How The Creative Industries Are Using Blockchain

This was Blockchain Week in New York, formally known as Consensus 2018, an orgy of  blockchain-focused conferences, hackathons, meetups, hookups, seances and parties organized by CoinDesk that actually ran to 10 days. Yours truly was asked to moderate a panel at one such conference, the Blockchain Brand Innovation Summit put on by the CDX Academy and Columbia University Business School, and to offer a few words on how folks in the creative industries are using, or thinking of using blockchain.

I am no kind of expert on blockchain or the various technologies or mathematical concepts associated with it (crypto, consensus mechanisms, smart contracts, etc.). But in my capacity as co-founder of the RightsTech Project I’ve observed how many different sectors of the creative industries are looking to blockchain as a solution — or part of a solution — to a common set of challenges. So, in preparing for the panel, I pulled together a few “thoughts” on the question and came up with five broad use cases, or categories of use cases, for which people in the creative industries seem to be looking to blockchain.

I didn’t attempt to reach any sort of grand synthesis or conclusion regarding those categories. But a few people have since approached me anyway asking if I would share more details on my (very rough) taxonomy, so, for what it’s worth, I thought I’d try to elaborate a little on my comments here.

So: Five categories of use-cases for blockchain in the creative industries:

Direct-to-fan/audience engagement
Many artists, particularly but not exclusively music artists, view blockchain as a vehicle for engaging directly with their audience, without the intercession — or permission — of the usual institutional gatekeepers. That can take the form of issuing blockchain-based cryptographic tokens to crowd-fund creative projects; direct-to-fan distribution of creative works via smart contract; issuing artist-branded tokens to monetize the “brand equity” of artists and their fan bases; or even giving fans direct input into creative decisions via token-based voting. Examples include:

  • Imogen Heap, who released her single “Tiny Human” on the Ethereum blockchain via Ujo Music last year as a proof-of-concept for direct-to-fan distribution.
  • DECENT, the well-funded Switzerland-based startup building what it calls a fully decentralized content distribution and financing platform.
  • Tatiana Moroz, a singer/songwriter who issued the first artist-branded crypto-coin in 2016 to help fund here 2017 album release “Keep the Faith.”
  • AltMarket, a Silicon Valley-based startup building a crypto trading platform to help artists issue their own branded token.

Some direct-to-fan projects may face more difficulty getting off the ground in the future as regulators take a harder look at the use of crypto-tokens to raise capital and questions begin to arise around the copyright implications of blockchain-based distribution.

Registration of authorship and ownership
An especially popular application within the image and fine arts industries, the sequential, time-stamped method for adding data to a blockchain makes it possible for an artist to create an immutable, cryptographically signed Ur-record of a works creation and authorship, as well as an unbroken, sequential record of all subsequent transactions involving that work. The method for encrypting data on a blockchain also makes it possible to bind metadata on authorship and ownership permanently and immutably to the work the digital file containing the work itself so that it cannot be stripped out later. Examples include:

  • Verisart, a blockchain-based application for generating a cryptographically secure certificate of authenticity for artworks and collectibles.
  • Binded, a blockchain-based automated rights registry for photographs and other types of images
  •, a registry and automated licensing platform for writers and publishers
  • Codex Protocol, a U.S. and U.K.-based startup building a blockchain-based platform and application development environment registering, auctioning, buying and selling artworks and collectibles
  • KodakOne, a new blockchain-based registration platform developed by Wenn Digital for photographs and other images.

Data management and reconciliation
At its core, blockchain, a blockchain is simply a ledger of transactions, albeit one that is network-based and shared by all participants in the network. The particular genius of blockchain technology is that it can incorporate mathematical mechanism for creating consensus and uniformity in the ledger throughout the network without the need of a trusted central authority to certify its accuracy and currency.

Those qualities have led many in copyright-based industries, particularly the music industry, to took to blockchain as a means data that is vital to the licensing and exploitation of works, but is often hoarded inside proprietary databases, accessible to all. Examples include:

  • JAAK, a startup working with several major music publishers to create a comprehensive, decentralized global database of music rights information built on blockchain.
  • The Open Music Initiative spearheaded by Berklee College of Music and involving more than 200 music industry partners, that is attempting to define an open ecosystem for the sharing and transfer of music metadata and rights information, which incorporates blockchain-based applications.
  • Dubset, a blockchain-based service for clearing and paying for rights to recordings and compositions included in music DJ sets and remixes.
  • Image Protect, an ambitious effort to create an open, decentralized global database of image rights.

Transparency in royalty collections and payments
Similar to efforts to create open, decentralized databases, some in the creative industries see in blockchain a means to bring greater transparency to tracking and payment of royalties and residuals. Any given view, listen, sale, or other paid use of a copyrighted work can trigger a long string of contractual payment obligations to the people involved in the creation of the work. That money typically passes through multiple hands, however, and it is often very difficult for artists to track what they’re owed, by whom, for what. Often enough, money owed never quite makes it all the way through to the artist.

