Copyright law has been a source of legal conflict since well before the rise of the internet, but the relatively new presence of blockchain tech on the scene could potentially help cut the number of copyright conflicts the industry sees on a now almost constant basis.
Guest post by Sean Fast of MLG Blockchain Consulting
Since the beginning of time, long before the internet, copyright law has been one big battleground. Today, blockchain tech can change this. There’s certainly some truth to the hype: it offers an excellent system for registering patents and demonstrating data ownership for content creators and anyone with the digital property. With blockchain node networks powered by computer-armies, average internet users have the ability to swiftly timestamp documents, ensure eternal ownership of their creations and securely share information with select parties. Blockchain can watermark files, meaning it can “embody whatever identifiers are needed; [watermarks] can’t be removed or altered without perceptibly marrying the content itself”. It provides an autonomously functioning operation and promises to provide a fair channel for content distribution and creator-remuneration in the future.
Surging blockchain company Tron’s white paper outlines, among other philosophies, their plan to “motivate users to produce contents with strong power of spread that have clearer copyrights”. The first point of their ‘value system’ indicates that data creators will have ownership of their own data. It sounds straightforward, but in practice creators commonly cease rights when they upload their content to sites like YouTube. By disintermediating from platforms like Google Play, the Apple Store, and YouTube, users will be given back their content-rights. These rights are necessary now more than ever, as videos flagged for copyright on YouTube, for example, have little room for disputation. Occasionally bots make erroneous claims and commonly, users successfully flag videos for removal in order to silence criticism. This can throw a wrench in the entertainer’s livelihoods and YouTube has demonstrated little to no improvements in this failed digital entertainment system. With Tron’s blockchain entertainment protocols, artists can take back what is theirs and overhaul a byzantine, bureaucratic system that doesn’t support its users in times of need.
Transformation for the music industry is in order as well. In an article on The Verge, an author writes that after using SoundCloud for years, one of her own songs was taken down for supposed copyright infringement. If something was awry about a sample used in a world of blockchain-registry, this artist could be alerted the moment she uploaded the song, saving headaches and paperwork. With blockchain’s 2nd generation of digital ledger technology upon us, Tron could use available auto-executable software called ‘smart contracts’ to allow its network to interact with the data and reach an instantaneous legal conclusion, keeping all parties satisfied.
A lot has been made in recent years about remix culture, about what percentage of royalties should go to sample originators and how this money will be distributed. Royalty sums are always ambiguous because licensing decisions are made after the fact. Often, a sample is taken or a riff ripped off and put into a new song, the song becomes a hit, and the hit sells millions. Then the artist behind the original will sue for a proportionally giant sum, knowing it’ll settle out of court for a fraction of what they were asking. If preordained licensing rights were commonplace, the music industry could stop its attractive civil trials and create a breeding ground for creativity where artists, informed of standardized legal procedures, can breathe easy.
Blockchain has proven itself adaptable to a variety of creative implementations, though the technology provides a convenient meeting point for lawmakers and industry leaders to come together and back a cohesive system. Right now there is no reputable, standardized copyright system in place for Internet content and legal frameworks of the music industry have remained in the dark ages. A copyright registry for the music industry has been their end goal for some time, but last time this project, known as the ‘Global Repertoire Database’ was funded, it was abandoned with $13.7 million in debt. Website Hyperbot speculated one reason for failure was “a dispute over control of the global database”. With blockchain, there would be no centralized control to lay claim to. Other reasons were that the collection societies involved would be killed by operational costs and fears publishers would eventually self-license songs. This was many years before blockchain came about, and the technology has rendered these concerns irrelevant; now is a better time than ever to create the GRD.
In the United States, copyright can be legally registered with one business, called the US Copyright Office. Allen Murabayashi of PetaPixel indicates that blockchain’s solutions for copyright, which attempts self-governance is “legally dubious” because it’s not backed by the institution historically in charge (the USCO). He may technically be right but this only indicates the necessity of a complete overhaul of the legal system surrounding copyright. If blockchain can do licensing cheaper and faster and without the middlemen, a bonfire for the old laws is surely in order.
Copyright law is widely thought to be one of the most difficult of all legal questions. Judging similarity between musical scores on trial is subjective and legal proceedings in similar trials deliver inconsistent results. A better, automated system with terms agreed upon across sectors could reduce the number of infringement occurrences, resolve claims easier and shake up the fragmented model courts currently use for judging copyright cases (Niskanen).
Jonathan Bailey of PlagiarismToday reduces blockchain to a big, useful database, but says “the best way blockchain technology might help copyright is by making the problem sexy again and directing more attention to it. More attention means more money and time dedicated to it. More money and time means more possible solutions”. Regardless of how the problem is solved, Tron could have a promising future taking up the torch for this cause. If Tron’s goal is to “serve the masses”, assisting artists and content creators with copyright issues will set their platform apart.
As a data-neutral network, there is no cap on the type of information users can store with blockchain. Its capacity as a decentralized data warehouse is perfect for a company like Tron that seeks to marry multiple entertainment avenues into a smoothly functioning content-ecosystem.