The dynamics of copyright protection with the emergence of blockchain technology

Introduction

The world is going through an era of technological revolution with the Internet playing a pivotal role along with other technological pawns in the game. But just like the Chinese belief of yin and yan, no good happens without some ills associated with it. Analogously, with the advancement of the Internet, felonies relating to intellectual property rights (IPR) protection have also come to the fore with steady consistency. The intellectual property rights exist in the field of patent, copyright, trademark and industrial design. Copyright, being an artist-centered right, is granted specifically in the fields of literature, drama, musical work, artistic work, cinema, and sound recording. The metamorphosis of violations in this field of IPR with the advent of technology is one of the largest concerns in the entertainment industry. Digitalization and growing access to Internet enables copyrighted work to be easily copied, replicated and eventually sold without the permission of the copyright holder causing them heavy losses. The Most significant of the legal challenges hitherto have been anonymity of infringer and unavailability of evidence related to the infringement. This perennial problem might just have found its solution with the emergence of relatively new and seemingly infallible Blockchain Technology. To put it succinctly, the Blockchain is a de-centrally distributed ledger that saves within itself, the details of each transaction, data process and addresses travelled by the file. While discussing the protection of copyright holder in context of this colossal technological invention, this article is segmented into four parts. The first and the second part define the copyright and Blockchain respectively while the third part defines the issues regarding copyright infringement in digital era and the fourth part provides possible solutions that the Blockchain technology may bring along.

COPYRIGHT

Black's Law Dictionary defines the copyright as an intangible, incorporeal right granted to the author or originator of certain literary or artistic production whereby he is invested for a specified period with the sole and exclusive privilege of multiplying copies of the same, publishing and selling them.

Furthermore, Copyright could be defined as the legal right of the owner of intellectual property. It is the right given by the law specifically to the creators of literature, drama, music, artistic works, producers of cinematographic films and sound recording which they acquire for the work of their intellectual labour. It is the fruit of a person's work, labour, and skill.

Following are the rights of a copyright owner:

Right of Reproduction

The most prominent right of all, this authorizes the person having such copyright to make copies of the protected work in any form. In the modern context copying a song on a Compact Disc or any sound and visual recording can be considered as a reproduction of the content prior to which, a permission from the author is required unless proven that such copying is not intended to make any commercial benefits out of it.

Right to Distribute

Right to distribute is an off-shoot of the right of reproduction. The person who owns the copyright may distribute their work in any manner they deem fit, also allowing them to transfer all or some rights in favor of any other person while retaining others. For example, they can entitle any person to translate their work.

Right to make Derivative Works

The copyright holder has the right to use their work in various ways, for instance making adaptations or translation, i.e. a movie based on a novel. This implies that to make any derivative work the consent of the owner is mandatorily required. In these situations, certain other rights of the owner also come into play, like the right to integrity which protects the owner against deformation, defacement or modification of his work in a way that it is harmful for his reputation.

Right to Perform Publicly

The owner of the copyright has the right to publicly perform their works, i.e. producing dramas based on their work or performing at concerts, etc. This also gives the owner, the right to broadcast their work on the internet.

Right to Follow

This right is granted generally only to the authors and artists. This empowers the authors to obtain a percentage of the subsequent sales of their work and is called Droit de Suite or Right to Follow. The right is also available to the artists on resale of their work.

Right of Paternity

The Right of Paternity or Attribution gives the copyright owner a right to claim authorship of the work allowing them to claim due credit for any of their work. Thus, if a movie is produced based on a book by an author, and they haven't been given due credit in it, they can sue the makers to acknowledge his work.

Sui Generis Rights

The ordinary copyright law often fails to protect the computer software and databases since the essential element of creativity is not present in such databases. It was to deal with this problem, that the law of sui generis was conceived securing copyright of the complete database. However, this requires certain modifications to copyright protection, such as the negation of right to make copies. Such database rights although, exist for a fifteen year period.

Private Copying

This is an exception to the reproduction rights reserved by the owner. According to this right, any person can make copies of the copyright protected work if it is proven that such copying is for educational purpose and that there is no commercial motive behind such copies being made.

BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY

A Blockchain is a highly secure decentralized public ledger that is used to record all the peer-to-peer transaction which take place from different nodes such that the record cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks and the consensus of the network.

Melanie Swan, founder of the Institute for Blockchain Studies explains the technology lucidly saying, “Think of it as a giant Google-Doc Interactive spreadsheet that anyone can view on demand and administrators can continually verify and update to confirm each transaction is valid”

It could thus, be understood as a technology that enables the movement of digital assets from one individual to another individual with the record of its movement stored within the file acting as an open ledger or chain of transaction which is open to all the blocks. It is due to this decentralized and infallible nature of its functioning, that it seems to be an excellent technology to solve the data copyright problem that ails the entertainment industry.

A thorough study of the application of this technology in protecting copyright laws is presented in the final segment of this article.

COPYRIGHT ISSUES IN DIGITAL ERA

The technologies that have been causing issues regarding copyright protection are those related to digital storage and transmission of works. There are a number of aspects to these technologies that have implications for copyright law, including the ease of reproduction and the ease of dissemination. Digital technology allows the data to be copied without defect, manipulated, sliced and re-edited with great freedom and therefore, is a Holy Grail for pirates. All these technical possibilities pose problems for copyright law in developing suitable techniques for catching up with the infringements.

