Art is old. Cave paintings. Da Vinci. The sculptures of Botticelli and Michelangelo, whose fresco adorns the roof of the Sistine Chapel; the hand of Adam reaching out towards apotheosis in an exquisite and timeless exposition of man’s potential.
Crypto, on the other hand, is new. Ten years ago the Godfather of crypto, Bitcoin did not even exist, and there is no art (outside coding purists, perhaps) to the alignments and logicality of code. It is certain and conforms to strict rules. Art, by definition, does not.
Art is also silly. Urinals in the shape of lips. Tins of Campbell’s soup. The wild, disparate composition of a Jackson Pollock. The fifteenth-century invention of a helicopter in a world that had not even adjusted to the fact that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Art is not pragmatic.
And this is where Codex Protocol differs.
Codex Protocol is pragmatic. The aim is to utilise blockchain technology to not only ensure privacy in auctions, but to use the immutable nature of the blockchain to record, verify and track items. Not just the value, but the history and – crucially – provenance and authenticity of art and other collectables falling under the low-volume, high-value umbrella of the auction-worthy asset class that is A&C (‘Art and Collectables', fittingly).
As we shall discuss, this is an exemplary application of blockchain technology, with a team of enviable calibre and confirmed adoption straight out of ICO. And that’s without mentioning its potential as a future industry standard.
So, what is provenance and why is it crucial? Codex Protocol describe it as the ‘history of ownership of an item and associated documentation’ of A&Cs. Essentially, if a person is to spend a million pounds on a painting, then they want proof that it is real.
For example: in an ideal world, a painting made in 1902 would have a list of previous owners, complete with original sale documents from the artist to initial gallery, gallery to initial owner or collector, and then for every successive sale and owner up to the current auction.
That is not always the case and, crucially, there is currently no industry-wide register of provenance. Consider for example the ownership of land. In the UK there is the Land Registry, whilst the USA also have records, but on a state-by-state basis. That is what Codex Protocol are going to use blockchain technology to achieve. Due to the immutable nature of the blockchain ledger, once such data has been recorded it will be stored and publicly available for people to review, thereby not only allowing for verification of ownership, but for the owners and potential buyers to remain anonymous.
Through this, Codex Protocol will be able to ensure that the items in their registry are legitimate, whilst also protecting the identifies of those involved in the auction. They estimate that up to 40% of all items in the A&C asset class may be compromised, and so if they are able to solve this issue then it will be extremely attractive to auction houses. To this end, it is worth mentioning that there are advisors at the Director level or above from Christie’s (current) and Sotheby’s (former), the two largest auction houses in the world. Should either or both of these adopt Codex Protocol, then it will be a huge step towards becoming the industry standard.
The important thing to remember is that the A&C asset class has longevity, the items are old and therefore a Codex Record (the record of each piece of art of collectible on the blockchain) will last for potentially hundreds of years – the lifetime of the asset in question. Therefore, Codex Protocol will have utility long, long after ICO.
As you can see from the above image Codex Protocol’s roadmap is, well, already complete. The Mainnet went live 23 July 2018 and the token sale is currently open. Beyond that there is merely the deliberately vague “Post-Launch” with a timeline of “Beyond [July 2018].” Despite this ambiguity, after reading around the whitepaper a picture does begin to form.
Firstly, Codex Protocol expect their ‘Consortium’ (we’ll explain this in the next section) to grow, thereby increasing adoption. They then plan to develop new dApps to increase the functionality of their ecosystem. They claim this will be ‘sponsored’ by the Community Fund, which means that should developers approach them with a potential app, then they may be given money raised in the ICO to enable them to do so. Essentially, they will be outsourcing future dApp development, which does make a lot of sense.
