own name.
If this is the future of works on-chain, it will tend not towards diverse cultures but monocultures. It creates no wider participation in the project other than in an ‘in-group’ and ‘out-group’ model.
The cultural production of the in-group is not for the benefit of the wider out-group observers (what in the previous model of art we might have called “viewers” or “the audience”), other than to possibly stoke FOMO or demand to own the NFT – non-coincidentally, the only thing that might raise the floor price. This is a centralised model of cultural generation that superficially sits above a decentralised protocol. Web3’s unique promise is that it might support projects built on top of decentralised protocols that also support and platform decentralised culture.
We propose that the link between the ownership of an NFT, access to any creative tools the NFT provides, and the content that can potentially be created with those tools, should be neither the sole the property of the owner, nor bound to puppet the original IP from which the NFT originates. How can such mechanics be built without destroying the value of the original property? How can creative liberation and the recognition of original IP be mutually reinforcing?
We believe that, with the introduction of new mechanics, it is possible for a decentralised model of cultural production to exist on top of a decentralised protocol. We would like to introduce one such mechanic via the Tomb Series. We call this mechanic Recovery.
The Tomb Series consists of 177 NFT artworks; Tombs.
Through Recovery, each of these 177 NFTs becomes a container for its own unique assemblage of on-chain media that are created, validated, and minted by a community of owners, creators, and viewers, using on-chain governance tools. Recovery literally adds equity and value to the work. The NFT owner retains their ownership, and the creators of the Recovered media also gain both ownership and usage rights of the new content they add. This value is not destructive. Each Tomb’s Recovered media forms a unified and evolving collection, linked indelibly to the original Tomb NFT, without changing it.
To achieve this, the Recovery mechanism consists of two components: the Recovery contract, a proxy of which is created in parallel with every NFT in the Series, and a governance protocol, which is used to determine –via on-chain votes on Recovery proposals– which media each Tomb’s Recovery contract is approved to mint. This diagram provides a simple overview of the process.
Much as viewers innately understand a datadisc is an aesthetically agnostic platform; that its content can take on any appearance or form, Recovered works need not reinforce, reference or derive from the original project IP in any way. If it is something that can be made, and something that can be minted, it can be proposed for Recovery. In this way, each Tomb becomes a site for content and culture that is as vast as the imagination of its audience.
Tombs become eligible for Recovery when they are deployed on chain, and the Recoveries can be approved by an on-chain vote (and the media minted to the blockchain) once the Tomb has an owner.
Items are proposed for Recovery via the Tomb Council – the on-chain governance body of the project consisting of holders of the Index Marker (the Series’ governance token). There is a fixed supply of 3000 Index Markers, with each Marker being distributed with each of the 3000 copies of the Tomb Index, the master catalogue that documents every Tomb in the Series. The current platform for Council discussion is via the Tomb Series Discord, and upon Recovery implementation members will have access to a unified front end for proposals and on-chain voting. Anyone who holds an Index Marker can submit a Recovery proposal – one proposal per marker per round of voting.
The proposal identifies the Tomb to which the Recovery pertains, provides any relevant metadata required for minting the item on chain, and the media that will be minted if approved. Recovered media are minted to the wallet that holds the Index Marker that submitted the proposal.
Once submitted, the proposal is added to the vote queue, and the Tomb owner is notified of the proposal.
Tomb owners gain an increased vote share for votes on Recovery proposals that pertain to their own Tomb. This means owners form a decentralised curatorial layer within a project: they can exercise - if they choose to do so - direction or discretion in Recovery votes, helping shape what media is minted on their Tomb’s Recovery Contract. But direction can also come from the community and the audience. Every viewer with access to an Index Marker gains the freedom to make, propose, and –if validated by the on-chain vote– mint, canonical additions to this body of media.
This is a fundamentally new way for an NFT project to assign creative rights. And it creates totally new opportunities for NFT works to function as platforms for other creators' content, voices, and vision.
What does this look like in practice? What are these new opportunities for owners, for creators, and for the community?
