Blockchain, Bitcoin, Ethereum, smart contracts. If you haven’t been living under a rock the last couple of years, you have probably heard media and tech people mention these buzzwords all the time. A hype is not a meaningful application, though. Here is our take: Blockchain technologies are by and large a new approach to databases or ledgers. Their most important aspect: The entries can be trusted, as they are virtually unalterable and everyone can check them. Hopefully.
So how can we apply blockchain technology in media organizations? Answering this question is the core task of Bloomen, an EU funded Horizon 2020 project Deutsche Welle is currently participating in.
In Bloomen, we have defined three use cases:
- Music licensing. This use case is primarily handled by BMAT, a music monitoring company from Barcelona that already has a lot of experience in helping international rights organizations improve their data management. Bloomen could extend and facilitate rights attribution via novel blockchain applications.
- Streaming media. Companies like Netflix and Amazon have popularized a new way of consuming movies and TV series: Start whenever you want, stop whenever you want, and have all instalments and seasons at your fingertips, without advertisement.
In this context, Blockchain could be interesting to establish connections, identify users and find new approaches to personalization.
- Photo licensing. This one is similar to the music use case, but with a focus on different assets: We’re experimenting with blockchain technology to find novel solutions for photo rights management. Bloomen photo is led by Deutsche Welle.
Photo rights management: Current status and Bloomen approach
According to current studies and estimates, between 60% and 80% of the digital photos out there have been circulated without properly defined/obtained usage rights. This a major problem. First of all, because creators should be credited and/or compensated. Secondly, because editors or bloggers who unknowingly used material from questionable sources might be in for a bad surprise: There are now powerful algorithms for photo detection — and a lot of agencies who send out warning letters to collect owed payments and penalties.
In Bloomen Photo, we want to try and do things differently. Simply speaking, every photo ingested into the system of a media organization will also be recorded in a specific blockchain, including information on the photo itself and the photographer.
This data will then serve as the basis for so-called “smart contracts” which ideally make rights attribution and royalty payments much fairer, more reliable and less cumbersome for everyone involved.
Fighting misinformation: Blockchain and proof of source
Another possible area of application for blockchain in the media industry is the fight against misinformation. Editors and fact checkers could use the technology to find out wether a quote, a post, a photo etc. (previously recorded in a transparent fashion) actually comes from the source the publishers claim to have taken it from. And if it it doesn’t, it’s probably a case of fabricated news.
Proceed with caution
Blockchain and digital ledgers seem to have great potential, and Bloomen is an exicting project. However, we won’t drink the Kool-Aid. Blockchain is not going to change everything. And there will always be design flaws and security risks.
Our ultimate goal is to improve the relationship between the creators and users of creative content — by finding an easier, more transparent way to connect the parties and trace the circulation of media assets. Blockchain may help in that quest.
Bloomen has started in September 2017 and will run for three years. Year one is about defining user requirements for the use cases outlined above, years two and three will be dedicated to creating working prototypes.
Photo by Alexander Andrews/Unsplash