Blockchain isn’t exclusively reserved for Cryptocurrenies. It can be used in any instance where a digital transaction or use of data requires the legal owner and licensed recipient to verify one-another. It’s a transparent, decentralised, yet tamper-resistant digital ‘hand shake’ of authorisation and verification, and it occurs directly between the two parties, which is where a lot of value is to be found when copyrighting music. If you want to read up more on what Blockchain is and how it works, click here to link through to Forbes.
We can take this scenario as an example: If I were to write a piece of music and register the file and my ownership within the Blockchain, then a film director could not only easily identify me as being the copyright owner, but the licensing and payment process could also be completed automatically through what’s called ‘smart contracts’. No lawyers, no trickery, all pre-defined, pre-thought out and perfectly executed.
Smart Contract Technology Defined: “A computer program code that is capable of facilitating, executing, and enforcing the negotiation or performance of an agreement (i.e. contract) using blockchain technology.
The entire process is automated can act as a complement, or substitute, for legal contracts, where the terms of the smart contract are recorded in a computer language as a set of instructions” - The Unltimate Guide to Understanding Smart Contracts
Normally, metadata is written ‘around’ a commercially released audio file in the form of id3 tags. This information can be used to identify the release date, copyright holder as well as record label. However, it’s very easy for this information to be re-written or deleted, and there would be no record of who did it. Blockchain does away with these fickle ways of including information along with digital files. In terms of Blockchain technology, the content of the file itself (eg, the audio waveform), as well as all associated metadata, including previous transactions, owners, publishers and other information. This then allows the associated and tamper-proof metadata to be accessed through simply matching the file at hand, with the record of the file in the Blockchain. A similarity we have today is Shazam. Shazam listens through your phones microphone to the music playing at whichever event you are at, and matches what music it hears, to what music has been stored in the databases or iTunes, Spotify, etc.
These combined powers of metadata resilience and transparent transactions, further open up the ripe world of royalties to content creators of all types. Think about producers of dance music. A Blockchain driven, automated verification and payment processing system jacked into the live output of a DJ’s mixer could automatically identify tracks being played and pay out royalties to the producer - following the clauses of their pre-defined smart contracts.
Imogen Heap is an example of an artist who is strongly embracing this new industry movement. She’s building a Blockchain powered ecosystem of online content distribution, rights allocation and royalty collection called Mycelia, named after Mycelium, which is the networking strands of mushroom fungus that can grow over thousands of kilometres. With it she aims to “empower a fair, sustainable and vibrant music industry ecosystem involving all online music interaction services” and to “unlock the huge potential for creators and their music related metadata so an entirely new commercial marketplace may flourish”.
Mycelia functions around what they’re calling The Creative Passport.
“The Creative Passport is the digital container for verified profile information, IDs, acknowledgements, works, business partners and payment mechanisms for all music makers (creatives). Its aim is to become a digital identity standard for music makers, collectively forming the Creative Passport Database and evolving into the essential connective hub for all music related services. Using emergent blockchain technology, featuring template ‘smart contracts’, the ‘Creative Passport’ will enable quick and easy direct payments, to simplify and democratise collaboration from meaningful commercial partnerships to creativity.”
“Creative Passports will be free for music makers. Access to the Creative Passport Database is to be a subscription service for businesses who wish to link in and take advantage of its rich data, or market their service to the Creative Passport holders. Profits will go to the upkeep of the Creative Passport service and to the Creative Passport holders.” - http://myceliaformusic.org/creative-passport.
The system is currently in Alpha testing and you can sign up for access to the Beta testing via the website.
And on a secondary note, if you’re interested in watching a mind-blowing Ted talk about how mycelium fungus has the potential to save the world - and you will be convinced - do so below.