Imagine if the owner of a Tomb declares that they only wish to approve a certain kind of media for recovery from their Tomb - so that its Recovered media becomes a collection only of texts, or of music, or images with a particular theme or relating to a specific topic?
Imagine if an owner viewed the on chain contents of their Tomb’s recovery contract as a backend for whatever front-end they envisaged - as a tumblr, as a record label, as a video publishing platform, completely distinct from the Tomb Series project, enabled by the Recovery function. Imagine those platforms being used not by an owner but by a roster of creators, all enabled by the access the community and governance layers of Recovery provide.
Imagine if a DAO or a community had shared ownership of a Tomb, and used it as an archive of that community’s work, or collection – united under a shared contract allowing collective viewing, but also open for submission, for creator proposals, that can be elevated for curation without transaction.
Recovery makes it possible to imagine a Tomb Owner or community of creators having the curatorial power of a DAO, but not requiring a treasury, potentially enabling a new class of curators on chain.
We have seem remarkable community projects emerge with huge treasury power and on-chain governance such as Nouns, but it is important to recognise the limits of this model: if agency is allocated to a community via a treasury, that cannot scale culturally to all communities. Not every community will have a treasury, not every project should be forced to adopt the most profitable or renumerative model, and culture requires communities without treasuries to be able to create and to be able to build.
For individual viewers and enthusiasts of the project, Recovery offers a paradigm shift in how they can engage with the NFT space: They can become creators without having to be consumers. Minting into Recovery is distinct from minting on a marketplace and requires no further context – and there is no prerogative for a Tomb owner to have to purchase any item that appears in Recovery in their Tomb. It is a return to day zero of the Web3 publishing model – the work exists only in the context it and its siblings in Recovery provide; as culture first.
This means that both the work and the curatorial project of each Recovery are forks that manifest their own layer of meaning inside the greater project. Suddenly, every NFT in a Series is a wormhole into its own story, of infinite scope; both the Library of Babel and the Garden of the Forking Paths.
Finally, for the community who follow the project and/or hold the governance token, those worlds are theirs. They do not need to hold the master NFT. They are not required to gatekeep these tools, promote the IP, or tend the floor price in order to economically incentivize the project’s authors to bother to continue a roadmap. This layer remains open, permissionless. The project’s future is truly in the hands of its audience; decentralised.
We are currently in the process of developing and publishing the final Recovery mechanics. Our goal is to implement the Recovery mechanic as soon as possible; putting it live in the Tomb Series as a public proof of concept, followed by an open-source distribution of Recovery components soon after. We are proud to announce a development partnership with Zora Engineering, with the goal of adding the Recovery mechanic to the Zora SDK.
To this end we can now publicly announce the founding of RECOVERY DAO, consisting of core members of the Tomb Series and Zora Engineering development teams, an organisation with the single goal of developing, auditing and deploying the Recovery mechanic both inside Tomb Series and as a public protocol.
We believe in the Recovery mechanic; that's why we have made the decision to donate 100% of the artist’s share of sales from the upcoming auction of the 36 Tombs in the Shadow House to fund RECOVERY DAO’s operations. The auction takes place Friday September 9 via Avant Arte, and full details can be found here:
We can also reveal that the first NFTs to receive the Recovery mechanic implementation will be the 36 SHADOW Tombs, with the very first recovery on chain being reserved for the Tomb selected by the winner of the SHADOW auction. If you are interested in the mechanic, and believe as we do in its wider potential, this offers collectors a unique opportunity; by collecting a SHADOW Tomb you not only help fund the building of the Recovery tools, but you will own a piece of its on-chain legacy, and be among the the first NFT holders ever to implement the Recovery mechanic.
The Recovery Team consists of Tomb Series lead developers David Rudnick, Luke Miles and Shahruz Shaukat, joined by the invaluable input of Eric Hu, Gilbert Again, Archie Hicklin and James Geary. We give our deepest thanks to Zora for all their support so far and their commitment to RECOVERY DAO, and to everyone who has provided their feedback and thoughts – particularly J.S. Horne, Mat Dryhurst, Trevor McFedries, and the brilliant Tomb Series community.