Frank Herbert and Alejandro Jodorowsky, Dune, Suresnes: printed by the reproduction workshops Aviaplans (circa 1975). (image courtesy Christie's)

In the greatest Dune-related gaffe since the 1984 David Lynch adaptation, an anonymous group of cryptocurrency investors devoted to cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s never-completed film has apparently failed to understand the difference between owning an object and owning its licensing and distribution rights. Spice DAO (Decentralised Anonymous Organization) leveraged a kind of nerd SuperPAC that successfully raised enough funds to place the winning bid on a rare storyboard for Jodorowsky’s Dune, auctioned at Christie’s in November 2021. Their stated goal was “mak[ing] the book public” and producing an animated series inspired by the book.

“We believe the artwork and storyboard in Jodorowsky’s legendary Dune adaptation is strongly in the public’s interest,” reads Spice DAO’s mission statement, “and we hope to raise funds for the purchase so it can be in the hands of crowdraisers, not private collectors, and then collectively pursue projects that help its preservation and increase its accessibility.”

Sounds like a great plan, except the coalition seemingly failed to consult with a copyright attorney before plonking down €2.6 M (roughly $3M) for the storyboard bible, which was initially estimated to fetch €25,000-35,000 (~$28,000-39,654).

According to the Spice DAO mission:

“Spice DAO’s immediate goal is to purchase the Jodorowsky manuscript from the Christie’s auction. If successful, the DAO may then collectively explore the goals of:

  1. Preservation (e.g. through professional digitization; to the extent permitted by law)
  2. Accessibility (e.g. through public viewings and digital lending; to the extent permitted by law)
  3. Awareness (e.g. through events such as a panel with the artists represented in the manuscript).”

Of course, the sticking point of this action plan is the phrase “to the extent permitted by law,” which is, in this case, totally not at all permitted by law. Owning the schematic for a movie does not extend the intellectual property or copyright, or give the owner the right to monetize its contents. I’d want to be decentralized and anonymous too! Unless Spice DAO has a phase-II plan to negotiate with the estates of Jodorowsky and artists Jean Giraud and HR Giger, the plan is a nonstarter. Spice, spice, everywhere and not a drop to, uh, do whatever spice is good for.

A Tweet mocking Spice DAO’s new venture.

To be fair, it’s possible Spice DAO isn’t totally in the dark on copyright law — reporting by the Verge suggests the group is committing to an original series “inspired by” the book. But at a time when the art world is scrambling to get a grasp on blockchain currency and NFTs, it is vaguely satisfying to know that crypto nerds may understand equally as little about art or its surrounding legalities.

Wish it could be said that overpaying for a book was the dumbest stunt the community has staged in the art world, but that would be ignoring a whole vast planet of idiotic moves made by the crypto rich. As we all know, fear is the mind-killer, but apparently so too is sudden access to unfettered wealth.

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....