In brief

  • Tim Berners-Lee turned the original code of his invention, the World Wide Web, into an NFT through a series of artwork.
  • The code itself remains open source, but the buyer will own its artistic representation.

World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee has auctioned off the 30-year-old source code of his invention as a non-fungible token (NFT) for $5.4 million at Sotheby’s.

NFTs are blockchain-based crypto tokens that prove ownership of a digital or physical asset. Berners-Lee has described NFTs as “the latest playful creations in this realm and the most appropriate means of ownership that exists.”

The NFT, titled "This Changes Everything," relates to four items. The first is a collection of time-stamped files containing the source code for HTML, HTTP and URIsthe three fundamental languages and protocols that Berners-Lee wrote in the early 1990s.


The others are a silent, half-hour video of someone typing up the code on a black screen; a digital poster of the code signed by Berners-Lee’s; and a letter, dated June 2021, from Berners-Lee that reflects on his experience creating the code.

Source Code for the World Wide Web

Since the source code to the web is open source, all the NFT buyer really owns is the artististic NFT package that Berners-Lee designed.

“I’m not even selling the source code,” Berners-Lee said in an interview with The Guardian published last week. “I’m selling a picture that I made, with a Python program that I wrote myself, of what the source code would look like if it was stuck on the wall and signed by me."

Sotheby’s launched the auction on June 23, for one week, with the minimum bidding at $1,000. The proceeds from the sale will be donated to initiatives supported by Berners-Lee and his wife, Rosemary Leith, via the World Wide Web Foundation.

Sotheby’s entered the NFT market in March via a partnership with the Winklevoss-owned crypto art marketplace Nifty Gateway, when it auctioned a piece of art by Turkish 3D artist Murat Pak for $17 million. Earlier this month, the auction house sold a CryptoPunk NFT for $11.8 million to DraftKings’ largest shareholder, Shalom Meckenzie.


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