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Blockchain has been much-hyped as a solution to all sorts of problems but, as a means of administering and protecting copyright, it has real-world value, says Elena Galletti of Brandstock.
Blockchain is one of a handful of recent innovations that seem to be on everyone’s lips as something that could revolutionise the world. Most closely associated with digital currencies such as Bitcoin, it is now used in a wide variety of industries to provide a secure record of activity.
At its most basic, blockchain is a decentralised, distributed ledger for making a secure record of particular kinds of electronic activity. In theory, it’s tamper-proof, since you can’t alter a single record on the blockchain without altering the whole, and each record contains all the information about all previous records.
This has potentially huge implications for how companies and individuals might manage their copyrighted material, how that material might be disseminated, and how royalties may be assessed and paid in the future.
One obvious application of blockchain with regard to copyrighted material is for content providers to maintain a record of where the content they supply originated, as well as facilitating royalty accounting when any such content is consumed. In theory, this can help ensure that rights owners have confidence in the fact that they are being appropriately compensated for use of their material, and that their material is being used legitimately.
The downside of this approach is that it is reliant to a large degree on the correct owners providing the correct materials to the platform in the first place. What happens if a copyright owner suspects that its material is being illegally used on the site? Processing takedown notices in a blockchain system may be difficult, and the diffuse nature of the blockchain itself means that the infringing material will likely be replicated across all the nodes in the blockchain.
"A blockchain solution could provide proof of creation at a specific time for smaller rights holders."
Such solutions will therefore require extremely robust procedures at the front end to ensure that the person who adds material to the blockchain is in fact entitled to add it. Furthermore, the content provider’s liability for infringement would not be black and white, which could create problems for owners in obtaining remedies against infringement.
One possible solution to this would be to change the way copyright registration works. In principle, there is no reason that copyright cannot be registered in a central database based on blockchain. Many jurisdictions already operate copyright registries for rights holders.
A blockchain solution to this would essentially remove the need for disputes about ownership, if based on a first-to-file approach. It would also make it far easier for content providers to enforce effective filters for infringing material. Major copyright owners would be among the early adopters, and it would quickly create a large, useful bank of copyright ownership information.
Clearly though, there are many barriers to this kind of approach, first among them the fact that there is no requirement to register copyright in order to own it. It’s the act of creating a copyrightable property that creates the copyright, and any approach that required registration of all copyrighted material would create enormous administrative and logistical burdens for creators, registries and everyone involved in the process.
For such a system to work, it would likely need to be a supplement to existing registration systems, albeit a useful one. At the smaller end, a blockchain solution could provide proof of creation at a specific time for smaller rights holders which, while not necessarily implying copyright registration, could at least help demonstrate who was the creator of a particular property should the need arise.
At its heart, blockchain is surprisingly uncomplicated, as simple as an ever-growing book in which it’s impossible to rip out pages. That said, as with any technology in its infancy, the basic concept is only part of the puzzle. One of the unknowns is where authority will lie in a given system and where the burden lies for ensuring compliance.
Might blockchain solutions for copyright end up being very common, with copyright owners maintaining secure records of ownership and licensing using the technology while content providers each maintain similar systems for the ownership of material on their platforms?
Add to this a potential larger scale system for registration and a world in which blockchain is integral to all aspects of copyright ownership, licensing and royalty payments starts to look quite likely.
The question is not whether this could happen (it almost certainly could), but how it would happen? It seems likely that in the IP industry, the use of blockchain for copyright will be driven by large content platforms which host multiple properties, as well as by large rights holders such as music publishers and film companies, with innovative national copyright registries also looking to get in on the act.
There will also be space for innovative service providers to offer ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions to individual companies looking to protect and administer their copyrighted properties, including licensing but also recordation and transfers.
While a complete overhaul of copyright administration seems unlikely in the immediate future, change is coming, and copyright owners would be wise to look at their options.
Elena Galletti is VP marketing at Brandstock Group. After years of experience as general counsel in a fashion company, she moved to Brandstock to combine her legal background with her ability to communicate and manage creative activities. She is specialised in digital campaigns and brand identity. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Brandstock, copyright protection, blockchain, innovations, bitcoin, rights owners, infringement, registration, technology, IP industry, music, film