The photo of four-year-old Zoe Roth standing in front of a house fire with a slightly-more-than-mischievous smirk turned into a meme — Disaster Girl — that gave her a type of internet immortality after her father entered it in a photo contest in 2005.
And now, she has turned that dubious fame into fortune — selling an NFT of the image online for 180 ETH. Beyond that, the sale of the non-fungible token gave her a reason to hope the meme keeps on amusing the internet for years to come: she gets 10% royalties on every future sale.
The 21-year-old UNC-Chapel Hill senior and part-time waitress, from North Carolina, told local newspaper The News & Observer that selling the photo as an NFT artwork “shows us that we do have some sort of control, some sort of agency in the whole process.”
And about $430,000.
A Massive Windfall
The family retains the copyright to the much-copied photo, which her father Dave took as the local fire department took down an abandoned house with a controlled burn.
When first approached about selling the photo as an NFT, Roth was somewhat dubious. But after some research and hiring a lawyer, she and her father reached out to the creator of the Nyan Cat GIF — which brought in 300 ETH in February — and got an invitation to sell Disaster Girl on Foundation. It’s just one of a growing number of NFT marketplaces.
The 24-hour auction had the same closing rule as Christie’s nearly $70 million sale of Beeple’s now-famous collage in March — with any bid in the final 15 minutes adding another 15 minutes to the clock. And as was the case with Beeple’s sale, the vast majority of the bids came in at the tail-end of the auction, which Roth watched while pacing back and forth in the restaurant where she was nominally working as the 6 p.m. planned close came and went on April 16. Her father added that he was at home “shouting expletives into the air.”
Describing blockchain technology as a “revolution in accounting,” NYU finance professor David Yermack explained what was behind the value of an NFT of a photo used in umpteen million memes: “There’s only one person who has the bragging rights to it.”