Blockchain for Rights

Not long ago, I’d never heard of the Blockchain. Now suddenly it’s being talked about all over the place.  Blockchain is the technology behind the Bitcoin currency.  It keeps track of who owns what ‘money’ and how much it is worth.  This is all recorded permanently in a distributed network around the world.

The Blockchain is a global distributed infrastructure, like the Internet, so it can be used for anything, like the Internet can.  Just like the Internet, it has the potential to democratise power.  Because it’s distributed, it’s possible for anyone to access it and use it, and build applications for it.  One example is peer to peer micro payments for things that otherwise would be too much effort to be worth invoicing. See this thought-provoking video explaining it: Blockchain video

One strength of the Blockchain is recording transactions and ownership  These can be Bitcoin transactions or, it turns out, they can be copyright transactions and rights ownership.

The Digital Catapult, parent to the Copyright Hub, is trialling a way of using the block chain infrastructure for particularly complex rights contracts such as those associated with games development.  This means an ‘immutable’ record is created of who owns the rights to each contribution to the game, whether big or small and in what proportion.  New contributors can easily be added to the contract down the line, as production progresses.   One reason the games industry will benefit is because of the large number of individual creators who need to work together, unlike a novel, where it’s usually only one individual author on one side of the transaction, and one company encompassing all the other contributions on the other side of the transaction, and that doesn’t change over time.

The Digital Catapult has published a white paper about these Smart Contracts, and a prototype is in development.  Some think the technology is too new and immature to be useful yet, but it’s definitely one to watch, as it looks likely to grow up very quickly.

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Copyright gone wrong?

Is our copyright law doing its job?  The Hargreaves Review had a look and made some recommendations, and these were discussed today at the Westminster Legal Policy Forum: What’s Next for IP Law?  Intellectual property law was discussed from all angles, not just copyright, and I made some notes.  Here are what seemed to me to be the main/most interesting points:

1  Evidence based policy

Policy should be based on evidence, not on lobbying as it is now.
Evidence should be transparent in its methodology, open and peer-reviewed.
Evidence-based policy needs to replace ‘lobbynomics’
Not enough evidence exists, so £5m funding for research.

2 Proposed New “Copyright Exchange”

Intended to be a central and easy place to buy and sell rights.
It will be run by users and rights holders, with industry at the heart of it, led by private sector with incentives from government
Rights holders can choose to licence their rights through it, at the price they set.
A very ambitious plan.
Needs a lot of refining to avoid danger of making licences that rights holders don’t want eg granting licences to people the author hates.

3 Harmonisation

Not enough harmonisation between countries, even within EU, for seamless international protection and licensing, especially of patents.
Differences in copyright exceptions too, which may never be resolved eg due to difference of opinion on making hardware levies to remunerate rights holders for users making format-shifting copies.  UK wants exception for format shifting but not with levies.
UK plans are very radical and ambitious so we should help and advise EU in its review of IP law.

4 Penalties

Piracy needs to be tackled in a stronger more systematic way. Absence of online enforcement and visible consequences leads to lack of respect for IP law by public; but improved means of online enforcement with international cooperation and better punishments will change user behaviour.

5 Outdated?

As ever, establishment (Government and IPO) seems to think copyright is mostly OK and has proposals to strengthen and streamline it.  Campaigners seem to think that radical changes to the basis of copyright need to be made, and we are falling behind US and Europe in terms of user rights and justice.

What’s your view?