Crypto enthusiasts splash millions on Dune book, falsely think they own the copyright

A page from the Jodorowsky Dune book that was sold by Christies.
The group posted they want to make an animated series based on the book. Photo credit: Getty Images

A group of cryptocurrency enthusiasts have paid nearly $4.5 million for a copy of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune book - but apparently misunderstood what they can do with it.

The group created a decentralised anonymous organisation (DAO) to purchase the book, which was estimated to be worth between just NZ$42,000 and $59,000 by auctioneers Christies.

The DAO posted on Twitter they wanted to make the book available to the public and create an animated television series based on it to sell to a streaming service.

According to Buzzfeed News TheSpiceDAO originally asked for $8.8 million to purchase the book, with more than $3 million of that to pay for the animated movie - but ended up with more than $17.6m in funding.

A DAO has a governance structure usually based on a cryptocurrency, in this case Spice, as a token of ownership. Buying the cryptocurrency gives a person a say in future decisions made by the DAO.

But those who have put their money into the organisation now own just a single copy of the book, with very limited ability to monetise it as intended.

There were, according to Christies, between 10 and 20 copies of the book printed and bound, meaning it's rare but not one of a kind.

Dune was written by Frank Herbert and was optioned in 1974 by a French consortium which appointed Jodorowsky to direct the movie.

He used the book, full of details, storyboard drawings and concept art, to try and pitch his 10 to 15 hour long movie vision to film studios, but ultimately proved unsuccessful.

TheSpiceDAO may well end up emulating Jodorowsky's failure, despite their stated goals.

The book was already publicly available via Google Photos prior to the auction, allowing anyone access to it, the Financial Times reported.

And, as many replies to the DAOs tweet pointed out, owning a physical copy of a book doesn't give you the legal right to adapt and capitalise on the intellectual property.

"You bought a collectible for 100X estimated value. Do you think if you bought a Spider-Man comic you could start making Spider-Man movies as well?" one wrote.

"I guess this is the natural result of NFT culture. You bought a scarcity-limited copy of a thing, and now you think you 'own' the thing," another tweeted.

The massive purchase price and reality of what they can and can't do with the book has left some members of the DAO wondering what they'd spent all the money on and pondering what they can do with it.

The current most popular proposal is to create an NFT of every page of the book, with a potential to then burn the actual book once that's done.

According to the proposer the book would then cross "the boundary of physical to digital", which would enhance the value of the NFTs.

However, with a digital copy of the book freely available, it remains to be seen how many people will willingly pay for a NFT of a single page when they can save every page for free.

As one person tweeted: "Thank you for helping to obliterate the myth that people with a lot of money earned it through skill and intellect."