Following are some of the most prominent copyright issues:

Multimedia Work

Digital technologies have created works with much more versatility than in the past. A work that consisted literature, art, music and dramatic elements may now also include a phonogram and a cinematographic film. The user can ‘interact' with the work in a way that the past generation could not, for example, one cannot just make alterations now but even create a new work out an existing one. Multimedia works by their basic premises are works combining different elements, such as text, sound, still visuals and moving images with different classes of works the resultant work defined under existing classification.

Had the rights for all classes of works been the same, then perhaps this would not have been a major issue. But the law as it stands in India distinguishes between different classes of works in the matter of rights. The authorship raises yet another problem, as the criterion of authorship is different between literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works. There is a view that multimedia works being a digital product be classified as computer programs. Since there are separate provisions for rights and authorship of a computer program as distinct from literary works in the Copyright Act, this could be a possible solution.

Issues regarding reproduction

Right of reproduction is one of the basic rights given to the copyright owner which has posed the maximum difficulties in the digital environment also. The Berne Convention had specifically included a right of reproduction in 1967. Copyright owner can reproduce his work and can distribute it. This right of the copyright owner is greatly affected by the digital revolution. With the advancement of technology anyone can use the work to reproducing, editing, recording and distributing to others which generally violates the right of copyright holder of such work. There are a number of groups functioning on the internet who have a well established network to steal images, videos, music and text.

Management of copyright in the Digital Environment

Another field where digital technologies have brought in revolutionary change is that of management and administration of copyright. The new technologies have made the administration and protection of copyright quite difficult, making reproduction, distribution and communication of works easier and within the competence of ordinary individual. Now copies can be made at an amazing speed with absolute fidelity to the original and transmitted over past distances and dispersed to millions of people in a few minutes or even seconds. This has opened up the possibilities of wide spread unauthorized copying and distribution of copyrighted works materially affecting the economic interest of the owners.

But as renowned author Charles Clark once put it, “the answer to a machine is another machine”, implying that the problems created by technologies are required to be tackled by technologies. Provisions are required to be made either in the Copyright Act or some other Act making it an offence to remove or alter any rights management information used in a copyrighted work.

WHERE DOES BLOCKCHAIN FIT IN?

The question that one would ask is where does the Blockchain tech, a kind of magnum opus for the IT sector, fit into this problem?

Conveniently enough, Blockchain technology seems like a bulletproof solution for the protection of the creative work of professionals, utilizing decentralized, cryptographically secure database technology, to document the recordation, distribution and trade of digital work. This will help tremendously, as one of the fundamental problems faced in the copyright attribution is with the crediting of the copyright holder's or author's identity, to provide authenticity and ownership of an original work of art. For example, a digital work of art primarily exists in the form of intangible artifact and the digital work of art may not fit the form of the high-stake international art market, which continues to rely on unique, original, tangible objects. Since a digital work of art does not yield artifacts that can be easily owned and traded in a conventional sense, their value may not be appropriately estimated. Copyright and other intellectual property tools were frequently employed to countervail this problem but with little success. The post Blockchain era would result in securitization, and proper accreditation of this digital art on a virtually impenetrable platform, consequently resulting in appreciation of the value of art.

Decentralized database technology

Its decentralized database technology for registering, data storing and protection against copyright infringement is ideal for tagging and storing original work of art, digital intellectual property, documents, manuscripts, photographs, images etc. This content is kept away from central data, so that even if a copyright service ceases to exist, there will still be a verifiable copy of the original digital work of art stored on the Blockchain which would remain unaltered. Conversely, a centralized database is only as trustworthy as the entity that controls the database undergo unethical behavior, then trust issues emerge by the collapse of the database and the records may not be of any value and may not be valid.

Evidence of creatorship

Blockchain technology also plays an important role as a proof of evidence of creatorship, since it can provide evidence of their conception, use, qualification requirements and status. Uploading an original work and details of its creator to a Blockchain will create a time-stamped record and hence provide a vital evidence of the original ownership.

Distributed ledger technology based repositories for unregistered IP rights are already being developed by several Blockchain start-ups and could be an interesting and manageable solution for copyright protection as well as digital rights management.

Supply chain management

The ability to track work on an immutable Blockchain could help the creators to check their contractual arrangements regarding distribution and spot leaks in their distribution activity. In Blockchain all the data regarding the supply of work will be available, making it easy for the creators to track all the transactions details in case of any infringement in the copyrighted work.

Anti-counterfeiting and enforcement of copyright

A ledger showing who owns what, who is an authorized licensee, and so on would enable everyone in the supply chain to validate a genuine work and distinguish it from a fake. Blockchain ledger holds copyright information in an authentic manner, since it can record objectively verifiable detail about the work. This type of Blockchain solutions are fast becoming mainstream and are enabling users to verify the authenticity of a work and provide confidence and reassurance for businesses, authorities, consumers and insurers.

By: Navin Kumar Jaggi and Vipul Sharma

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Navin Kumar Jaggi 
on 06 September 2018
Published in Intellectual Property Rights
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