Finally, the whitepaper states that marketing will “likely” occur. This could be perceived as a weakness but, considering the calibre of the team, we get the sense that the Co-Founders, rather than not actually having a plan or not knowing what they want to do, are instead being careful not to put too many constraints on the development of their project. So much of this project depends upon creating and developing relationships with auction houses and gaining their trust. They are not working to a developmental timeline, as the Mainnet is already live. Rather, they shall now be dealing primarily with third-parties and dependent upon external factors, for example the decision-making processes of potential new additions to their network: some companies make decisions quickly, whilst others will need to convene board meetings and perhaps run due diligence and investigate the utility and security of Codex Protocol before they will consider adopting the technology. It is impossible to put a distinct timeline on such a thing.
The main thing to remember is that they already have a use-case and guaranteed adoption. Which leads us neatly on to…
Value of Project: Use Case
Codex Protocol has a use case. Wow does it have one. Not only is their Mainnet live as of 23 July 2018, but they have contracts already in place with both LiveAuctioneers.com , who have 5,000 auction houses selling items worth over $5bn annually, and AuctionMobility.com, who have sales of over $1bn annually. That is instant, verifiable adoption. Straight out of ICO.
But, other than auction houses, who will be wanting to use Codex Protocol? First of all collectors, who will wish to have the provenance of their items guaranteed and recorded indelibly. Not only because it will enable them to prove the authenticity of their collection but because, once logged on the blockchain, they will never again have to go through the rigorous and at times expensive process of having the provenance of their collection proven.
And then consider artists, who will be keen to ensure that when people buy their work, they are indeed buying a genuine piece (and will therefore be willing to pay more for it). By creating a Codex Record for each piece as they make it, they can immutably record the life of their works, thus creating the ideal scenario we mentioned above. The blockchain cannot be altered, and that provides the certainty that artists, buyers and sellers crave.
As many items in the A&C asset class are expensive, they are also insured against theft. Insurance companies will therefore want to know that an item is not only real, but its value and when it was last appraised. As each Codex Record will contain the details of each appraisal, potential insurers will be able to save the costs associated with valuations, whilst also ensuring that the items they are offering to insure and indeed worth exactly what they are insured for, rather than a clever forgery being insured and then conveniently burnt in a fire or befalling some other miscreant fate.
The same applies for lenders. As A&C items are often used as security for loans, and banks do not tend to have in-house appraisal systems, an immutable, verified log of the provenance and therefore authenticity of the items over which they are taking security would also save them money. This will therefore once again be attractive to them.
We could go on providing examples, be they logistics or museums, appraisers looking for work and a log of their past appraisals. When examining the use case of Codex Protocol it quickly becomes apparent that not only does it have a viable use case for every element of the art ecosystem, but that it was specifically designed that way by people who understand both blockchain and the art ecosystem.
So let’s have a look at the team behind this project.
The CEO, Mark Lurie has impeccable credentials. First up, he has an economics degree and an MBA – both from Harvard. Secondly, he has also worked as a venture capital investor and was responsible for investing in successful Internet companies such as Yelp, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Finally, he has experience of successfully running a start-up, as his previous endeavour, Lofty.com was acquired – something not usually associated with failed start-ups. This is a trifecta of relevant experience that provides Mark with a rare and varied skillset, displaying proclivities entirely conducive to success in the crypto start-up space.
The COO, Jess Houlgrave has an equally impressive – and in fact more directly related – work history. Not only does Jess have an MA in Economics and Management from Oxford University (completed in three years rather than the usual four, wow), but an MA in Art Business from Sotheby’s Institute of Art – Sotheby’s being the world’s most famous auction house. Interestingly, the thesis of Jess’ Master’s was on blockchain in the art ecosystem. Jess’ experience was made for Codex Protocol.
The CTO, John Forrest is also highly accomplished, although arguably the least impressive of the three. Whilst John’s alma mater, Southern Methodist University is not in the same league as Oxford or Harvard, he graduated summa cum laude (‘with greatest honour’), won his faculty’s Computer Science award, and was at the very top of his class. He has since worked as a Senior Software Engineer for Microsoft and apparently excelled there. An impressive history and someone who is clearly and extremely talented programmer.
