Is blockchain the future of copyright protection?

Fibo Quantum

The digital age and the mass sharing of information has made protecting copyright more difficult than ever, but emerging technologies such as blockchain may provide some answers.

This is what emerged from a webinar jointly hosted by WIPR and Brandstock yesterday, September 10.

As Alessia Parassina, a lawyer at Brandstock, explained, the internet and the increasing digitalisation of content has provided many new challenges for copyright owners and practitioners alike.

WIPR covered one such example yesterday, as an EU advocate general (AG) advised the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) that the principle of copyright exhaustion should not apply to downloaded materials, such as e-books.

As the AG noted in his opinion, the internet and digital age is already leaving many of its own models of distributing content, such as file-sharing, behind.

“New modes of access like ‘streaming’ or subscription access have emerged and are widely approved, not only by copyright holders and distributors but also by users,” he wrote.

Yet these new modes of distribution also present significant challenges for copyright owners, as Parassina explained.

After all, while we previously only dealt with tangible, physical copies of works, the situation is now slightly more complex.

“One digital ‘unit’ can contain possibly millions of copyrighted works,” Parassina said.

There are also legal questions still to be definitively answered. For example, does sharing access to a digitised and copyright-work constitutes infringement? And are RAM and digital copies of works the same as the “original” work, or do they need to be categorised slightly differently?

Modern technology, as well as throwing up problems, could also be providing some solutions.

One of these, in the view of Jeferson Staelens of Orbit Seed, is blockchain. While most strongly associated with financial technology, such as protecting the integrity of cryptocurrencies, blockchain is emerging as a powerful tool in tackling online copyright infringement.

“Blockchain is doing for transactions what the internet did for communication,” Staelens said.

Practical applications

Among the most valuable functions of a blockchain ledger with respect to copyright is that it is an immutable record of transactions which is extremely difficult to alter.

As Staelens explained, blockchain can be used to timestamp copyright-protected works, and through its use of unique IDs can be used to prove ownership in litigation.

These are not just abstract hypotheticals—there is a growing tendency in multiple jurisdictions to recognise the technology in law, Staelens explained.

Italy recently proposed a legal framework for any application of blockchain, he said, while last year, the Hangzhou Internet Court in China began accepting blockchain-based evidence from online writers in copyright infringement trials.

That latter example is perhaps the most practical example of blockchain being used in litigation to protect against copyright infringement.

Speaking at the time, James Godefroy, a China-based consultant at Rouse, said that the decision would provide online writers with a “low-cost, affordable and accessible means of protecting their copyright”.

The move followed a decision by the Chinese Supreme Court in September 2018 which said that blockchain could be used to legally authenticate evidence.

Yesterday’s webinar was the latest in the WIPR Insights series. You can listen to the full webinar here.

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Blockchain, copyright infringement, Brandstock, Alessia Parassina, Orbit Seed, Jeferson Staelens, e-books, advocate general