Digital Rights Blockchain – CityAM : CityAM

There is a clear use case for a globally recognised digital rights blockchain. Content creators and content consumers can see real value. The challenges are aligning the motivations of all those stakeholders in the middle – including the ones who may become redundant.

Musicians, scriptwriters, photographers, artists and yes – even journalists – experience a constant struggle in today’s digital world. How do they get compensated not just for the first and all subsequent applications of their work?

Before the digital era, a book was physical and copying the book had enough costs to discourage others. Additionally, tracing illegal copies back to their source was simpler. The challenges in duplicating creative works were equally valid whether talking about a vinyl album, a photographic print or artists work of oil on canvas.

Digital changed all of that. Now a copy of a book, song or photograph can be made instantly for next to nothing. The copy can then exist in an unlimited number of websites, marketing campaigns or embedded in countless corporate PowerPoint presentations.

Stepping back, we can break the problem into three (3) primary elements: attribution, tracking and tracing, and compensation. A digital rights blockchain can address each of these.

Attribution: the action of ascribing a work or remark to a particular author, artist, or person

Content creators have a unique opportunity today to register their works. They can identify their exclusive content. Each piece can identify one or more as creators. And possibly most importantly it can be recorded as of a particular date – a point in time. 

Inventors used to write their ideas on paper and send a copy to themselves in a sealed letter. The letter would be postmarked showing a specific date. Should anyone challenge the authenticity of the idea, the inventor could produce the sealed envelope as evidence – accepted by the courts – that the bearer had the idea as of that date. In legal terms, it is “proof of prior art”.

Today, any form of digital content can be registered on the blockchain.

Today, any form of digital content can be registered on the blockchain. The blockchain will record not only the digital signature of the material but equally the date – the point in time – when the content was registered. And of course, the content will be signed by the owner. The material itself is not stored on the blockchain. Thus there is no threat of revealing secret or sensitive information. And courts around the world are rapidly coming to accept these digital records on the blockchain as a proof of prior art.

Tracking and Tracing: monitoring the use of any piece of digital content and keeping a record of that use.

Radio stations used to send detailed reports of how many times a song was played (and they still do, although more digitally than before). Mass marketers used to put in dummy addresses into sheets of thousands of printed mailing labels to ensure that the stickers weren’t reprinted and used more frequently or for content other than what had been licensed. And today, YouTube and other social media platforms use extensive artificial intelligence to identify potential copyright infringement and to take down content that doesn’t conform to usage as defined by the creator.

Utilising a digital rights blockchain, content creators could both register the authorised use of their content and also track each use of their content in whole or in part. Social media companies could have a single place to look to verify if the purpose was legal or not – or at least to register the specific application or use of a particular piece of content. The solution could even record the size of the audience who might have seen or heard the material.

Compensation: Remuneration to the content creators in line with the terms of the license

There has been no shortage of articles discussing this aspect of digital rights management on the blockchain. Blockchain has been put forward as a solution to the problem of micropayments. Blockchain can also address issues of expediency and fairness through the implementation of smart contracts.

Some blockchain networks can process the high volume of low-value transactions. They can do so at low per-transaction cost (Far more cost-effective than the current banking system). 

Every time a song plays, someone views an image or read a section of a book or story, an automatic payment happens – instantly. 

At first look, a Digital Rights Blockchain can solve all manner of problems. So why isn’t one being created?

At first look, a Digital Rights Blockchain can solve all manner of problems. So why isn’t one being created?

For each of the three main concepts of attribution, tracking and tracing, and compensation, there are challenges. The challenges have little to do with the underlying technology and everything to do with the stakeholders involved and their motivations.

Attribution: There is a massive catalogue of content already created. The successful and accurate logging of the existing content would take years – and would be fraught with disagreements and those contesting the claims. Any new system would only be useful for content created after a particular date. 

A further challenge is that digital content can be modified quite easily to where it is no longer straightforward to trace the current form back to the original. Only when every piece of digital content includes an easily accessible, non-forgeable registration, does the system create maximum value to the creators.

Tracking and Tracing: While possible to have various companies continually scour the internet for unregistered or unlicensed copies of digital works, it is not necessarily practical. And so long as illegal use is free and without consequence, there is little incentive for people to register their use of content with a digital rights blockchain. A natural first step would be to record every use of digital content. If unregistered content became the exception rather than the rule, the system would then be able to move forward to both recognising and compensating content creators – both large and small.

Which leads to the topic compensation:  As much as a digital rights blockchain can be useful for the content creator, it isn’t good for everyone in the ecosystem. As much as content creators love the idea of having a complete end-to-end record of every use of their content, that level of transparency isn’t desirable or profitable to everyone. 

As much as content creators would benefit from the fair and accurate disbursement of royalties, countless intermediaries prefer to apply their unique brand of accounting and their own very human interpretation as to how to distribute fees and royalties.

And as much as content creators would love the ability to receive their royalty payments instantly, it isn’t right for everyone. There are people throughout the entire media ecosystem who rely on deferring, delaying and denying payments to improve their top lines. Others look to manage their cash flows and to make the content creators help them make robust reports to their shareholders.

Transparency isn’t always profitable. Fairness isn’t always profitable. Expediency isn’t always profitable. These are some of the biggest challenges to blockchain adoption. 

A global decentralised digital rights blockchain is a moon-shot project which can add enormous value to the ecosystem – at the cost of some intermediaries who do not add value, are bad actors and who are the source of many of the problems in the industry.

Author: Troy Norcross, Co-Founder Blockchain Rookies