[This post has been authored by Ujjawal Bhargava, a fourth-year student at the Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad.]
Copyright is a right provided to the creators of literary, artistic, dramatic and musical works as well as to the producers of sound recordings and cinematographic films. The rights of the creators include inter alia, right of reproduction, adaptation, and translation of work and communication to the public. However, despite the bundle of rights to provided to the authors, they are infrequently utilized even their copyright is infringed. The reasons for the this include lack of transparency about the legal status of copyrighted work, lack of knowledge about the right owner and piracy, etc. The status quo can be appropriately described “like having the keys and title to your car, but not knowing where it’s parked: in theory you own it, however in practice you cannot use it in the intended way.”
Additionally, with the advent of the Internet, infringement of copyrighted works has increased enormously due to the lack of effective control usage by rights owners. Furthermore, any number of people can access the digital works of the authors simultaneously from anywhere in the world as there is no technological limit present. Modern internet technologies make it easier and less expensive to distribute unauthorized copies by individuals or pirates. as information can be sent instantaneously and cheaply worldwide.
Pertinently, sharing work on the Internet means losing power over it. Even if there is copyright over the shared work by an individual, it is almost impossible to know whether there has been an infringement. Moreover, if the individual gets to know about the infringement, it is very burdensome to take effective legal action against the infringer as the internet brings anonymity. To combat the issues that the Copyright Law faces, Blockchain Technology could provide a great solution by providing a blockchain-based copyright management system.
How Blockchain can revamp the status quo
Distributed Ledger Technology commonly known as ‘Blockchain’ is widely considered as the most disruptive technology since the advent of the Internet. It is a decentralized, peer-to-peer network, encrypted and immutable digital federated ledger system. It is a tamperproof system as data in the system cannot be altered without getting noticed. It works upon trust and without any central authority, thus maintaining a coherent state. Blockchain was initially introduced as a part of Bitcoin currency but it has proven to be a game-changer in many industries. Thus, this technology can be used to tackle the problems faced by the Copyright Law.
It is submitted that using a blockchain-based copyright management system will help to tackle the issues and challenges faced in the Copyright Law. A few ways in which blockchain technology will help in revamping the status quo include:
- Providing Transparent Information: Blockchain may substantially increase the visibility and availability of information about the ownership of copyrights. This information can be provided with the help of “Trusted Timestamping.” This allows participants of the Blockchain to know, with a high degree of certainty, as to whether the document in question existed at a particular date and time, sometimes even accurate to a fraction of seconds. Therefore, timestamping will help in establishing evidence of creation for the first creator. This will further assist in resolving priority disputes in the Copyright Law as well as help in ascertaining the authorship in the copyrighted work. This potential of the blockchain technology has been appropriately recognized by experts as “people can prove the authorship of art or software with the help of web-based service like blockchain to hash things.”
- Control over digital copies: With the advent of the Internet, there are a large number of digital copies available of the copyrighted work which cannot be distinguished from one another. These digital copies can be individualized with the help of blockchain. This is achieved with the help of hashing. The basis of immutability and security in Blockchain is formed by the Hash function. The Hash function provides the author with a unique digest of their copyrighted work by converting original data into a fingerprint of that data called the ‘Hash’.
- Easy of Payments: Blockchain was initially introduced as a Bitcoin currency. It uses the phenomenon of cryptocurrency which facilitates payments without any complicated formalities attached to it which are present in the traditional banking system like opening bank accounts etc. Moreover, it is available to almost everyone in the world who has access to the Internet. Pertinently, owing to the global reach of blockchain and having an ideal method of payment with the help of cryptocurrency it can be said that payments via blockchain can be a solution to the authors who are deprived of fair compensation because of interference of intermediaries.
Challenges to the adoption of Blockchain
The task of managing copyrights with the assistance of blockchain technology presents some significant challenges. A number of these challenges may pertain to the intricacies of using blockchain and how to store data and information regarding the authors and the right owners on the blockchain. These challenges will have to be dealt with by experts in the field. However, certain challenges that have to be dealt with in the first instance include:
- Network effect Issues: To yield the full potential of a blockchain-based copyright management system it is necessary that it covers a sufficient number of copyrighted works that are popular and are used by a large number of authors and right owners. This system will be highly dependent on network effects, where the value of the system is derived by the number of other users. Accordingly, with the increase in the number of users, the value of the system will also increase. Thus, for this system to work, it must cover a large number of the targeted audience that is the right owners and authors of the copyrighted works.
- Compliance with the legal framework: Blockchain-based systems use complex technologies that may not be understood by the people regulating or managing the system and these may be hardly compatible with the legal framework that is followed in the country. Moreover, cryptocurrencies that are used for payment in Blockchain may be a huge hurdle in implementing these systems in the existing legal framework. This is because the regulators of cryptocurrencies give a lot of contradictory and cautionary statements regarding blockchain, which can make compliance with a system extremely difficult.
It is evident that with the use of blockchain technology, significant reform can be achieved in the field of copyright law. Specifically, an unprecedented level of accessibility about the information of the right owners and authors can be achieved, thereby creating a strong presumption of authorship and ownership of the copyrighted work. While introducing blockchain may be disruptive, the challenges posed are only of a temporary nature. However, given the concomitant benefits, these challenges can be weathered and resolved. Once stakeholders realize the benefits of the system, its adoption can be encouraged, thereby ushering in much-needed reform in the area of copyright and intellectual property law.