In principle, blockchain-based smart contracts could automate the process of tallying and dispersing the money owed to those with claims on it while providing an open, auditable trail. Examples include:

  • SingularDTV, a blockchain-based crowd-funding platform for filmmakers that envisions using smart contracts to enable automatic and instantaneous payments to creative participants
  • MovieCoin, a blockchain-based film financing platform that touts its ability to provide financiers and investors with a transparent ledger of all expenditures, receipts, entitlements and ownership of all works financed through the platform.
  • Ujo Music, the Ethereum-based platform used by Imogen Heap to release “Tiny Human” to enable tracking and payment of royalties via smart contract.

Digital scarcity
This is a tricky one. There are many within the major media companies (Hollywood studios, major record labels, book publishers), who see in blockchain an opportunity to reintroduce conditional access (i.e. DRM) to industries that have been plagued by piracy. In theory, self-enforcing usage rules incorporated into the smart contracts used to represent copyrighted works on a blockchain could prevent or limit many unauthorized uses or redistribution of those works. Decentralized registration of usage rights could also, again in theory, benefit consumers by providing a simplified, non-intrusive alternative to an online, restricted-access rights locker. Whether that would be enough to induce consumers to embrace such a system is an open question.

Other types of digital scarcity are already being embraced, however. One of the hottest online games at the moment is CryptoKitties, which uses non-fungible crypto-tokens to represent unique, discrete virtual cats that can be bought, sold, collected and bred to create new cats using smart contracts. Blockchain also enables artists to issue “limited editions” of digital works, providing collectors with assurance that the value of their purchases would be diluted. Other examples include:

This list is not intended to be exhaustive. There are no doubt many other possible uses for blockchain within the creative industries.

Nor is it meant to be definitive. Many blockchain projects incorporate elements of some or all of the general features I’ve outlined. But I hope it captures, at least in broad strokes, some of the main ways people in the creative industries are thinking about the potential of blockchain.

Video: RightsTech Summit Keynote Conversation With Benji Rogers

RT Summit 3PledgeMusic CEO and founder of the DotBlockchainMusic project Benji Rogers was interviewed by Robert Levine, author of “Free Ride” and a former executive editor at Billboard, during a keynote conversation at the inaugural RightsTech Summit on July 26 in New York. Among the topics they discussed was the potential for blockchain technology to create an immutable but endlessly updatable ledger of “digital truth” regarding the ownership and priority of sound recordings and musical compositions.

Co-produced by Concurrent Media Strategies and Digital Media Wire, the RightsTech Summit brought together over 100 senior media and technology executives, thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, and artists from across multiple media and entertainment industries for a wide-ranging discussion of technology innovation around the registration, management and licensing of media rights on digital platforms. The next RightsTech event will be held in New York in September in conjunction with Digital Media Wire’s New York Media Festival.

Video of Benji Roger’s keynote is available here. We’ll have audio from several other sessions from last week’s Summit up shortly.

(Video courtesy of SlidesLive).

5 Questions With: Benji Rogers of PledgeMusic

Guest Post: This post originally appeared on Digital Media Wire

PledgeMusic is a direct-to-fan music platform that enhances the fan-artist dynamic from the creation of music to its experience in digital and live formats. The platform allows fans to play a part in the actual music making side of an artist’s work while the creators get a better, more intimate understanding of the people that support their careers. In short, PledgeMusic has created a digital environment that breaks from all traditional production-to-distribution channels in today’s hyperconnected world.

Benji-Rogers-Photo-Cropped-730x480A key feature of PledgeMusic allows artists to sell a project straight to their fans before it comes to fruition. In a campaign artists can take preorders for albums, for instance, or offer other products or experiences to their super fans as incentives for funding an idea. Another way PledgeMusic is revolutionizing the creation and distribution of music is through direct purchases and the implementation of blockchain.

Benji Rogers is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of PledgeMusic and the lead musician behind the band Marwood. A public speaker, investor, and musician from London and New York, Rogers was the recipient of the A&R Worldwide “Digital Executive of the Year” award, and in 2013 he was named to Billboard‘s 40 Under 40 Power Players list. Digital Media Wire had the chance to ask Benji some questions about PledgeMusic, the music industry, and the role of blockchain in this new model. Below is a recording of Benji’s responses along with a transcription. Read More »

Bridging The Streaming Music ‘Value Gap’

The global music business offered up two cheers this week for the first signs of life in the recorded music business in nearly a decade. According to International Federation of the Phonographic Industry’s (IFPI) latest global sales report, total recorded music revenue grew 3.2 percent in 2015, to $15.0 billion, the biggest jump since 1998 and the only growth since 2012, when sales ticked up 0.3 percent.

