The Growing Significance of Authenticity: From Forgeries to Digital Content in 2023

October 2023

Authenticity has never been as important in the cultural and commercial sectors as it is today. Major companies are reacting to the pervasive issue of inauthentic media by developing new authentication protocols: Google, Leica in collaboration with the Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI) and eBay to name a few.

When The Madonna of the Veil appeared around 1930, it was considered as an authentic painting by Botticelli. Scientists have since revealed it to be a twentieth-century forgery now attributed to Umberto Giunti. The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London.

Key Takeaways:

  • Authenticity has never been as important in the cultural and commercial sectors as it is today.
  • In a moment of global uncertainty, the ability to provide art collectors, dealers and advisors liquidity assumes particular significance.
  • Major companies are reacting to the pervasive issue of inauthentic media by developing new authentication protocols: Google, Leica in collaboration with the Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI) and eBay to name a few.

The Courtauld exhibition ‘Art and Artifice: Fakes from the Collection’ serves as powerful evidence for major auction houses and galleries having sold forged and misattributed works. As discussed in the 2023 London Art and Business Conference panel ‘Is the art world interested in shared due diligence standards’, scientific testing is almost only ever carried out in the context of litigation or to assess  an already doubted artwork’s authenticity. Before Hephaestus, there was no incentive for bona fide authentic artworks to be tested. We expect this to change as the risks of forgery and misattribution are eliminated, enabling lenders to offer preferential rates and terms.  

This possibility of offering more competitive art-backed non-recourse loans becomes increasingly important as the art market experiences what many might refer to as a ‘reality check’ (1). Art market transaction volumes, for example, decreased by 14% in the first half of 2023, compared to the same period in 2022. This number was also notably taken before the bolstered uncertainty in the art market brought about by the intensified conflict between Israel and Palestine. Only time will tell the health of the art market ahead of the Christie’s and Sotheby’s November Modern and Contemporary Evening Sales.

Access to liquidity in times of economic uncertainty is crucial, and the vital role of authenticity in accessing liquidity is signalled, not least, by authenticity entering the forefront of mainstream cultural and commercial discourse.

Leica Camera AG is a new partner of the Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI)

Generative AI, across the cultural sector, has sparked important conversations surrounding authentic and inauthentic images, videos and digital content as was discussed in our recent insight article on the intersection of generative AI and art forgery. This culminated in the Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI), founded in 2019 by Adobe, Twitter and the New York Times, which partnered with Leica in 2023 in a major step towards the sustainable protection of digital image authenticity. Google, in October 2023, also launched the ‘about this image’ function, which displays important information including when the image and similar images were first indexed by Google, where it may have first appeared and where else it has appeared online. Both initiatives attempt to tackle the issue, as illustrated by a 2022 Poynter study, that 62% of people believe they come across misinformation daily or weekly.

The CAI is attempting to tackle the dissemination of disinformation throughout the media landscape which undermines trust, not least in the field of reporting. In the era of generative AI and the seemingly impossible task of determining whether an image is human-created or machine-made, the CAI uses cryptographic asset hashing to provide verifiable, tamper-evident signatures that prove the image and metadata hasn’t been unknowingly altered, with any edits visible on their verify site.

The increasing importance of truth and authenticity has even been signalled in the e-commerce space with eBay, in collaboration with the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), introducing authenticity checks to jewellery sold on its website worth more than £500. This new service comes after eBay UK launched its Authenticity Guarantee service in 2021, inspecting luxury watches (worth over £2000) on their way between seller and buyer.

Authentication has never been so important in the cultural and commercial sectors, and the art world is no exception. According to the 2019 Deloitte Art & Finance Report, “84% of wealth managers see authenticity, provenance, and attribution issues as the greatest risks to [entering] the market”. The central position of authenticity in mainstream cultural and commercial discourse and the increasing need for art market participants to access liquidity means that there has never been as important of a moment for an authenticity guarantee as now.

(1) Julia Halperin, ‘By the Numbers: The Art Market Reality Check Has Arrived Halfway Through 2023’, Artnet, August 11, 2023.

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