Protecting your intellectual property with blockchain technology?

18 June 2021 | Blockchain, Copyrights, Intellectual property, IT-law

As a creative, you probably know how easily someone can steal your content online. Tracking down these copycats is particularly difficult. But enforcing your legal rights as an author is even more difficult: although copyright law protects your work, until now there has been no comprehensive registration system to prove your ownership.

Until now. Because with the development of blockchain, completely new techniques for protecting intellectual property are now available.

What about intellectual property in an online society?

You write. You compose. You take photos. The book, the song, the photo: these are your property. Logical, isn’t it? It is also what the law says. But what do you do if it is your word against that of a copycat? Due to the lack of an official document or time stamp, it is difficult to prove which creation came first, and therefore who is the copycat.

In our online society, the challenge is even greater: there are huge amounts of information online, so it is hardly possible to search through it yourself.

The beautiful picture of that yacht in Monaco harbour that you took a few years ago? Now, on the other side of the world, it might be used as background in Zoom. And And spontaneously, of course, a company is not going to offer you compensation, even if it is clear that they are using your work illegally. They also know that it is up to you to prove your ownership and enforce your rights. If you want fair compensation for the use of your copyrighted photo, you will soon have to hire a lawyer and follow a long and expensive procedure. And if you fail to prove authorship, you may even lose such proceedings.

Blockchain, the system that makes e.g. Bitcoin work, offers solutions here. It can be applied in such a way that there can no longer be any doubt about who holds the copyright. How does this work?

Blockchain and decentralised ledgers

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are not revolutionary because they are a form of digital currency. After all, we have been paying digitally for several decades. Bitcoin is revolutionary because property is no longer held by central banks or governments, but captured by blockchain technology through a ledger that is open to anyone using the system.

This system is called a Decentralised Ledger, and an application that uses it is called Decentralised Ledger Technology (DLT). The stored information is spread across a network of different users: without a central administrator or central data storage, and the data is constantly synchronised and updated.

So what is this “blockchain”? Blockchain is a form of DLT, in which data is stored in a “chain of (data) blocks”. It is also a chain in which new blocks can only be added at the end. It is also a chain in which new blocks can only be added at the end. A hash is an algorithmic application from cryptography in which a series of characters of random length is converted into a series of characters of fixed length. In principle, this only works in one direction, which is why the hash is also considered to be adigital fingerprint.

Moreover, each new block contains the hash of the previous block, so the blocks refer to each other and create the chain. And a new block is only accepted when all participants in the network (DLT, remember?) have accepted it. So it is also not possible to make changes to a block, because then the hash of that block would change and the chain would be broken. In this way, blockchain can guarantee the integrity of data.

In any case, remember that the end result is a system that is very difficult to corrupt, and that makes it easy to record the ownership of just about anything. Like your intellectual property.

Using blockchain for copyright protection

Now you may wonder how blockchain could help in your battle with the copycats?

The technology lends itself to the indisputable recording of intellectual property without the intervention of intermediaries. No more hassle about who was first and who copied: enforcing legal rights suddenly becomes much easier. Moreover, there are also a number of companies working on those almost completely automated payment systems for transactions involving IP.

In addition, with the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI), scouring the web for IP covered by existing copyright laws has never been easier. Bots can search the web for your IP and if they find unauthorised use, you can go and talk to whoever is paying you for your hard work.

All you have to do to take advantage of this breakthrough is register your work with a blockchain-based IP protection system.

And what about smart contracts?

Blockchain-based IP registration allows you as a creative to automatically manage sales through smart contracts.

Indeed, smart contracts allow you to set exploitation terms for your IP, and then communicate directly with people who want to buy your creations. Artists like Mobius and Imogen Heap release their songs through a Blockchain-based service called Ujo. This allows them to communicate directly with their fans, and offer their work at the best possible rates. Very recently, the popular YouTube video “Charlie bit my finger” was sold for 622,000 euros, and this via an NFT(an NFT or a non-fungible token is a digital certificate of ownership linked to a unique, virtual object. By buying an NFT, you become the owner of a digital product).

Until now, many people stood between an artist and the people who bought their work. By using smart contracts and micro payments, the people who really make music, write and create art get more for their efforts, while at the same time better protecting their IP.

Blockchain IP protection is the future

Much is possible in our digital information society, also for creatives. At the same time, especially the smaller players are facing a considerable disadvantage when it comes to the exploitation of their IP. It seems a difficult paradox. Today, however, creatives from all over the world have a new tool to ensure that they are paid fairly for their work. Much will depend on the openness to make the new blockchain technology part of our daily lives.

However, it is certainly not wrong to say that the internet, which for years was a threat to the protection of intellectual property, now suddenly seems to be the best thing that ever happened to the creators of creative works. Or how technology is constantly evolving towards a balance on a higher and better level.

Are you interested in blockchain-based IP protection systems? You can always contact us at hallo@dejuristen.be.

Written by Kris Seyen, Partner theJurists

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