How blockchain can transform IP protection

The arrival of blockchain promises not only to help creatives guarantee authenticity of their work, but it should also pave the way towards a more streamlined IP protection sector.

When talk of blockchain technology first began circulating, much of the hype and anticipation concerning its potential centred on the financial services sector, but soon it was realised that the in-built trust and transparency advantages blockchain can offer might have application elsewhere. 

One such area has been in the world of creative copyright where utilisation of the blockchain can help bring much-needed modernisation to what is often described as an opaque, dated, and bureaucratic sector. 

An injection of modernity

We live in a globalised, highly digitised world where IP is broadcast, published, and performed across national boundaries and where information is shared freely on the web, but the system of copyright protection and record-keeping remains antiquated by comparison.

Some countries, such as Canada, the United States, and China, offer a centralised copyright system, which can include voluntarily claiming a copyright either online or by mail. Securing a claim this way can take weeks or months – costing upwards of US$50 per claim – and the length of time taken can mean that an infringement may have happened by the time a creator has received their formal claim of copyright. In addition, many countries are still relying upon and using paper-based systems (which do not facilitate searching for information online, nor updating data in real time).

In addition, about two thirds of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) 193 members do not require, nor offer, a voluntary copyright claims process. Instead, they cite the Berne Convention which says ostensibly that copyright is yours when you produce a creative work. There is no requirement to prove that you are the author/creator of the work and that it is a unique creation, as the courts are expected to sort out any copyright disputes, should they arise.

This means disputes can be daunting and expensive for creators. In such countries, creators looking for a formal copyright registration are encouraged to send themselves the copyright material via registered mail, but never open the envelope. It’s difficult not to see the risks associated with this process.

What is needed instead of these outdated methods is a system that matches the digital times in which we live, one that is open, transparent, permission-less, and allows for real-time access. The answer to this lies in blockchain technology, which makes it possible to file a copyright claim in mere minutes at a fraction of the cost.

A public, immutable record of ownership should also enhance trust in the IP system through its effective prevention of unauthorised removal or alteration of copyright. Trust is further enhanced by the simple fact of taking the ledger out of the hands of a few and placing it into the hands of many.

How stakeholders can benefit 

For governments, the benefits of transferring to a blockchain-backed copyright registration system centre on the delivery of a more streamlined, efficient service that allows for the trimming of unnecessary operating costs, and which may help generate the potential for new lines of operational revenue.

For creatives, the opportunity to more easily and quickly validate and demonstrate authenticity of their work enables them to better monetise their work.

Take screenwriters, for example; they work on a scene or two and before sharing the material with the director/other writers, they stake their claim to the copyright through the blockchain. That way, the original IP is protected, should someone decide to use the ideas inappropriately. This claim could be done in minutes and cost very little, meaning the screenwriter can quickly make the claim and share the files with collaborators, knowing that they are protected.

This is a huge contrast to the existing processes and is much more relevant for gig-economy and freelance workers.

A blockchain-backed future 

The speed and transparency qualities that define the blockchain make it perfectly suited to the copyright registration industry. The potential it offers to timestamp IP, demonstrate proof of existence, and generate smart contracts should prove a game-changer for custodians and users of the system, while the corollary benefits around trust in the system and among all participating stakeholders should pave the way for a more harmonious, and less litigious industry.