Copyright rules have always struggled to follow up with technology – and blockchain is creating new challenges, as well as solving some.
Can someone post one of my photos or illustrations on blockchain without permission?
Not right now… but this could change in the future.
The reason why it isn’t possible at the moment is merely technical. Scaling problems (something we’ve reported extensively on at Cointelegraph) mean there’s a limit to the amount of data that can be processed in a single block. As a result, blockchain isn’t incredibly compatible with images in its current form.
However, if and when these problems are resolved, it could become a reality. And although there are several blockchain platforms out there which aim to provide an immutable record of who owns an image, and where it has been used, there’s nothing stopping someone from claiming they own the rights to one of your artistic masterpieces – or a selfie you took on holiday.
This could pave the way for someone to make a pretty penny off your hard work, especially if a platform’s verification process is wanting. It can be difficult to prove ownership of an image, and if you disagree with the way it has been recorded in a blockchain, there might be no one there who you can raise a dispute with. Taking a legal route to claim you hold the rights to an image on blockchain may also be near impossible – especially considering the courts are almost always behind the curve when it comes to technology.
What are the laws outside of blockchain?
It varies from country to country – but generally, copyright protection is granted automatically.
In the UK, for example, this means that any artworks, illustrations or pictures you take are protected by copyright instantly – without cost. It prohibits others from copying them, distributing copies of them or putting it on the internet, but the law doesn’t currently mention the ramifications when it comes to blockchain.
There are also treaties governing copyright which have an international reach. The Berne Convention, created back in 1866, has been adopted by dozens of countries around the world. It means a copyrighted photo in Afghanistan can enjoy the same protections in Australia. Three basic principles govern the convention – including the notion that works protected in one member state must be given identical protections by all others.
How could copyright be officially applied within blockchain?
Well, we may see governments around the world adopt this technology for themselves.
Tonya M. Evans, a US-based lawyer who specializes in intellectual property, recently wrote about how some administrations are “quietly exploring how to implement blockchain technology for their copyright registration systems.” Indeed, she cited an article from Iran’s Financial Tribune which reported on Tehran’s plans to move its infrastructure to blockchain. It has forged a deal to build a new system with a specialist company, and hopes the procedure will be “fast and user-friendly.”
Could industry bodies also get involved?
Major players in music, photography and literature are also starting to devise their own solutions with the hope of becoming market leaders.
Among them is Kodak, which has licensed its brand to Wenn Digital, the developer of a blockchain-based image rights platform.
KODAKOne hopes to speed up payments for those who want to purchase professional images – and help photographers detect infringements quickly and recover the fees they are owed. Its web crawler technology scours millions of websites to detect how pictures are being used, and provides “simplified legal proceedings” to ensure copyright owners get the compensation and recognition they deserve.
Blockchain is also addressing fragmentation in the way copyright across the music industry is recorded. As reported by Cointelegraph, information relating to compositions and songs is scattered across 5,000 databases. Dozens of companies – including major streaming services and record labels – have signed up to be part of a blockchain-based, universal rights registry called the Open Music Initiative, which no one controls but everyone contributes to. Following a significant upheaval in the way the music industry works – with streaming threatening sales and live shows becoming ever more crucial – the scheme hopes to bring about “sustainable business models for artists, entrepreneurs and music businesses alike.”
What’s the deal with my social media posts? Are they copyrighted?
Again, the waters are murky here – even the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is vague on some of the details.
When it comes to tweets, WIPO says that, in actuality, some of them may be too short to qualify for the copyright protection usually enjoyed by authors. Why, you may ask? Because their short length means that they are “unlikely to reach the level of creativity required.” Of course, comedians creating witty one liners may beg to differ here – especially when so many of them have their content ripped off by other accounts, which pass off the content as their own without a credit. That said, there can be exceptions. A WIPO article back from 2009 cites experts as saying that a collection of tweets may be eligible to be copyrighted, which is pretty pertinent in light of longer character allowances and the popularity of threads, where posts are joined together.
You may think that you would be the exclusive holder of copyright to the content you post on other social media platforms, but WIPO says that it’s always worth reading the small print. In the past, if you uploaded photos to Facebook or videos to YouTube, they reserved the right to use the content you post. That said, on the bright side, both platforms offer mechanisms where posts that rip off your content can be taken down.
The dynamics of copyright on social media are ever changing. Recently, the EU voted in favour of two controversial provisions set out in a new copyright directive. Article 11 means tech giants such as Facebook and Google, as well as aggregator sites, would need to pay news outlets whenever they link to their stories or share excerpts of their articles. Meanwhile, Article 13 would mean video-sharing sites need to obtain licenses to show music videos, in the hope this would improve remuneration for artists.
Are there any exceptions to copyright rules?
This varies from country to country.
For example, in the UK, the principle of “fair dealing” means small excerpts of a copyrighted work can be used for the purposes of studying, news reporting and teaching. The European Copyright Directive goes further, as it enables you to satirize copyrighted works and use brief clips of TV shows or songs for parodies.
Meanwhile, halfway across the world in New Zealand, there is no exemption for comedy and satire – something which has frustrated comedians and content creators.
MyCryptons, a blockchain-based platform where users can buy and sell digital collectibles, is one site which benefits from the common exemption of parody and satire when it comes to copyright. It offers collectibles based on public figures – including politicians, talk show hosts and musicians – along with a distinctive illustration, sometimes with exaggerated features for comic effect.