For anyone with an interest in cryptocurrencies blockchains will not be new to you but most people outside of this new currency realm have no clue what this word means. Simply put, a blockchain is an encrypted unbreakable digital audit trail of transactions recorded in chronological order. The chain is used to record the transactions of the associated cryptocurrency.
This audited, encrypted chronological record-keeping not only lends itself to currency, itís also ideal for recording any kind of activity that benefits from its chronologically-kept features. Now blockchains are being touted as the answer to one of the Internetís oldest and annoying problems, proving image ownership. Again, simply put, the image copyright owner records their image in the blockchain. Their ownership proved beyond doubt as the first person to record a blockchain entry for the image.
The issue for photographers has always been the ease with which an image could be stolen from the Internet and then used for profit by the thief. In a pre-blockchain world (and really still currently) it was/is tricky to prove who was the original owner of the image. Of course in countries like the USA the copyright owner can register each image with the copyright authorities which also proves ownership but in other coutries like the UK, whilst the creator automatically becomes the copyright owner, there is no registration process and so proving to whom the image belongs becomes difficult.
If blockchain copyright ownership takes off and creatives register their work using a blockchain there will be no doubt as to who was first to do so but it might not be the great copyright saviour afterall. What about existing images that arenít already in a copyright registration process like in the USA? There is a timing issue here for owners of existing works, in that they need to register their images on the blockchain system before others do so illegally. Stolen images not registered by their rightful copyright owner will have to be challenged; another headache for the photographer. There is likely to be more than one blockchain for managing image registration and so far I've only seen commercially-created systems. That is, they aren't managed by any government-backed organisation unlike copyright registration or law. What happens when there are multiple blockchain systems operating? Will they have to cooperate or will they try to maintain their independence in the hope that they win out over their rivals and become the default blockchain system?
Any new technology will always have teething problems, especialy one that wants to fix an Internet-wide problem that is many years old but perhaps it will be worth the pain of dealing with these initial issues to lead us out to a new era of protected rights. Photographers have waited a long time for a way to prove without doubt their image ownership and this seems to be the best solution to a worldwide problem. It will of course have some teething problems but Iím watching the progress of this new technology with great interest.
All images © Peter Hatter
Article Date - February 2018
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