Painting by Numbers: The Crypto Projects Caught Plagiarizing

Vincent van Gogh is undoubtedly the most famous and brilliant painter in the history of Western art. His impressionist style is instantly recognizable and widely admired by art lovers the world over. While his genius is unparalleled, the creative process took a heavy toll upon the man himself. Gogh was widely known to neglect his health, eat rarely, drink heavily, and suffer from poor mental health. While no one knows precisely where true originality, creativity and vision come from, it’s clear that it does not always come easily. 

Today, Gogh’s paintings sell for hundreds of millions of dollars, well outside of the price range of most art collectors. Thankfully, a cheaper and more practical alternative to owning a Gogh original is readily available, as many of the painter’s most famous works have been transformed into paint-by-numbers canvases. For under $12, you too can create a work of art based on one of Gogh’s designs. Now, the work which once drove one man over the edge is used as a form of art therapy, for people recovering from mental dysfunctions of their own.

In many ways, the world of blockchain is not so different to the world of fine art. Crypto is filled with visionaries and tortured geniuses aplenty, and it is also filled with those who prefer the more therapeutic route of copying their homework. We dedicate this article not to the visionaries of blockchain, but to the people who came later and decentralized their workload. This is a celebration of the lazy souls who used Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V to get the job done, before clocking off for some early afternoon drinking. 

Tron

Absolutely nobody knows where Justin Sun conceived of the name Tron for his blockchain, but in 2019, that question came into sharp focus when the Disney corporation pushed back on Tron’s attempts to register three trademarks in the US. The house of mouse was concerned that Sun’s activities may impinge upon one of their longstanding commercial properties. Since the Disney movie Tron (1982) predated Sun’s blockchain by decades, it appeared they may have right on their side. 

In any case, Tron (the blockchain, not the movie franchise) had already shown an indefatigable ability to shake off accusations of plagiarism. In fact, plagiarism was a major issue concerning Tron’s English language whitepaper as it was uncovered that large screeds of the document were slightly rewritten from the Filecoin and IPFS whitepapers. Other sections were allegedly – and quite demonstrably – not rewritten at all.

But that was then, and this is now. Any accusations of Tron plagiarizing other projects is finally over, as the company roadmap looks forward to a very bright future, including its Star Trek milestone in 2023. Tron’s efforts may reek of a violent occupation of other people’s intellectual property, but as Columbus himself discovered, sometimes the final frontier uncovers natives who already live there. At present, there is no mention of measle-infected blankets and a continent-spanning genocide in the Tron roadmap, but stay tuned. As a wholly unoriginal and completely amoral idea, it’s probably already in the pipeline.

Calibra

Is it possible that Mark Zuckerberg chose to lift from other people rather than put in the hard work himself? Some think it’s possible. Most notably, when the Facebook creator announced Calibra, one financial services company noted a very apparent similarity to their logo.

Upon seeing Calibra’s logo for the first time, Current pithily described their efforts as: “what happens when you only have 1 crayon left”. 

Wake up and taste that salty coffee, Calibra.

At this stage it is hard to know whether Calibra truly stole the Current logo, or whether the design was so pathetically simple and obvious that similarities would be inevitable. In any case, the threat of Current’s ire is hardly likely to worry Zuckerburg, who is currently laughing all the way to the bank while rubbing his hands in glee.

OKEx

In March of this year, OKEx was found to have plagiarised in a manner so mindlessly uncaring and thoughtless that even Hollywood hack JJ Abrams would have been embarrassed to put his name to it. The drama started when analyst Larry Cermack pointed out that OKEx had launched its own version of Binance Academy by simply copying Binance Academy articles word for word. The plagiarism even went as far as to incorporate Binance’s SAFU fund which is about as damning and hilarious as plagiarism gets. Thanks for all the keks, OKEx.

Petro

If you’re going to steal, you may as well steal from the very best. That’s why it’s so very perplexing that when Venezuela created the Petro, it chose to lift huge sections from the Dash whitepaper. Standout features of the Petro include instant send, masternodes and an X11 mining algorithm, just like Dash. The Petro also combines Proof of Work and Proof of Stake consensus algorithms, just like Dash, and even has the brass neck claim that all of these carbon copied features qualify as an “innovative advance”. 

ZelCash

What do you do when you’re stuck for fresh ideas? You take an existing project, let’s call it ZenCash (now Horizen), change one letter of the name, and try to pass off the work as your own. If that sounds appealing, then it’s probably wise to check and double check that every single instance of the word ZenCash is changed to ZelCash in all of your documentation, cos leaving in actual references to the project you ripped off may prove to be a bit of a giveaway. This is precisely what the “Find” and “Replace All” feature was made for.

Verge

Verge started life as a fork of Peercoin, which was itself based on Bitcoin. Where Verge aimed to set itself apart was as a privacy coin that obscured IP addresses for no reason anyone can understand. To reflect its independent status as a wholly original privacy coin, different to everything else on the market, its creator Justin Vendetta initially named the project Dogecoin Dark, before eventually settling on the much duller moniker of Verge. The project later implemented the Wraith protocol, a concept they had uniquely borrowed from Bitcoin core developers who had abandoned the concept as useless. Today, Verge is most famous for being 51% attacked and losing millions of dollars worth of tokens three times in the space of a few months in 2018. This single aspect of the project is completely original.

Crap concept, cool logo.

Dadi

-Who’s your daddy, Dadi?
-Y-y-you are SONM!

Academic Misconduct

This is where things start to become a little meta. What if blockchain technology could be used to help prevent scientific misconduct? In 2016 an academic paper proposed just that. The paper by Greg Irving and John Holden was titled: “How blockchain-timestamped protocols could improve the trustworthiness of medical science” and was published after careful peer review. The piece was so popular it gained coverage in The Economist and FierceBiotech.

There was just one small problem with this prevention of academic misconduct paper. It was a lift of a blog post written in 2014 by Benjamin Carlisle. Further, the ‘authors’ of the academic paper initially refused to retract their paper when rumbled, and instead modified their paper to cite the blog no less than eight times. As Benjamin Carlisle put it: “To me, it feels a bit like publishing a cookie recipe you found on the web, and then trying to claim credit because you were the first to document the actual baking.” Zing! 

In the end, Irving and Holden folded, and the paper was retracted.

There’s More

It’s not just a few instances of plagiarism that have found their way into the blockchain space. In a 2018 analysis of 488 cryptocurrencies, it was found that in 9 out of 10 of the projects studied had similarities in code of around 80%. In all fairness, it is hard to write really good original code, when all the good original code has already been written. 

It’s much the same phenomenon again with crypto articles and crypto news sites, not all of whom publish quality original content. We at BIDL certainly look forward to reading this piece again when it is republished on a lesser crypto news site without our permission. 

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