Wide and deep. They have Christie’s’ (the other most famous auction house in the world) President of the Americas and the Co-Founders of Augur, Basis and OLX, a site with over 200 million monthly users (almost as many as us!). They also have Dr Abe Othman, who was named in Forbes' 30 under 30 list, and Sarah Phinn Pratt, previously Sotheby’s Director of Appraisals for the Americas.
Seven members covering design, events, business development and of course software development. Interesting members are Corinne Moshy, who is also studying an MA in Art Business at Sotheby’s with a blockchain-based thesis, and the Senior Software Engineer, Colin Wood, who was a course-mate of the CTO whilst at SMU. We cannot imagine that he was chosen for being inept.
There are 1,000,000,000 total tokens, referred to as Codex (CODX). The CODX token will exist on the Ethereum blockchain, Codex Protocol functions via a series of dApps. They have no plans at present to create their own blockchain.
This could understandably be seen as a weakness, because of the known congestion issues associated with Ethereum (notably that they struggle to achieve eight transactions per second). However, in the case of CODX this will not be an issue. Many projects’ models are predicated upon a high volume of low-value transactions. In the case of CODX this will be different, as the A&C class is based upon high value and low volume – after all, there aren’t many multi-million dollar paintings in the world!
There is a slight hole in this, however. As there are already 5,000 auction houses signed up to this, and A&C is a two trillion dollar market, and Codex Protocol are intending to set themselves up as the industry standard protocol.
Anyway you look at it, that is going to involve a lot of transactions.
In fairness, Codex Protocol do say that they are not planning their own blockchain at present, and there is nothing stopping them developing their own in the future were it to become necessary. Ethereum are also currently developing horizontal scalability via the proposed Raiden Network, so we shall see.
Codex Protocol tokens cost $0.055 each and there are 400,000,000 (40% of the total supply) available during the token sale.
CODX will be used to pay fees. Whilst there will be no cost associated with reading the data on the blockchain, should the Codex Record being read require modifying – whether it be creating, updating or transferring ownership of the Record – there will be fees to pay. These fees will need to be paid using CODX.
Codex Protocol have also added incentives to the token in the form of discounts (based on staking, similar to a master node), rewards (if you add value to the Code Protocol ecosystem they will pay you tokens), penalties (if you behave badly they will penalise you, we assume by seizing your staked tokens) and influence (if you hold tokens for a long time, you will have a voice when it comes to future development). Whilst there are no figures for exactly what and how much the rewards will be, this is fairly standard for blockchain projects and so we are in no way worried by that.
Often with ICOs, there can be a sense that the product doesn't really need to be on the blockchain. The token doesn't really have a purpose and isn't actually used in the day-to-day operation of the business, which was itself operating fine without involving blockchain technology. The overall impression is that the ICO is nothing more than a cash grab, enabling to company to raise funds without having to dilute ownership or voting power as they would were they to raise capital through a share issue.
That is emphatically not the case with Codex Protocol.
Blockchain is absolutely central to the entire project. The specific attributes of immutability and privacy that blockchain can offer are the very elements that are most attractive to the art ecosystem. Immutability reduces the risk of fraud and protects provenance; privacy protects the identify of both owners and potential buyers. The secure nature of the blockchain also helps to ensure that the records can be trusted.
Then there is the fact that Codex Protocol have first-mover advantage and therefore no real competition. Allied with the connections they have to both Sotheby's and Christie's, it is eminently possible that, in time, Codex Protocol will becomes the register of authenticity in the art ecosystem. Regardless of whether they do become the industry standard, there is already a working product and contracts in place for adoption by upwards of 5,000 auction houses and transactions worth over $6bn a year. Those are eye-watering figures for such a new company, and far more than the large majority of ICOs are able to realistically quote.
Whilst an increase in adoption, specifically by the high-value end of the market, may be an issue, the fact is that Codex Protocol has the idea, the product, the team and the contacts to succeed. This is a sincere use of blockchain and will, we hope, develop into an indisputably successful example of the technology and its real-world potential.