What can copyright owners learn from Bitcoin, that most talked about digital currency no one really understands but everyone wants to be in on? Well, two words: Blockchain technology.
What's Blockchain technology, you ask, and what does it have to do with digital rights management? Let's start with explaining what Bitcoin is, for those who may not know.
As Coindesk explains, "Bitcoin is a form of digital currency, created and held electronically...It's the first example of a growing category of money known as cryptocurrency." What sets it apart is that it is "decentralized. No single institution controls the bitcoin network."
So what's the Blockchain connection? Blockchain technology allows this free exchange to happen.
"At a basic level, the Blockchain works as a public ledger that permanently records every bitcoin transaction," according to Payfirma. "Think of the Blockchain as being inked in permanent marker; you can write and add to it, but you cannot delete anything. There is no bookkeeper, if you will, that maintains the ledger; the technology of Blockchain is self-regulating and allows bitcoin to exist without a central bank. Each bitcoin transaction in the Blockchain is verified by the community using cryptography."
And given the unchangeable digital paper trail, it's no wonder "Companies, organizations, and even governments have started to delve into how to repurpose the technology."
The time is now for digital rights - is Blockchain the answer?
Technology evangelist George Howard has been delving into this too, in several articles on Forbes, Howard believes Blockchain technology could be used to manage digital rights far more efficiently than any third party organizations that exist today. And it's high time.
Remember Napster - that pesky P2P service that cost the music industry millions in legal fees and literally rocked the industry to its core? It's been 15 years since then, and copyright owners are still searching for the elusive Holy Grail that could help them facilitate and enforce their intellectual property rights online.
Currently, rights owners still depend on third parties to manage IP revenue. For example, in the music industry performing rights organizations (PROs) like BMI and ASCAP collect licensing fees for streaming music or downloads and pass them on to publishers and artists.
But Howard thinks Blockchain could "allow for a fundamental redefinition of the Internet," as he said in a recent column, based on the following characteristics:
- The Blockchain is a public ledger that records (providing ownership and time stamp) and validates every transaction made worldwide.
- What makes this network unique and secure is that all transactions are authorized and backed by thousands of computers (called miners), achieving consensus on each transaction.
- No one owns it (hence the term "decentralized"), and therefore it's immutable and there's no single point of attack for those attempting to "hack" or otherwise alter the records on the Blockchain registry.
- The technology enables peer to peer (P2P) transaction capabilities without any involvement of a central authority or a third party.
Blockchain technology can transform digital rights management, by allowing people to easily transfer rights (for a price) among each other without the need for a third party to facilitate the transaction. It also solves the "who got there first" issue Howard speaks to:
"What if, for instance, there was a CMS of sorts that allowed for content creators to not only publish their work to the Internet, but also - at the same time - to register their work and the associated "rules" around their work to the Blockchain," he writes. "In this manner, the original creator would not only be on record as the creator, but - utilizing smart contracts - also determine how/if/when/and at what price their works could be used by others, and be compensated - financially or via attribution - when such use took place."
As Payfirma says, "It's not hard to see why there are devout champions of Blockchain: a system relying on mathematics, rendering it immune to corruption has its appeal."
Indeed, it does. Blockchain may or may not be the Holy Grail - but it definitely could be the game changer everyone is looking for in digital rights management.
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