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September 19, 2016

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Verimatrix Labs: How the Blockchain Could Control Your Content Library

The Bitcoin price is strong again, and if that’s not convincing enough as a measure of success, Bitcoin now even has a dedicated film festival and a podcast network. It has been proclaimed dead many times - “108 times” according to this website  that has been tracking its lifecycle.

But no matter the fate of the currency, the underlying mechanism of the Blockchain has already proven its success by controlling the equivalent of $9 billion USD in value and 250,000 daily transactions. Its success is based on an immutable, decentralized register of every transaction ever made. This revolutionary design of the database or ledger requires verification by everyone who is using the system and motivates competing miners to solve random puzzles in order to earn Bitcoins, using energy that could power a city in the process. Although the system is extremely inefficient, it’s not the first system to be inefficient yet, very powerful – just look at capitalism or reproduction.

Now that we have this powerful Blockchain mechanism that enables decentralization and immutable logging, other applications will follow suit and will revolutionize many other industries. More than a billion dollars has been invested in venture capital thus far in 2016 to support start-ups around this technology, and it seems to be only a matter of time before it impacts content distribution.

Currently, there are proprietary centralized systems that track content rights and aim to ensure that the content can be accessed permanently. Examples are iTunes, DECE’s UltraViolet and Disney’s KeyChest. However, “permanently” here only means the length of time dictated by the standard or by the company that controls the rights. After then, consumers will need to re-purchase content for each new platform ecosystem and centralized entity. For example, think of how we have had to transition from VHS tapes, to DVDs and now BlueRay discs.

Today, there is a motivation from content owners to build larger groups of movies that can be conveniently played back on a single application, and the Blockchain has the potential to permanently, irrevocably and publicly register content rights, guaranteeing content access by making the decryption key forever available to the licensee, regardless of the format or platform. This requires the playback software to be part of the equation in order to enforce the level of content protection that is required by content owners. It can be cryptographically established when content owners enable keys of players to decrypt the content so that only authorized players can access the content keys. Additionally, it requires trust in the security of the players, just like in today’s systems, and player platforms will have an interest to secure content in order to secure their reputation with content owners. Revocation for published content is not possible, but requirements can be updated for every new title or version. This is the same standard as other current fixed distribution systems in which hardware and updatable requirements allow for flexible protection of new content.

Since Blockchain is not controlling a currency, there is no financial reward for the content creators. That might make it seem like there wouldn’t be much motivation for the verification (the mining equivalent of Bitcoin) it provides, but we propose that the right to create “work and manage” rights by the system is the incentive to contribute to the system. Content creators can earn the right to issue works into this Blockchain of content rights, and like the verification of the Blockchain creates a right to a Bitcoin, here it would create a right to publish a work into the system. If the system becomes popular, more verifications would be needed but, in turn, more works would be published. Just like in the Bitcoin’s Blockchain, proof of work is used to ensure decentralization.

Apart from storing the content rights, there are additional components in creating a consumer experience, such as content aggregation, display and downloading. This can be achieved through service offerings around that decentralized ledger, comparable to a bank that manages an account, or by volunteers and on a peer-to peer-system, like a legal version of Popcorn Time.

It will be interesting to see what industries the Blockchain can revolutionize, if publishing becomes one of them, and who will ultimately benefit from this revolution.

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