Copyright and Blockchain

Jake Goldenfein (Swinburne Law School) & Dan Hunter (Swinburne Law School), “Copyright and Blockchain”

This paper addresses the use of the decentralised ledger technology called the ‘blockchain’ for applications in copyright registration and licencing. Cryptographic ledgers based on the blockchain have recently emerged as useful platforms for various applications, including financial services (banks and stock exchanges), government services (such as land registries), and cryptographic currencies (notably Bitcoin). However, the use of blockchain in copyright management, while attracting some attention, is yet to be rigorously explored.

The blockchain has gained notoriety as the architecture on which digital currency Bitcoin operates. It functions as a distributed digital ledger capable of recording assets (rights and ownership) and transactions (histories and conditions) without any central authority or intermediary. As blocks are created and added to the chain, information can be added to the blockchain but not amended or deleted, and all transactions are available for query for those with access to the ledger. These technologies therefore enable fully transparent and accountable recording of asset ownership, asset provenance, and transactions between parties.

This paper develops the research program necessary for the implementation of the blockchain in copyright management. In the first section we outline the technical features of the blockchain that are relevant for copyright management. It then shows, in subsequent sections, how the blockchain can be used to reform three aspects of copyright ownership: registration (including orphan works), licensing, and rights management