There are a number of offerings on the market today including Verisart, Ascribe and Tagsmart that claim to authenticate art pieces by issuing digital certificates of authenticity. This post attempts to explain the differences between these offerings as compared to ArtChain.info which tracks the ownership of art using the bitcoin blockchain. It's only an attempt that involves a certain amount of speculation since it's not exactly clear how these other systems work, and their websites provide very little in the way of explanation.
ArtChain.info: provides a detailed and graphical explanation as to exactly how the bitcoin blockchain is used to track the ownership of art, and therefore authenticate art. The detailed explanation is provided at this link:
Here is an example art certificate of authenticity generated by ArtChain.info:
and here is an example webpage (from Deborah Azzopardi website) displaying the artist bitcoin address:
If you are familiar with bitcoin, you will likely understand immediately how ArtChain.info works by assigning a master bitcoin address to an artist, who then transfers bitcoin from their master address to an art-piece bitcoin address assigned to an art piece. This creates an immutable link in the bitcoin blockchain that can be verified by everyone. When the art piece is sold, the bitcoin in the art-piece address is transferred to the buyer's bitcoin address, thereby creating a new link in the chain of ownership. Since only the buyer (current owner) has control of their bitcoin address, the current owner can prove they hold the authentic art piece. The private key to the current owner's bitcoin address cannot be discovered and therefore the owner's address cannot be duplicated or forged. When the current owner wants to sell the art piece, the current owner transfers the bitcoin to the new buyer's bitcoin address, thereby creating a new link in the chain of ownership. ArtChain.info does not try to obfuscate any details concerning how an art piece is registered, transferred between owners, and proven authentic using the bitcoin blockchain... something the competing offerings do not even attempt to explain for some unknown reason.
Verisart: claims to record on the bitcoin blockchain a "timestamp" for an art piece which represents a certificate of authenticity. Here is an example:
Scan the QR code with a barcode reader so you can view the certificate on the Verisart website. The certificate includes a description of the art piece, and a "blockchain address" where ostensibly something like a hash of the art piece description is stored? This is speculation because Verisart does not explain what is actually stored at the bitcoin address. If you evaluate the bitcoin address using blockchain.info, there is typically a single transaction in the history and a hash value, but nothing can be gleaned from the blockchain record.
The Verisart certificate also lists a "current owner" assigned to a cryptic text/number string. However, there is no explanation as to what this text/number string represents or how it is generated or how an owner can prove they are the owner based on this text/number string. Finally, there is no explanation anywhere on the Internet that explains how to transfer an art piece to a new owner, including to transfer the digital certificate of authenticity.
Ascribe: claims to generate a hash over a digital image and information about the artist which is stored at a bitcoin address. A digital certificate of authenticity (meaning a record in the Ascribe database) is generated by assigning the art piece to the hash or to the bitcoin address? Here is an example:
The certificate of authenticity shows transfers between owners, but there is no explanation as to how this occurs or how a current owner can prove ownership of an art piece? There is a webpage to visit where a certificate is somehow authenticated by entering the summary phrase and the signature at the bottom of the certificate. But there is no explanation as to what this verification does? And reviewing the transaction history of a bitcoin address (Artwork ID) assigned to an art piece provides no indication as to how the bitcoin blockchain might be used to prove the transfer of ownership or authentication?
Tagsmart: generates an art certificate of authenticity, but not using the bitcoin blockchain. Instead, the digital certificate is simply a record stored in a conventional database that is susceptible to attack. A "DNA smart tag" is attached to an art piece having an ID that indexes into the Tagsmart database. Here is an example:
The above smart tag ID (TL4J7) is entered into the Tagsmart website to lookup the database record (the digital certificate of authenticity). It is ostensibly this "DNA smart tag" that provides the security and proof of authentication because, you see, it is imbibed with a special DNA signature. Of course... Tagsmart will not explain how the DNA smart tag itself is authenticated? By shipping the art piece to a special lab for DNA testing? Really? People are suppose to ship their art pieces to a lab for DNA testing each time an art piece transfers ownership? Including when the first buyer buys the art piece? Otherwise, how does the first buyer know the DNA smart tag is valid? So to safely purchase an art piece a collector must first have the piece shipped to a special DNA lab? And if they ever want to sell the piece, again the piece must first be shipped and tested by a special DNA lab? And what happens to this DNA lab in 50 years when Tagsmart is no longer in business? Even assuming the Tagsmart database remains in tact forever and never hacked (not likely), and even assuming Tagsmart and their DNA testing labs remain viable forever (not likely), does anyone really believe a DNA tag cannot be decrypted? If a Tagsmart DNA lab can decrypt a smart tag it means that ANYONE can decrypt a DNA smart tag. And if a smart tag can be decrypted, then it can of course be forged. And if a smart tag can be forged once.... it can be forged a thousand times and attached to a thousand fake art pieces.