Protecting Copyright, the Blockchain Way


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Protecting copyright is crucial in any creative business, especially for artists looking to make a living from their work. While the internet age has provided more opportunities for creators, it also carries a lot of risks. Online piracy and rights infringements are ever-growing problems affecting industries such as film, photography, visual arts, and music.

Blockchain technology can help by protecting copyright with its transparent ledger records. Indeed, a host of blockchain-backed solutions now provide marketplaces for fair rights distribution. Smart contracts allow the peer-to-peer distribution of content without the need for a middleman, while also calculating royalty fees.

Copyright issues today

Putting a monetary value on art has always been tricky. Copyright is one-way artists can profit from their work and protect it from infringement. Legislative systems around the globe safe keep these rights, with each country facing its own issues in terms of piracy and illicit use. But over the past few decades, the internet has made protecting copyright much more challenging.

Copyright infringement affects each market in its own way. Piracy remains the main issue in the music industry, according to a study by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). Results suggest about a third (38 percent) of listeners still pirate songs in 2018. The eBook industry faces a similar problem, having lost $315 million to illicit downloads, according to Statista.

However, in markets such as visual arts and photography, most copyright infringement issues revolve around rights of use. This is especially relevant in the internet age when a quick Google search can locate almost any image imaginable. There have been countless high-profile examples of disputes between artists and unauthorized users going to court.

Retired lawyer and amateur photographer Richard Bell is proof what a determined creator can achieve when protecting copyright. Bell owns the rights to a photo of the Indianapolis skyline that he claims he took in March 2000. Since then, he has followed through on around 70 copyright infringement cases against people and companies who have used the photo without permission. Bell’s cases have reportedly netted him $150,000 — not bad for a photo licensed for $200!

Industries affected by piracy

How can blockchain help?

Evaluation, distribution, and, ultimately, ownership of artistic content has always been a controversial topic. Now, blockchain technology has given birth to some promising solutions that could help untangle the mess.

Blockchain’s public ledgers — which serve as indisputable proof of ownership — form a key part of these solutions. Furthermore, networks that use smart contracts can set rules before any transactions take place, protecting the artist’s rights in the process. Many creators are looking to apply the technology, as US-based lawyer Tonya M. Evans said:

Forward-thinking creators and creative content industries — from music to photography — are exploring blockchain’s distributed ledger technology to protect, preserve, and exploit copyrighted content.

Blockchain could also remove artists’ reliance on intermediaries. Some new platforms aim to make agents redundant by offering a decentralized marketplace for businesses and individuals. With their transparency and immutability, these ledgers could allow creators to become more independent.

Blockchain protecting copyright for musicians

Protecting against piracy in the music industry could be an extremely lucrative business. Blockchain services firm Bitfury seems to be making some progress in this field.

The company announced on January 16 that it will build an open-source music platform dubbed Bitfury Surround, which will operate on Bitcoin’s blockchain. The digital ecosystem would allow participants to transfer copyrights, provide data analysis, and reap the benefits of transparent ledger records.

Viberate promises similar solutions to Bitfury Surround. However, it also aims to allow payments and blockchain licensing for musicians. Smart contracts will process payments safely, while ledger records will hold data regarding authors’ rights and transactions.

Israeli start-up eMusic has raised $70 million to fund its decentralized music marketplace. Much like Viberate, the platform aims to protect copyright through transparent ledger records.

movie projector and blockchain logo

What can blockchain do for the movie industry?

Movie directors often spend huge amounts of money creating their films. Unfortunately, piracy and copyright infringement have put a major dent in their earnings. Now, some start-ups are turning to blockchain to solve these problems.

LiveTree is an ambitious project that allows audiences to fund films and television shows using crypto. Sponsors give a certain amount of Seed (SEED) token through LiveTree’s platform, then reap a percentage of the project’s profits based on how much funding they provided.

Another peer-to-peer blockchain-based platform, Breaker, offers a space for movie-makers to license their products and sell them to viewers. The dApp, formerly known as SingularDTV, provides a transparent distribution network using a proprietary token called Tokit. Ledger records provide proof of ownership, transparently protecting copyright without the need for a middleman. Smart contracts power transactions, securing the network against piracy and copyright infringements.

Arts, rights, and blockchain

Blockchain could have an even more compelling use case in visual arts and photography. Aside from protecting artists’ copyright, blockchain networks could also allow users to pay for creative content quickly and securely.

Qravity and ArtByte are two blockchain solution providers that offer peer-to-peer marketplaces for artists. Qravity works through a dual-token system, with QCO as a medium for payment and QPT for ownership of projects. ArtByte also offers its own token, powered by smart contracts.

Some visual artists are protecting copyright by taking blockchain tech into their own hands. Stephan Vogler did this for his digital art projects through Bitcoin’s infrastructure. Vogler created a Bitcoin electronic signature using SHA256 hash data, meaning all his work complies with the German Digital Signature Act.

The growing interest in copyright blockchain

As the number of copyright blockchain projects grows, governments around the globe have started to take an interest. On September 7, 2018, the Chinese Supreme Court ruled that blockchain records can act as evidence in legal disputes within the country. Digital signatures on the blockchain count as legal licenses between parties, effectively protecting copyright.


Elsewhere, Ernst & Young partnered up with Microsoft to develop a blockchain solution for content rights and royalty management. The two companies hope the solution will decrease operational inefficiencies and automate the reconciliation of licenses.

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