If you write, design or create any media that is protected by Intellectual Property (IP) law, you’re probably aware of how easy it is for your content to be stolen online. And if chasing down thieves isn’t hard enough, enforcing your legal rights as the owner of the content depends on demonstrating that you are the owner.

While copyright law protects your work, until now there hasn’t been a definitive registration system to prove ownership. But luckily, this is changing with blockchain.

Blockchain is the system that makes Bitcoin work. But more importantly, it is giving creative people effective ways to protect their IP rights like never before.

Intellectual property in the age of online

Isometric office characters
Intellectual work is just as hard as physical work. By Daria V.

When you create just about anything—be it a song that is recorded, a piece of writing, a photograph—you own it. At least, that is what the letter of the law says. But when it is your word against someone else’s (say a thief’s), the lack of any official document or timestamp proving which version of the work came first makes copyright little more than a vanity.

If you were an inventor, you could go to the patent office for protection, but as a creative, there is no designated way for you to legitimize your ownership of your work prior to its publication.

And with the advent of the internet, the challenges associated with copyright protection have become larger. Now there is a gigantic repository of data online, and sifting through it by yourself just isn’t possible.

These days, just about anyone can download your work for personal use without your knowledge or consent. That beautiful illustration you spent weeks crafting? It’s probably ended up as some anonymous kid’s desktop wallpaper.

There might not be much you can do in that case, but when someone is using your IP for commercial purposes, you are in a much better position to track down the theft and get compensated. Now, a business probably isn’t just going to write you a check because they are using your work illegally, even though they are required to do so. This is because they know the burden is on you to prove ownership and enforce your rights. So getting paid for the use of your IP might require hiring a lawyer, and proving that you are owed money could turn into a lengthy, expensive process that—without any record of your copyright—you might ultimately lose.

With the advent of blockchain, the process of defending intellectual property has become much more streamlined by leaving no question as to where copyright belongs. So how does this work?

Blockchain and decentralized ledgers

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin aren’t revolutionary because they are a form of digital currency. Electronic payment systems have been the norm since at least the 1990’s. Bitcoin is a novel technology because instead of banks or governments keeping track of ownership, Blockchain technology establishes ownership via a ledger that is open to anyone who uses the system.

Wall Canvas Artwork
Bitcoin is most known application that runs on blockchain. By Monkeii

This is called a Decentralized Ledger, and Blockchain could be referred to as ‘Decentralized Ledger Technology’ (DLT). Fancy words, I know. But the end result is a system that is very hard to corrupt, and makes it easy to record the ownership of just about anything. Like your IP, whatever it might be.

filing cabinet full of ledgers
Photo by Samuel Zeller via Unsplash.

DLT, or blockchain, functions by creating ‘blocks’, which hold unique data. In this way, it is a lot like a traditional record keeping system. But unlike the ledger systems of days gone by, blockchain’s ‘blocks’ are kept on different server systems all over the world.

One of the big advantages that blockchain offers for any field is the high level of automation it delivers, and the immutability of the ‘blocks’ once they are created. This means low costs, and a high level of reliability as far as proof of ownership goes.

No system is perfect, but blockchain based IP rights enforcement is a huge step up from anything else that creators have had access to before. While big companies have teams of lawyers ready to defend their IP, small artists haven’t had many options when it comes to creating an indelible record of their authorship. Until now.

Using blockchain for copyright protection

Book cover for The Freelancers Roadmap
Book cover design entry by Xagar85 for The Freelancers Roadmap.

If you are wondering how Blockchain might be able to help you, there is a lot of good news coming your way.

Not only does blockchain lend itself to enforcing legal rights, there are a number of companies that are working on ways to create payment systems that are almost totally automated.

In the past, bureaucracy has been a necessary evil. It all has to do with the price of legal representation, and proving who owns the IP rights for a creative work. All of this meant a lot of people involved in the process, most of them working in some facet of the legal system. Enforcing the letter of the law was a mostly human affair, but today, Blockchain based systems with smart contracts are on the cusp of changing it all. While the people who were managing the legal system are getting put out of a job, the actual creators of the content are in a position to win big.

Accounting mascot
by Fi2 Design

With the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI), scouring the web for IP that is covered by existing copyright law has never been easier. Bots can look for any instances of your IP on the web, and if they find unauthorized use, you can start talking to whoever should be paying you for your hard work.

In order to benefit from this breakthrough, it is important to register your work with a Blockchain based IP protection system.

If you are interested, feel free to look into any one of the companies listed here:

  • Bernstein Technologies
    • This Munich based company offers creatives and businesses a range of tools for creating and enforcing IP law. Larger players’ trade secrets are protected by advanced cryptography, and would be suitable for IT and coding development as well.
  • Bitcoin.com
    • Not really a full service solution, but a low cost and simple way to have your IP etched into the bitcoin blockchain.
  • Binded
    • This service is geared towards smaller creatives and will help you find out who is using your IP online. They also offer a Blockchain based copyright certificate as proof of ownership.
  • Copyrobo
    • Designed to use state of the art Blockchain and Quality Authority time-stamping to ensure IP ownership, Copyrobo is fast and inexpensive to use. They offer great service, combined with a very high level of security for your registration.

Much like the cryptocurrencies, participation makes the system valuable, so if content creators embrace a new way of recording their ownership, almost anything is possible!

A word about smart contracts

One of the advantages that Blockchain based IP registration offers creators is the ability to manage sales automatically via smart contracts.

illustration of freelancer working
Illustration by M.m.

Smart contracts allow you to propose terms of use for your IP, and then, interact directly with people who want to license or buy your creations. Imogen Heap recently released her song, ‘Tiny Human’ via a Blockchain based service called Ujo. This allowed her to interface directly with her fans, and offer them her work at the best possible rates.

Up to this point there have been many people in between an artist and the people who buy their work, but by using smart contracts and micropayments, the people who actually make music, writing and art get more for their efforts all while protecting their IP.

Blockchain IP protection is the future

The industrial revolution was possible because people who created good designs were allowed to profit from them. The same thing is more or less the case in the creative world as well, but when it came to the smaller players, they were put at a significant disadvantage.

Today creative people from across the world have a new tool to ensure they are paid fairly for their work, but you have to start to use the system if you want to benefit from it. Depending on what kind of work you create, there will be different options open to you.

At first it seemed like the internet made it harder to enforce IP rights, but today, it looks like it could be the best thing that ever happened for content creators.

Would you consider protecting your intellectual property using blockchain technology? Tell us in the comments below!

About the author: Admir Tulic is a blogger at CaptainAltcoin.com. In the online world, you’ll mostly find him nerd-discussing cryptocurrencies and bitcoin scaling solutions. In the offline world, he spends most of his time telling his friends he is starting going to the gym next week.