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Can blockchain tech revolutionise IP and digital content ?
When people talk about blockchain technology they invariably talk about bitcoin, but its applications go far beyond cryptocurrency. There is now a community of startups that are looking at how blockchain can be used to protect digital content and intellectual property.
In a nutshell: just as blockchain is used as a virtual decentralised ledger to track bitcoin transactions, it can also be used as a tool to track the rights and transactions attached to all manner of digital creative works from music to artwork.
To this end there are now platforms like Ethereum coming into existence that use blockchain tech to issue smart contracts: decentralised computer protocols used to verify contractual agreements. There is now an ecosystem of companies being built around platforms like Ethereum that focus on IP solutions and other alternative blockchain applications.
Many of the leading lights of this nascent industry gathered at the "Smart Contracts for Smart Cities" conference in Hong Kong’s Cyberport this week to share their views in the future of blockchain technology. Trent McConaghy – the founder of Ascribe, a digital IP platform – is one of the people looking to solve the issues surrounding IP and digital content on the internet, he said:
“A fundamental challenge of the internet is that if you are a creator you are getting a raw deal. When you put your stuff on the internet you are probably not going to get paid, or at best you are only getting a fraction of its value. Ads are a horrible solution to monetization.”
A similar frustration was expressed by Juan Benet, the creator of InterPlanetary File System (IPFS), a type of peer-to-peer protocol. Benet explains that blockchain and timestamping services can be used to create an auditable trail of content ownership from creation through to the transfer of rights and beyond. He added that the democratization of the process could also address some imbalances in the patent system:
“Currently the patent system in software is pretty broken, it allows for a lot of things that shouldn't be allowed as patents and excludes others things that should be. It is a very tricky situation when you have these massive companies amassing these huge portfolios and only they get to wield patents.”