Oh, Please don’t let Blockchain be misunderstood

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 7.42.55 AM

(Painting by Ashley Longshore ©2015 All Rights Reserved.

Used With Permission from the Artist)

Via my work in the visual art world with Artgasm, the company the brilliant artist Ashley Longshore and I recently started, I’m immersing myself in visual IP.

This led me to a company called ascribe. ascribe utilizes the Bitcoin Blockchain to, in their own words, “enable you to share your digital creations without worrying about losing ownership rights.”

I’m genuinely excited about Bitcoin. Dominantly, this excitement comes from the fact that transactions using Bitcoin that are confirmed are included in the Blockchain. The Blockchain is a record of all transactions.

This has tremendous application for IP.

ascribe approaches it in this way:

1. Register your work via ascribe (remember, you are granted copyright when you fix an original work of authorship in a tangible medium)

2. ascribe’s registry – Secure Public Online Ownership Ledger (SPOOL) – creates a record that sits on top of the Bitcoin Blockchain (see above)

One and two above essentially give you a recorded claim  on your work (“provenance” in art-world speak) at the top of the Blockchain that will stay with the work even as it is transferred or licensed.

It’s hard to over-state the significance of this for IP.

ascribe is focused on visual elements, however, the utility of this approach extends way beyond visual IP.

Music, for instance, seems to me a prime candidate for this type of use-case.

Certainly, such a process would allow for the better trackage of usage of music, which would lead to more accurate compensation for rights holders.

For example, if I am a performer signed to a label, I could assign via transfer the rights to my Sound Recordings, and monitor – via the Blockchain – the ways in which the label exploits this Sound Recording (sales, licenses, streams, etc.). This would greatly reduce controversy (and related transaction costs – audit time/money) around royalty payments, etc.

Similarly, the label/publisher (or – as I would encourage – artist) who releases the work could lend (i.e. license) the Sound Recording and underlying Composition to streaming services, broadcasters, etc., and be able to monitor – via the Blockchain – the ways in which these rights (Sound Recording/Composition) are used.

In this manner a great deal of transparency would emerge.

With increased transparency comes increased speed and desire for deals/transactions.

Certainly, if the music industry has any hope of taking advantage of the new opportunities available to them via the transformation of music to information it will require this type of transparency that will lead to more accurate information, and thus better decision making with respect to deals.

My fear is that the Blockchain (and innovative companies like ascribe) will struggle to gain the understanding required to achieve widespread usage. In short, my fear is that the same fate will befall Blockchain (for artists) as seems to have befallen Creative Commons; people just do not understand it, and CC does a bad job of explaining it (which is a shame), and thus most don’t utilize it.

This is really as much an educational (or marketing/branding) issue as it is a technological one. The stakes are too high not to at least try to create the same transparency around the understanding of the technology even as the technology itself attempts to create transparency around its usage.

Artists – visual, musical, or otherwise – really must educate themselves about these emerging technologies, or suffer the fate of being exploited by those who do.


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