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Block that chain!

11 gennaio 2017 -

di Federica Pezza

 

It’s common knowledge: among the different Intellectual Property Rights, Copyright law is a controversial area.

Proof of ownership, Chain of titles, licensing schemes and collecting societies: these questions, relevant for any kind of property and Intellectual property right, turn into fundamental ones when coming to this specific subject. Whether you are listening to your Beatles playlist, watching the latest series on television or visiting the Tate modern's coolest exhibition, one question is fundamental: “Who is the author?”

In fact, the difficulty in proving the chain of titles, the number of people who might be regarded as contributors to the creation, together with the uncertainty of the notion of creativity itself and the pyramidal structure of any transaction have always been contributing over the time to the qualification of Copyright as a grey area.

This is the background. Now, let’s turn to the current situation.

What is the impact that technology and innovation-driven solutions might have on copyright law?

I’m thinking about that kind of “distributed database”, commonly known as blockchain.

In a nutshell, it consists of a digital platform for recording and verifying data, “a database that is maintained not by a single actor such as a bank but, collaboratively, by a number of participants”. Thus, a similar system, born for financial reasons, is likely to be successfully extended to any kind of business based on “globally networked data.[1]

In particular, there are two principal aspects of copyright law which blockchain is likely to affect. On one side, in the artistic as well as in the musical word, this technology might represent a fundamental instrument of authentication, allowing the validation of the identity of the creator and the clarification of the role of each contributor in the copyright chain through a crowd-sourced mechanism. More specifically, it has been said, by attributing a certain code, which cannot be modified, to each contributor, this tool could solve the issue of remix validity and recognition under copyright law, as the change of one single note would result in a totally different code. Working as proof of ownership, it would also help to split the title between different parties. The invention of “Blockai” constitutes an interesting example of a similar application[2]. This platform, in fact, automatically generates an ID certificate for the author, matching, for an indefinite period of time, the right holder with his/her work. Further, by using Instagram, it directly connects all the posts with the relevant hashtag to the blockai, allowing the client to check who is using the content.

Secondly, it might constitute an alternative to the pyramidal, licensing-based copyright structure.

In fact, third parties’ mediation in copyright industry, in the form of collecting societies(COS), has always worked as necessary authentication and validation instrument. COS’ role was supporting the authors, by guaranteeing transparency and fair remuneration in every transaction. However, in time, these societies have often been criticised for the lack of transparency in their structure as well as the inability of providing the authors with a fair remuneration without any delay. In other words, they were gradually turning into “a broken system”[3].

In this context, the potential role to be played by blockchain as a “transparent, redundant and opened paradigm for data storage”[4] is invaluable. Acting as immutable record-keeper, this tool would constitute a guarantee of unchangeable data, immediate payments and data aggregation. Further, the chain, compared to the traditional pyramidal model, would join its efficiency with the capacity of representing a decentralised solution. In doing so, it would present a democratic option, giving each author the opportunity of  being personally responsible for the management of his own rights.



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