Despite the value of original content on the internet, being able to reap the benefits of content creation remains challenging. Blockchain technology could revolutionize the internet in such a way that creators are protected and rewarded for their efforts.
Guest Post by George Howard
On “Cuyahoga,” a track from REM’s great record, Lifes Rich Pageant, Michael Stipe sings, “Let’s put our heads together/start a new country up.” It’s an evocative image that Stipe employs to compel us to reconsider not only the trajectory the United States has taken since “our father’s father’s father” tried to “erase the parts he didn’t like,” but also what we would do differently if given the opportunity.
A similar question is currently upon us with respect to the Internet. What if we could reimagine the Internet – put our heads together and erase the parts we don’t like – and start again? What would we do? What would we change?
Blockchain technology could play a key role in this reinvention.
The promise of the Internet, and – as the still-definitive text on the Internet, The Cluetrain Manifesto, states – the reason it was the fastest-adopted technology since fire, was that it allowed people whose voices had been silenced to reclaim them and tell and share their stories.
This reclamation of voice and sharing of stories has truly fueled the Internet to this point. Certainly, as I’ve discussed, many of our more prurient voices and stories have shaped the technology, but – at its core – we still come online in order to share and connect.
The issue now is that our stories – whether told in the form of song, text, photos, tweets, blog posts, etc. – have become both our currency and our source of identity.
Never has it been more important than to be the “patient zero” of a meme that goes viral; to coin a phrase that becomes part of the vernacular; to be the first to write, sing, paint, or otherwise express something that establishes you as a “creative,” a thought or key opinion leader.
For those who get there first, they are rewarded with book deals, TED talks, inbound traffic, offers to provide commentary, etc. For those who get there second or later, there awaits the fate worse than anything else on the Internet: indifference. A Facebook post that no one Likes.
This crushing rush towards “first” has led to a scramble for verification across all sectors. We now have ludicrous discussions about whether Tweets are copyrightable. (To put it to rest: Almost without exception, they are not (a haiku, perhaps, being an exception), and even if they could be, one would have to register their copyrightable tweet prior to bringing an infringement suit.) Beyond tweets, we now have an ongoing public back and forth about who said what first, and in what context.
Attribution is the new currency, and the stakes are high.
For all of its distribution prowess, the Internet as we know it isn’t terribly good at ascribing proper attribution. Certainly, the Internet will fill a “truth” vacuum, and largely abhors information asymmetry. However, attempting to find a verified creator for much of the work that is being made and distributed at an ever-increasing pace on the Internet is far from a simple or precise process.
Can verification be accomplished with today’s Internet? Perhaps. Can finding the source of any type of intellectual property be done in a way that also provides credit, attribution, ability to use/re-use/build upon, and compensate the creator be accomplished with any type of speed or ease? Absolutely not.
Those who developed the internet rightly focused on creating the “pipes” that give us the ability to democratize, to share, and to give back the “voice.” What was not focused on was ensuring that those who create what is passed through the “pipes” are, if they so desire, credited and compensated for their contributions, and – most importantly – able to have a say on how these creations are used by others.
The Reddit Revolt and other burbling sectors of discontent show that people are only willing to fill pipes that are owned or controlled by people who have a financial connection to the pipes for so long without some form of benefit – financial or credit – or control. It will not be the last of these revolts.
A central concern, therefore, of a newly-imagined Internet would be to utilize Blockchain technology to address these issues.
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.
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.
I, for instance, would love to be able to track the ways in which my articles on Blockchain and the arts – which I’ve beenwriting for some time now – have been utilized by the slew of recent articles on the subject.
- 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.
It is these characteristics that encourage me and others to believe that Blockchain technology may indeed allow for a fundamental redefinition of the Internet.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with some people at the leading edge of this redefinition.
Amos Meiri is one of the principals of a company called Colu. I was provided demo access to their service, which is essentially a developer’s platform to facilitate the growth of products who desire to access Blockchain technology. In other words, Colu is doing the heavy lifting of actually creating the registration – irrespective of the content – on The Blockchain.
I utilized the Colu interface to create a registration on the Blockchain for a piece of artwork I created. I am now able to reference it, share it, and create some rudimentary rules around the usages of this piece of art by others.
It’s all very technical at this point, and certainly a ways from being something the mass populous will be utilizing, but it does work, and there is a definite thrill about the fact that it takes something that has been largely theoretical and makes it satisfyingly real.
For those who are curious or eager to tell me that “without Bitcoin, there is no Blockchain,” let me pre-empt you: Bitcoin is integrally related to Colu specifically, and the Blockchain, generally. Mark Smargon, Co-Founder and VP of Product at Colu explains how they utilize Blockchain technology and Bitcoin:
By sending Bitcoin dust (A very small amount of Bitcoins) and attaching information to them, the Bitcoins are effectively “Colored” to represent a digital asset, so you are basically not dealing with Bitcoins any more but with something else, a digital asset that has Bitcoin properties. This process is called “Colored Coins.”
In some respects, Colu is a few layers deep in what I refer to as the “Blockchain Stack.” As a developer’s platform, it lacks the top level of the stack: a “front end” or UI.
Fortunately, there are others rushing to provide this front end/UI of the stack by devising a pleasing interface for those who desire to utilize Blockchain technology.
One such company is Revelator, who today is announcing their partnership with Colu. I have known their founder Bruno Guez for many moons – he and I both ran labels that were owned by Chris Blackwell: Bruno ran Quango, while I ran Rykodisc.
I spoke to Mr. Guez recently, and he walked me through the Revelator model. Its value proposition is to help artists and others with IP by providing them access the Blockchain via a UI, and to offer a suite of services that will provide data and other tools to these content owners related to the usage of their works.
Colu and Revelator combined, thus, represent something of a full stack with respect to Blockchain technology, and, in so doing, may be laying foundations for a revised Internet.
Whether it will be Colu or Revelator or Imogen Heap or any number of the others who are feverishly attempting to create systems and protocols that leverage the decentralized registry that is the Blockchain in order to create a new type of Internet, the pace of progress in this space is quickening.
My hope is that we learn from the shortcomings of our current Internet and, to quote Mr. Stipe again, “begin again” with a system – utilizing Blockchain technology or otherwise – where authors/creators not only have credit, but are able to provide rules for how and at what price their content may be used/distributed/transformed. Otherwise, the new boss, will be the same as the old boss.