The internet has been generating millionaires and billionaires for decades, but it never did make the man who invented it rich. Tim Berners-Lee, the Englishman who created the web’s original source code in 1989, went on to a life of modest fame but no great wealth. He gave the code away without ever applying for a patent, maintaining that the internet as we know it today would not exist if he’d tried to monetize it in its infancy.
Even now, as Berners-Lee has at last found a way to make millions from his creation, he’s choosing to give the money away. In late June, Sotheby’s announced it had auctioned off a digital version of the original code for $5.4 million, and that the proceeds of the sale of the nonfungible token, or NFT, would go to support “unnamed initiatives supported by Mr. Berners-Lee,” according to The New York Times.
“The code includes the first web browser and early versions of methods computers still use to talk with each other, including the Hypertext Transfer Protocol, known as HTTP, and HyperText Markup Language, known as HTML,” the Times reports. “The auction included the original time-stamped files containing the source code, an animated visualization of the code, a letter written by Mr. Berners-Lee reflecting on the code and the process of creating it and a digital poster of the full code from the original files.”
Sotheby’s described Berners-Lee’s invention as one in a “succession of paradigm shifts that have brought us forward into the Modern Era,” along with Gutenberg’s printing press and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. The auction house did not disclose the NFT’s buyer.
Berners-Lee approached Sotheby’s, and the two worked together to create the NFT. His reason? “I thought it could be fun,” he said in his letter accompanying the piece.