2021-11-14

Blockchain is not the answer

Often people come up with some idea and think "blockchain" is the way to do it.

In pretty much all cases the answer is "NO!", or more often "Hell, NO", seriously. In a lot of cases the thing people are doing is something which can be, or already is, done by a central authority registry. Don't get me wrong, even a central registry may "sign" things digitally, and have signatures or signatures in a block chain style, but that is not what people mean when they talk of putting things on "blockchain".

Blockchain, as most people mean it, has some serious disadvantages too - and I mean using blockchain like the way crypto currencies are used - it means explicitly removing any central "authority". It means if you lose keys to your wallet you have lost what you "own" and no way to recover that ever. E.g. people have somehow suggested this should work for domain ownership, which is batshit insane IMHO - far better as a central authority (per top level domain), and allows the authority to resolve disputes even, and recover "lost" creds, and so on.

But hear my out - I have an idea - a sort of "ownership" which could maybe benefit from not having a central authority.

Buying a movie!

One of the things one can "buy" which is a tad on the intangible side is "a single copy of some copyright work". E.g. if I buy a movie. Once upon a time that meant I buy a physical media copy of it. You can still do this even. And you can give or sell that copy to someone else even. That instance of a copy of the movie is something that can be moved between owners as the physical object that it is.

The whole of copyright law is around the notion of "copying" a thing, so the physical copy is the key aspect here. That is all rather outdated now as copying is so basic and simple and free for data. The right more rightly exists for something like a movie in a right for me to watch that movie, not any sort of "copy" process.

However, we now live in a world where I "buy" a movie on something like Apple TV. Now this is a lot less tangible, and is more of a "licence" to "play out that movie" from "Apple TV" data storage via any of my many Apple devices.

That does not feel as useful as holding a DVD in my hand which I own. If Apple TV stopped, I could lose tens of thousands of pounds worth of video library that, in theory, I "own".

Obviously there could be some digitally signed licence of ownership of a copy, signed by the copyright holder's published public key, and identifying me. But identifying me is tricky in itself - email address? name? what? What if that ID changes?

I'm thinking this is where blockchain comes in. If a licence to own and instance of a copyright work can be created on the blockchain as owned by my digital wallet, and signed by copyright holder, then I can present that as proof to AppleTV or someone else, that has streaming services. That would provide proof that they are allowed to stream that copyright media to me. I'd have to use my wallet to sign in somehow to prove it is me, which adds to the complexity, but it identifies "me" in this context.

But it would also allow me to sell my copy to someone else if I wanted to.

It would allow for a provider that sold me the copies in the first place to go bust and I would still hold my digital wallet proving these copies are mine and I could take that to some other streamer service, even if for a nominal fee to load them on to their system.

Any such system would have to be wrapped in consumer friendly UI. It could even be a bit "behind the scenes", in that Apple could effectively manage my wallet of things purchased via them - as long as I can always obtain, and take over that wallet and legally I own it - maybe it could "live" in my apple devices that I own as a fallback, locked with my AppleID passphrase. But it could work

It would almost certainly be impossible as it would require co-operation of copyright holders, and streaming services, and the like, and possibly even legal backing. It may mean streaming services separately "sell" copyright works, and provide streaming of them for some ongoing subscription so if you come to them with your "owned" works they are not losing out.

But I think as a commercial and legal model it could, in theory, work.

I also think there is no chance of it happening :-)

1 comment:

  1. You're thinking of "Non Fungible Tokens".

    ...no, seriously.
    One of the only uses of NFTs that I can see is where you notionally "own" a thing and an entity that runs a "virtual world" enforces rights bestowed by NFTs within that world.

    In this case the "virtual world" is the set of movie streaming services. Should they collectively decide to recognise this form of ownership then it is a perfectly reasonable (from a technical POV) way to do things.

    OTOH, movie rights are controlled by a very small number of companies. Why wouldn't they want to disintermediate the distribution industry and sell these ownership certificates directly?

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