The overall growth IFPI_YouTubecomparisoncame entirely from digital sources, particularly streaming revenue, which jumped 45 percent over 2014, to $2.9 billion, or 19 percent of total revenues. Physical sales continued their decade-long slide, falling another 4.5 percent, buoyed somewhat by the continued renaissance of vinyl.

The strong streaming numbers were not evenly distributed, however. Subscription streaming revenue accounted for $2 billion of the $2.9 billion total, as the total number of paying subscribers reached 68 million, while industry revenue from ad-supported streaming amounted to a mere $634 million, despite more than 900 million listeners worldwide.

The report referred to the mismatch between consumption and revenue to artists and labels as a “market-distorting value gap,” that must be closed, echoing comments last month by RIAA CEO Cary Sherman. Read More »

The Accidental Blockchain Evangelist

PledgeMusic founder and CEO Benji Rogers did not set out to become the leader of a movement when he posted his now-famous essay last November describing how the blockchain — the technological underpinning of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin — could be used to untangle the notoriously Byzantine world of music licensing and payments. It was more a thought experiment than a business plan. But his ideas struck such a chord in the industry that Rogers has been thrust into the unwonted role of leading spokesman for the use of blockchain in the music business.

PledgeMusic CEO Benji Rogers

PledgeMusic CEO Benji Rogers

“I could never have imagined that the article I wrote would have the impact that it has,” Rogers would write a few months later in a follow up post. “In the short time since it came out, I have been overwhelmed by offers to speak publicly, offers of help and even offers to fund ‘what you are building.’ So I need to be clear here before we begin: this is not something that I am building.”

There are many in and around the music industry who would like to try, however.

By putting the blockchain at the center of his proposal Rogers helped spark growing interest in the industry in using the technology to bring transparency to the famously opaque world of music rights, where simply identifying who owns a musical work or recording, and who is entitled to be paid for which uses, can be near-impossible, keeping works out of the hands of would-be licensees. Blockchain was a major topic of discussion at this year’s SXSW conference, where it bore for full slate of panels. Read More »

Fighting Fraud And Piracy With Blockchain

Anyone who has ever posted a photograph or original piece of artwork on the internet knows that credit is fleeting. No sooner is it pinned, retweeted or shared then any metadata or watermark linking it to its source is stripped away or simply left behind as it spirals across social media platforms. By the time it reaches the end of the viral chain, even if someone wanted to offer proper attribution that information is all-but impossible to find.

A growing number of entrepreneurs are starting to tackle the issue of digital attribution and authentication, however, by leveraging the Bitcoin 2016-03-24 18-34-07blockchain. This month, New York-based Blockai and Los Angeles-based Verisart went live with new services that allow creators to register their works on the blockchain to create a permanent, indelible record certifying their patrimony and ownership.

The startups join a growing list of blockchain-based authentication services targeting the graphic arts, including Monegraph, ConSensys, ascribe, Stem, Mediachain and others. Just as the blockchain provides an open, self-verifying and decentralized ledger of Bitcoin transactions, it can also be used as a self-verifying database of other types of time-stamped events, such as the registration of a copyright. Those records, moreover, can contain a variety of kinds of data, including a hash of the work itself, the metadata to be associated with it, and information about permitted uses. Thus, any new instance of the work without that metadata would not match the original record and would be shown to be a copy. The permanent records also make it possible to recover the metadata even after it has been stripped away through subsequent uses of the work. Read More »

Turning Contracts Into Code: Why SoundExchange’s ISRC ‘Lookup’ Tool Matters

SoundExchange, the digital performance royalty collection agency, along with the international record industry association IFPI, this week unveiled its long-awaited portal that allows users to look up the IRSC number for nearly 20 million unique music recordings, along with associated metadata.

The lookup tool has been in the works for years and its launch represents an important milestone in the music industry’s often fitful effort to bring its scattered record-keeping up to date with the myriad ways music is used and consumed today. The database can be searched by track title, artist Music-Dials-Guitar-Case-Moneyname, release (i.e. album) title, version, recording date and file type. Metadata can be downloaded and incorporated with playback applications by digital music services.

The International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) system was established as an ISO standard for assigning unique identifiers to individual sound recordings in 1989 and is overseen by IFPI, the international federation of national recording industry trade associations. Compliance with the system was for many years spotty, as record companies continued to rely on their own in-house systems for identifying and cataloging recordings. Since 2006, however, the use of ISRCs has grown more consistent and widespread, thanks in large measure to Apple’s insistence that labels provide ISRC numbers for every track sold through the iTunes Music Store. More recently, streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora have embraced ISRC to track song-plays for royalty purposes. Read More »