Copyrights and Decentralized Internet: A recipe for crisis or an artist’s utopia?

One can not spend a day on the internet without noticing someone talking enthusiastically about cryptocurrency. Its impact on Intellectual property, specifically on copyrights are starting to unfold. There are several services built upon blockchain technology and then there are smart contracts. Decentralization of the internet has a clear impact on the functionality and enforcement of Intellectual Property rights. 

Understanding Blockchain:

It is factually wrong to say that the internet is centralised. Nobody owns the internet. But certain corporations have the majority of servers like google, amazon, Facebook etc. Centralized systems need huge servers to store data(database). These servers need thousands of powerful computers to provide high computational power and to create new storage. So that, many people can access the servers simultaneously. 


The decentralized internet works on the peer-to-peer network backed by the community of users. Their computers with the Internet will host the internet and not some big corporation’s servers. 


With all the hype around cryptocurrency, blockchain might sound complex. But the basic concept of it is not that complicated. Blockchain is designed to make transactions without the need of any broker regulating it. It is a database to store any kind of information. With every new information, a new block is created which attaches itself to the chain of previously created immutable blocks. All information in the block is permanent and open for everyone to see. This blockchain is the backbone of Bitcoin. These blocks can be used to store any kind of information, in bitcoin, every new transaction creates a new block.


But how is this blockchain or bitcoin connected to copyrights? Let’s look at one more cryptocurrency before heading to this question. The second-largest cryptocurrency, Ethereum. 


Founded by a 19-year-old, Vitalik Buterin. In an interview, he explains the difference between Bitcoin and ethereum. He takes the example of bitcoin as a pocket calculator and ethereum as a smartphone. A pocket calculator only does one thing well, it calculates. On the other hand, you can have a calculator as an app on your smartphone. Or you can have an app for music. Or a web browser maybe. This is a very basic but apt description that tells about the gap which was left in bitcoin, the limited functionality. With Ethereum expanding the crypto ecosystem, one thing which changed everything it touched — Smart Contracts. 


Blockchain and Copyrights:


The roaring music industry was shaken from its core with the rise of simple peer-to-peer music sharing app called Napster. In 2001 it had to shut down due to several legal cases but the music industry took years to struggle with piracy. Recently, the stats indicate that with the accessible music streaming platforms there is a significant decline in piracy. Now, with dissemination about blockchain, artists, once again, are standing at the crossroads waiting for the devil.


The ever-evolving Internet technology is growing at the pace where the laws which govern it are left behind. There will be newer and faster ways to create and distribute music, paintings or photographs. It is not fanciful to say that establishing the ownership will become more accessible, accurate and dare I say, conflict-free(or not). With the integration of Smart Contracts, enforcing copyright over the internet or licencing your work to someone might not require third parties. 


Although, there are many complications in the legal application; From deciding the jurisdiction to framing the laws for data privacy. There are several other issues concerning the copyrights like not enabling piracy or identifying the infringer. The anachronistic laws are silent when it comes to the streaming of copyrighted content. 


The two major functions of this technology that are applicable and practical in the realm of copyrights are — hashing and timestamping. Hashing algorithms can convert any type of input into a fixed output called Hash. This means that no two different inputs can create the same output. The other thing, the unique timestamping which is incorruptible and it will immensely help in establishing the ownership. 



For centuries, third parties are required to execute a contract. Resulting in delays, costly in nature and requires manual labour.  Smart contracts are written codes including the terms and conditions of the contract on the blockchain. Based on If and then, these are self-executing contracts. They do not need any intermediaries or any arm of the law. Let’s talk about the Copyrights in the context of this information. 



The rights provided can be recorded in the decentralized ledger. These ledgers can function as Smart IP Registries, an accountable authority. Not only can they track the whole life of the copyright from day one, they can also be used to keep a check on trademarks, patents and designs. It can envelop all the necessary information regarding registration, licensing or when something was used for the first time in commerce.



With the help of Blockchain technology, identifying the first owner is fairly easy. In the case of trademark and patents, it can be very beneficial in situations where the first use is essential for determining the rights of the parties. The distributed ledger technology can even help to identify the authorship of unregistered copyrights. Uploading the original work will create unique timestamps and all the other information which constitute a piece of solid evidence when needed.



In a decentralized ledger, anyone can check who owns a certain thing or to whom one should approach for getting a license. This will not only help the buyers but also the authorities to verify the authenticity. One can also keep a check on their copyright. For example, an artist made a song and he 



Everything is not shiny gold here, there are certain rusted parts too, just like life. Take the example of someone who pirated the copyrighted work and uploaded it on the blockchain with the wrong information(deliberately). That timestamp will be permanent and not immutable. Same with smart contracts. The person can hide their identity with cryptography and the original creator of that work has no one to point the finger at. Finding accountability can be near to impossible in the case of infringement. 


In the early days of the Internet, in case of infringement Internet service providers (ISP) were targeted under the doctrine of strict liability. But the decentralized internet has no ISPs.  Remember there will be no central server that can remove the protected work. Even if someone uploads the work with the wrong metadata by mistake, it is going to stay there forever. 

Current Situation:

Important organizations are actively engaging with blockchain technology. There are many examples but here we will discuss some of them. 


  • The European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) and other government agencies and intellectual property registration agencies are actively studying the capabilities of blockchain and the US Congress recently established a blockchain core group in Congress. 


  • In a widely publicized initiative, a new startup Ujo (Mycelia) and artist Imogen Heap released the track “Tiny Human” for sale on Ethereum. An open-source rights database and payment infrastructure, Ujo is run by Phil Barry, a consultant who is also responsible for Radiohead’s recent digital sales strategy. The “Tiny Human” sold by Ujo contains many features, some of which are related to the new payment and ownership model mentioned above. First, you can buy the root of the song and the parts of the final mix. Second, everyone can see the smart contract that contains the ownership and compensation details related to the file, as well as the price of the download, streaming, and licensing operations.


  • Kodak also launched its blockchain-backed platform known as KODAKOne, with the objective to provide fair compensation to the photographers for their images. The platform will use web crawlers to search the web for images in its blockchain database. The trackers will identify the licensed images and automatically enforce the copyrights on them. 


  • Non-fungible tokens are also becoming popular day by day. In the most basic sense, they are collectable digital assets. They are the same as other cryptocurrencies but as the name suggests they are non-fungible, meaning they cannot be traded like bitcoin or ethereum. What makes NFT different from other cryptocurrencies are that it can store additional information. They can take the form of digital artwork or music or anything that can be stored digitally. They are like any other art collection but instead of getting a huge Picasso painting, you will get the JPEG file. In 2007, an artist called Beepel, a political cartoonist started posting his works online without missing a single day. His NFT, The First 5000 Days, has become the most expensive artworks(and not just NFT) ever sold. Search online if you are interested in the price because more mind-blowing things are waiting for you. 



For creators, this is like unlocking a door to the unknown land of infinite potential. An artist

can sell their art that doesn’t even exist in reality. On the other hand the blockchain also 

offers the new sets of problems when it comes to protection. A mistake while putting metadata in a block can cause a huge problem with respect to the authorship of the creation. It could be a human error or a deliberate action to initiate piracy of ceratin creation. Well established artists are playing on this new pitch. Letting others know about the glitches and problems. Every budding artist being blown away by the news of highest selling NFTs should first gather enough information to enter into this cyberland. It is not fully developed and holds huge risk. 


There is no doubt that the use of blockchain technology to support the IP industry has great potential. It will definitely solve many problems that intellectual property rights holders face over the years. The use of blockchain technology in all aspects is still a long way off, but it is definitely worth considering.


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