Protecting digital content with the blockchain



[co-author: Valeria Schiavo]

Blockchain and other distributed ledger technologies (DLTs) are among the most discussed topics today. The European Commission recognizes blockchain-based technologies as having significant potential for society also for the purposes of achieving the Digital Single Market (DSM) (see the Policy on Blockchain Technologies here). On April 3, 2019 the European Commission launched the International Association of Trusted Blockchain Applications (INATBA) (see the official page here) with the aim of promoting a global model of governance for blockchain and other DLTs. Moreover, the potential of blockchain to create the future EU anti-counterfeiting infrastructure already represents a relevant part of the EU strategy to promote the creation of a blockchain ecosystem within the European Union.1

Such new technologies have also been highly debated in Italy and Italian Law no. 12/2019 has recently provided a formal and legal definition of DLTs and smart contracts.2

In this post, we address some of the most relevant blockchain applications in relation to IP law and digital content protection.

Proof of creatorship

Blockchain may help creators to prove the ownership of their content in a certain and immutable way. This is particularly relevant with respect to copyright, especially in those jurisdictions, including Italy, in which copyright protection is not subject to the legal registration of the work in public registries. The same applies to all other unregistered rights, such as unregistered design rights.

In such context, blockchain may be extremely helpful in solving disputes relating to priority of IP rights.

Moreover, the capacity of blockchain to attribute content to its creator may help users of copyrighted works available online to identify the author(s) and seek permission to use the relevant content.

IP rights and online contents management

As discussed in other TMT Bites posts, the new Copyright Directive (the full text of the new Copyright Directive is available here) increases the protection of content creators’ rights (see our posts on the new Copyright Directive). However, protecting and enforcing copyrights and other unregistered rights is still difficult, especially when creative works are shared online. Indeed, sharing creative works online may mean often losing control over them.

In this perspective, blockchain may play an important role to ensure the protection of copyright. In particular:

  • blockchain may allow authors to avoid intermediaries, offering their works directly to consumers or users. Such use of blockchain and other DLTs is already common in relation to works of music and images;
  • blockchain-based smart contracts may also allow creators and artists to manage and enforce their IP rights, providing for the automated execution of licensing agreements and royalty payments. Blockchain may in fact enable the planning of royalty payments to pay all of the stakeholders involved in the creative process fairly. As an example, by attaching a smart contract to every song or video uploaded by an artist, revenues can be divided automatically among all the stakeholders involved in accordance with the terms of the contract;
  • payments made via blockchained cryptocurrencies may also be considered for the fair and timely compensation to authors on the Internet.

In light of the above, the use of DLTs and of the blockchain may bring significant advantages, although most concrete applications are still being developed and many of their implications (see our post on data protection main concerns arising from blockchain applications) are yet to be fully explored from a legal perspective.

  1. In this perspective, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) in co-operation with the European Commission organized an “EU Blockathon,” a challenge focused on the protection of IP rights through solutions based on blockchain technologies. The project is now carried forward within the Anti-Counterfeiting Blockathon Forum (see the official webpage here).
  2. For the definitions of DLTs and smart contracts provided by Italian Law no. 12/2019, please visit the Italian Official Journal here – Italian only.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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