Crypto has long been touted as a way to transact business outside the interference of international governments, but it became clear this week that the space has its limits this week. Over the past two days, OpenSea, one of the major NFT marketplaces, has deleted user and collector accounts from Iran, a country currently under US sanctions, without prior warning or explanation.
Iranian artist Arefeh Norouzii noticed that his account had been misrepresented yesterday when one of his followers told him that they had realized that his OpenSea profile was no longer active. Norouzii went to check and found nothing either – her NFTs were gone. While Norouzii may re-hit them and sell them on other NFT platforms that do not currently adhere to US sanctions, OpenSea is the largest NFT platform, and the sale of his work on the site has constituted a large part of his income.
“To be honest, I cried all day,” Norouzii wrote in a direct message. “People told me not to worry and gave me hope that it was just a bug. It can’t be a bug, it’s centralization. Previously she sold physical versions of the art, but the NFTs had changed her life and allowed her to pursue art full-time, and now she’s unsure of what the future holds.
Previously, the sanctions were thought to only target users whose IP addresses pointed to locations in Iran, and several users suggested that blocked users could simply use a VPN, which would mask their true location. However, it quickly emerged that several Iranian artists who live and work outside of Iran have also been included in the recent platform, simply because they hold Iranian passports. Parin Heidari, an NFT artist who was Underline by OpenSea as “Amazing Women in Space” has lived outside of Iran for 13 years and has always had her account terminated.
In a tweet from March 3, OpenSea wrote “We are a US-based company and abide by US sanctions law, which means we are required to prevent people on US sanctions lists from using OpenSea.” This statement did not explain to what extent she would apply her interpretation of who would be subject to punishment under US law.
When asked for further comment, an OpenSea spokesperson shared the following statement with ART news“OpenSea restricts users and territories on the U.S. Sanctions List from using our services, including buying, selling, or transferring NFTs on OpenSea, and our Terms of Service explicitly prohibit sanctioned users or users in sanctioned territories to use our services. We have a zero tolerance policy for the use of our services by sanctioned individuals or entities and persons located in sanctioned countries. If we find that persons violate our sanctions, we are taking prompt action to ban associated accounts.”
This recent wave of deplatforming by OpenSea comes amid growing global tensions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has prompted many countries around the world to amp up their sanctions against oligarchs closely linked to Vladimir Putin. . Still, it’s unclear why users from Iran, and not other countries on the US sanctions list, were specifically targeted.
The platform has been very painful for members of the NFT and crypto community. “No one wants to see artists caught between governments and politics,” said Farokh Sarmad, founder of media company Web3 Rug Radio. “That’s why we need real decentralization.”
On Twitter, Sarmad used his large following to generate discussion about recent events and create support systems for affected artists. “We know OpenSea was forced to do this and unfortunately I won’t be surprised if more platforms are forced to comply,” he said. “But the NFT space has a lot of money and smart people, I’m sure we can relate to that.”
Others have taken the decision to stop using OpenSea as a sign of solidarity. “I really can’t justify opensea’s decision now,” wrote NFT Mondoir influencer on Twitter. “They took advantage of everyone, including the people who are now blocked from accessing the platform, to become a multi-billion dollar company. Their profit came from those same people. That’s not right. “