I'm a blockchain security specialist and writer living in NY.
The introduction of the European GDPR in May this year created havoc for the world of online media. The latest from Brussels is the Copyright Directive, which has been subject to much debate and was even rejected by the EU Parliament back in July. Now, an updated version has been passed and, assuming it gets through the final round of voting in January, it will later become mandatory for all content in EU countries.
Although the new legislation covers multiple facets of copyright, two clauses have provoked most of the debate. Critics are particularly concerned about Article 11 the “link tax”. It provides publishers and outlets the right to demand payment from republishers like Google which aggregate news stories from various outlets.
Even more controversially, Article 13 requires platforms to work with those holding the copyright to ensure that protected content cannot be uploaded. This puts responsibility onto the platforms for copyright breaches, which is a shift from the past where platforms sidestepped any liability, pointing to their users as being the responsible parties.
Bigger platforms including YouTube have already installed filters that attempt to stop copyright breaches. However, critics of the new legislation, including Tim Berners-Lee himself, point out that smaller platforms could be put out of business due to the cost of the sophisticated technology needed for such filters, or the manpower necessary for human monitoring.
The criticisms leveled at this newest draft of the EU’s legislation are not without merit. However, like the GDPR, the need for some sort of legal framework has sprung up from the immense growth of online media. Since the early days of the internet, copyright holders have struggled to protect their online endeavors. Those creating digital content, whether it be images, video or written works, often find their work appropriated and republished across the web without their permission.
The proliferation of digital media available online has also created a steep decline in the value attributed to such works. For example, a photographer used to earn a respectable income from selling their images. Today, many talented amateurs, as well as seasoned professionals, are prepared to give away beautifully edited shots for no more than an accreditation.
Even before EU legislators decided to wield the power of the law to protect copyright, both the tech community and members of the legal profession recognized the considerable potential for blockchain in the field of copyright and licensing. One of the primary use cases of blockchain is to create a store of value, directly exchangeable between peers, with Bitcoin as the first and most common example.
However, using a blockchain, it is possible to tag any digital asset with its own unique cryptographic hash. Using public key encryption, only a copyright owner has the necessary private key to “unlock” this hash so someone else can use the asset. This gives owners and creators full control over licensing of their digital assets across the internet.
It is a stark shift from the reactive remedies for copyright breach in today’s world. Currently, when someone steals the work of a creator, it is up to the creator to undergo a legal process that demonstrates their copyright ownership over that work. This is complicated, but even if they are able to get that far, the courts must then issue orders for the thief to take down the work or pay damages to the owner. Blockchain protects against the occurrence of the theft itself.
This innovation can apply to any kind of online work. The team behind Ask.fm are developing the ASQ protocol, a cross-platform ecosystem designed for content creators and consumers. The ASQ Protocol is a decentralized solution for publishing, storing, sharing, engaging with and monetizing content.
For example, with the ASQ protocol, a blogger can publish their most recent post to any platform which uses the protocol. The blogger can then create customized rules regarding who has access to their content, including how their article may be republished or quoted in other online outlets.
Upon publication, they stipulate their price for other users to consume, republish or quote the content. So, if a small business wants to republish the article on their own website to promote their goods or services, they will be bound to pay the asking price that the blogger has set for republication.
The ASQ protocol will have an initial use case in the launch of Ask 2.0, which will be a decentralized version of the current social Q&A network Ask.fm. However, a wide range of platforms could access the ASQ protocol, including video sharing, knowledge sharing or even web content creation platforms.
The concept is similar to Dan Larimer’s blockchain content-curation project Steemit. However, unlike Steemit, which is still building a user base, ASQ protocol has access to the existing Ask.fm user base from its launch.
Other blockchain copyrighting projects take a more bespoke approach. Binded and KodakOne are both built to protect copyrights and manage the licensing of digital images. Photographers upload their works and sell licenses to those who wish to republish photographs based on the exchange of cryptocurrency tokens.
Similarly, SingularDTV is a blockchain-based entertainment studio, allowing videographers to manage the copyrights and licensing distribution of their video projects.
It will be another year or two before the European Copyright Directive takes effect, by which time other countries may even have decided to follow suit. However, developments in blockchain are currently moving fast. It may well be that by the time legislation is effective, the online world has embraced the use of blockchain to protect copyrights and prevent breaches before they even happen.
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