Today we are exploring the technologies that show promise in bringing more efficiency and effectiveness to the worlds of copyright and licensing.
So, does blockchain technology show significant promise for real-world copyright and licensing applications? Let’s take a closer look.
As with any promising and potentially disruptive technology, it will stand or fall on the usefulness it demonstrates in addressing real-world problems.
Of course, there are many applications for which blockchains aren’t suitable. A critical reader can easily find as many papers criticizing the hype around blockchain as a new “snake oil” as those implying that the technology holds promise.
For now, let’s consider that these limitations can and will be overcome in the next 3–5 years. Where might we be then — in terms of the potential for the practical implementation of this technology — in addressing critical problems encompassing licensing in copyright and perhaps other IP?
For one, copyright registrars or similar entities could build a blockchain to serve as a global registry, and then invite significant rightsholders and consumers in as nodes — this would meet the “no-personal-trust-required” mindset of blockchain enthusiasts. We’d see this as supplementary to existing systems and relatively fast to implement.
A blockchain-derived content identifier, when utilized in the service of creators and their works, could become one of several unique identifiers already in place, such as ISBN, ORCID, DOI, ISNI, ISRC and so forth. The International Standard Content Code (ISCC) is an experiment in precisely this vein.
The most straightforward fix to a copyright problem a simple blockchain might make is the old (and nearly useless) “poor man’s copyright,” which boils down to building a simple timestamp for your work by snail-mailing yourself a copy via the USPS.
Note, too, that blockchains are unlikely to be of much use in mitigating run-of-the-mill violations; it is still just too easy to crop or screen-scrape or dumb-down the high-quality version of record and create a “good enough to pirate” version. And this is likely to remain valid for some time.
Although we can foresee significant difficulties with the grayer areas of custom licensing, and may even be unhelpful when it comes to legitimate fair uses, blockchains might serve as a natural fit for storing the sale and terms of more routine licenses — for example, producing and distributing e-books. Self-executing contracts — ones that are limited to entries in the ledger — might be quite useful in such a context. Primarily, the license contract could include (or exclude) resale of the rights and the ledger could enforce it.
As with any promising and potentially disruptive technology, it will stand or fall on the usefulness it demonstrates in addressing real-world problems to which real people seek answers. If there are costs — and there inevitably are costs — those who will bear them need to be convinced by the precise creation of new value.
Blockchain is undoubtedly a technology we could use in the future for keeping the copyrights safe. Read our other publications to get more info about it.