IP Goes Pop! Season 3, Episode 5: IP Goes Pop! Plays Ball – The IP of Baseball Cards and NFTs

IP Goes POP! takes you out to the ball game (and the blockchain) for this episode of the podcast, which looks at the shift from “collectible trading cards” to “collectable NFTs”. Podcast co-hosts, Volpe Koenig Shareholders, and intellectual property lawyers, Michael Snyder and Joseph Gushue round the bases and pull out their most memorable sports cards as they slide home to talk about the intellectual property (IP) of baseball cards, collecting, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

The days of digging through the attic in search of that hidden box of your grandpa’s old sports cards may be dwindling, but they are not gone. In some cases, these antique cards remain valuable assets for their owners, who can be thought of as holders of fine art. Some lock their cards away in vaults for safety or display them on their walls, behind glass cases, taken out only under the protection of silk gloves. But, how does the price of a 1959 Mickey Mantle or mint condition Honus Wagner baseball card (approximately 60 in remaining in existence) compare to a modern-day digital version of a trading card, such as the NBA Top Shot NFTs, with clips anyone can view online? Is the future of baseball cards still something you can touch with your hands or will it reside digitally on your phone? Our panel discusses the basics of what an NFT is and how this blockchain technology is shaping the future of the analog trading card business.

To understand where we are today–off the bases and on the blockchain–Michael and Joe journey through the pop-culture of old to consider the factors that led up to the popularity of baseball cards. From the days of kids popping rock-hard rectangles of bubble gum into their mouths while sorting through their just ripped opened pack of baseball cards to the frenzied trading of duplicate cards, one consistent element that has defined this market is scarcity. The possibility of an elusive valuable find still provides a rush for collectors and sports fans alike.

For example, a 1952 card Mickey Mantle card from Tops sold for $5.2 million in 2021 because there were not that many printed originally and it had a futuristic design. Other Mantle cards have lesser value. A 1909 Honus Wager card is perhaps the rarest card to find with approximately only 60 left in existence. It last sold for $3.2 million. Rarity contributes to a baseball card’s value.

Further, these cards remain protected under established copyright and trademark law. These laws can limit what owners of baseball cards are allowed to do with the card they physically own. One important limitation relates to reproduction rights. Owning a Mickey Mantle baseball card does not give you permission to reproduce it, or sell copies. This is clear with a physical card, but in the digital realm of NFTS, copy, paste, and social media, how do you know you know your “digital card” is yours? Why would you want to buy one if anyone can view it for free online? How can digital assets that live in a world of seeming abundance compete in value with the scarcity of cards you can touch, trade by hand, and (if you’re unlucky) damage? As the technologies used for collectibles shifts, so do the IP laws that cover any new frontier.


2:12 Baseball Card Collecting

11:49 The Intellectual Property Rights of Baseball Cards

16:13 Collectibles of the Future: Non-fungible Tokens (NFTs)

20:00 Similarities and differences between tangible collectibles and NFTs

  • Chain of title- Certificates of Authenticity
  • Controlling the supply of NFTs vs. Baseball cards

27:09 NFTs as the new collectibles

  • Does a static vs. dynamic image change the value?
  • Read your smart contract (similar to a license)!
  • Crypto Punks and Larva Labs sales

31:25 Final Thoughts




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