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Blockchain and Copyright Part 2

How the Blockchain technology could revolutionize the protection of Copyright in the digital era?

By Johannes Hoericke 

The massive adoption of the Internet has made the protection of copyright harder than before. Today’s society is sharing photos and videos and therefore violating (unknowingly) someone’s copyright. Some companies took it even further by downloading a copyright protected work from the Internet, using it for marketing purposes and monetizing others creative work. Unauthorized sharing and use of copyright protected work downgrades the creativity of the copyright holder and endangers their own financial livelihood. The European legislator faced those challenges by introducing the “Directive of Copyright and other subject matter in the digital single market”, which I briefly explained in the first part of this series. Now I want to address Art. 17 of this directive (so called Upload filter).

Art. 17 shifts the liability for copyright infringements from the user to “online sharing content platforms” (e. g. Youtube, Facebook and Twitter). Unless the platforms can (according to Art. 17 par. 4) demonstrate that they:

a) made best efforts to obtain an authorization by the rightsholder (creative)

b) made in accordance with high industry standards of professional diligence that they ensure the unavailability of the content after receiving the information from the rightsholder, and in every case

c) acted expeditiously, to disable or remove the content from their websites and furthermore prevent uploads in accordance with point b).

Looking to letter c) opposers of this directive see a danger of censorship by applying general motoring which analyzes and block every copyright infringing upload. Considering the error susceptibility current monitoring software has, Author: Johannes Hoericke 

this concern is not deceptive. For example, “ContentID” is the most famous software for copyright management, which creates a digital fingerprint from the reference material downloaded by the user and subsequently scans every video against the fingerprint. After the software finds a match the rightsholder can decide if the content is either blocked or monetized. However, software like “ContentID” are very error-prone where a cat purr was recognized as a piece of music.

Using the blockchain could change the level of trust and potential scalability: the main purpose of digital fingerprinting is to exclude the platforms liability for intermediaries (Art. 14 E-Commerce Directive 2001/31/EG) and is therefore a highly important tool for their infrastructure. However, their use may shift unilaterally at any time, due to the principle of centralization. This problem could be addressed with Blockchain by not being dependent on a provider in the terms of use, but rather embedding a code, which could require the consensus among the majority of users. Furthermore, digital copies of copyrighted work cannot be distinguished by their quality, which makes it hard for the rightsholder to protect his exclusive right of selling or making it available to the public. Nonetheless images uploaded to a blockchain could not only provide authentication for ownership, but also prohibit unauthorized use. With digital fingerprints (also known as a cryptographic hash) an image could be uploaded on a certain blockchain, with the name of the rightsholder and their email, to ensure their authorship. That allows platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to track down the rightsholder and then digitally police the rightsholders content on their platform.

Even though using the Blockchain technology sounds like a rightsholder dream, there are some challenges which lies within using this technology. Firstly, the storage of content must be taken into consideration, especially if we are talking about the large number of users with increasing transaction amounts, which needs to be reflected on a blockchain. Due to the fact, of the vast quantity of copyright protected works found on social media platforms the storage of all the relevant data will be a very challenging tasks, since their costs associated with storage might be substantial. Another issue for someone applying a copyright-blockchain is the hashing issue. An artistic work cannot be equaled with a specific arrangement of bits, it is generally broader. Even a slightly modified work, which probably infringes the original works copyright would still be considered completely individual and new due to its cryptographic hash.

Nevertheless, Blockchain technology is shaping up to the ultimate protection for copyright holders of their work online. Without a question, it has just begun making its presence known for rightsholders. Projects like “Ujomusic”, “Creativechain”, “COPYTRACK” are already on the rise. Kodak implied their first blockchain and licenses photos, using the Ethereum blockchain with its own “KodakCoin” cryptocurrency. Whether the enforcement mechanisms will perform in practice has yet to be seen, but the prospects remain encouraging. However, there are challenges arising which have to be massively adopted first. Looking at Art. 17 which I addressed in the beginning of this article. Installing a Blockchain could fall under lit. a) and the liability regime of b) and c) would not apply, so to say danger of a possibly censorship would be prevented. 

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