Crypto Bros Spent $3 Million Thinking They Bought the Rights to Dune

They thought wrong.

By Adrienne WestenfeldJan 19, 2022

If fear is the mind-killer, then stupidity must be the pocketbook-killer. Just ask the crypto bros who made a three million dollar mistake by failing to read the fine print. related stories How to Read the ‘Dune’ Book Series in Order‘Dune’ Is A Future-Shock MasterpieceHow the ‘Dune’ Movie Changed From the Book

An anonymous NFT group called Spice DAO (decentralized anonymous organization) made waves this week when they triumphantly tweeted about their recent acquisition of a rare art book: Jodorowsky’s Dune, the guidebook to an ambitious but ill-fated film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. These spiceheads had big plans to convert the book into NFTs, burn the physical copy, and adapt the story into an animated series. There’s just one problem: little did they know, they don’t actually own the copyright to Dune. All they own is one very, very expensive book.

Before we get too deep into this tale of crypto folly, a little primer on the book: back in 1974, director Alexander Jodorowsky set out to make a film adaptation of Dune. Two years into the process, the project was killed due to a lack of funding, but not before it became the stuff of cinematic legend. Jodorowsky envisioned the film at a whopping fourteen hours long, with a score by Pink Floyd; meanwhile, Salvador Dalí signed on to play Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino, though his exorbitant salary may have been the project’s kiss of death. Dead-set on becoming the highest-paid actor in history, Dalí demanded to be paid $100,000 per minute of screen time. Orson Welles was to play the evil Baron Harkonnen, and even Mick Jagger signed on for an unspecified part. Ironically enough, the unmade film later became the subject of a 2014 documentary.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW content is imported from Twitter. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, on their website.

But before the project was ultimately canned, Jodorowsky presented studio executives with an extensive book of concept art, which included set designs, character designs, and a storyboard of the entire film sketched by Moebius, the legendary French cartoonist. It’s estimated that somewhere between ten and twenty copies of Jodorowsky’s Dune still exist in the wild; periodically, they come up at auction, fetching somewhere in the neighborhood of $25,000. Last November, one such copy went up for auction at Christie’s, where appraisers expected it would sell for around $40,000.

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Imagine everyone’s surprise when Spice DAO swooped in with a bid that went way, way over the asking price. Spice DAO paid more than a hundred times the modest estimate, taking home the book for $3 million. According to an investigation by BuzzFeed News, the money was crowdfunded by the Dune-loving cryptocurrency enthusiasts of Spice DAO, who pitched in with the promise that they’d get to vote on the book’s future. Spice DAO stated that its goal was “to issue a collection of NFTs that are technically innovative and culturally disruptive.” Burning the book would be “an incredible marketing stunt which could be recorded on video”; the video itself would then be sold as an NFT. (Seems like these crypto bros have had too much spice, doesn’t it?)

When Spice DAO crowed about their purchase on Twitter this week, the Internet was quick to set them straight. Buying Jodorowsky’s Dune doesn’t confer the copyright needed to produce Jodorowsky’s vision; it only confers one very old, very expensive book. Spice DAO also intended to make the book public, which is a noble aim—or it would be, if the book wasn’t already free and available on Steve Jobs’ Internet. Ultimately, Spice DAO has made a very expensive mistake—one exemplifying how some crypto bros with millions to burn don’t even know what they’re buying.

In Dune, Herbert envisions a world without computers; as the lore would have it, “thinking machines” were once mankind’s greatest adversary. Maybe Herbert was onto something there?

Adrienne Westenfeld Assistant EditorAdrienne Westenfeld is a writer and editor at Esquire, where she covers books and culture.

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