Kodak, in partnership with WENN Digital, recently announced the launch of the KODAKOne digital rights management platform and KODAKCoin cryptocurrency. The goal of the blockchain-based platform is to assist photographers to protect their copyright, license their images and flush out potential infringers. Senior Associates David Rountree and Julia Taylor and Summer Clerks Jade Bouchier and Alexi Polden take a closer look.
Photographs are a class of 'artistic works' protected by copyright, giving the owner a set of exclusive rights, including to reproduce, publish and communicate the photograph to the public. There is no formal copyright registration process in Australia, putting the evidentiary burden on the person claiming ownership.
In Australia, copyright arises on creation and the person who 'took' the photograph owns it. While it's generally considered that this is the person who pressed the shutter button, this is yet to be tested and may be ambiguous. For example, if one person sets up the shot – selecting the lens, focus, camera angles and exposure – but a second person presses the shutter button, who actually 'took' the photograph? Arguably, the person pressing the shutter button has only performed a mechanical task, without any 'creative spark', 'independent intellectual effort' or 'skill and judgment'. However, the second person may also not meet the legal threshold, since they didn't actually 'take' the photo – they simply prepared the scene.
A key aspect of the KODAKOne platform is the use of 'blockchain' technology, also known as distributed ledger technology (DLT). DLT refers to storing a digital record of transactions (or data) shared between a network of participants and updated in real time. This has a number of potential benefits for the recording of digital rights information, including:
- Transparency: Distributed ledgers are often public, providing a transparent record of the database.
- Immutability: To ensure the system's integrity, data must be consistent between different ledgers for information to be validated. Once entered, it's very difficult to tamper with the record, providing a level of trust in the information.
The KODAKOne platform is intended to be a one-stop-shop for photography licensing. Photographers will be able to register photographs on an encrypted blockchain ledger, intended to be a form of proof of ownership (it will be interesting to see how KODAKOne deals with disputes over ownership such as the one above). Users will also have access to other platform features, including:
- licensing and payment for use of images, to be made in KODAKCoin cryptocurrency using 'smart contracts' (self-executing software applications); and
- management of the post-licensing process, including continual web crawling to monitor infringement.
KODAKOne is not the first platform to flag the use of blockchain and cryptocurrency digital rights management. Others include Binded (a service for photographers), Verdictum (a film and video content protection platform) and DECENT (a general content distribution platform).
While a ledger of digital rights might be useful, to be successful it requires both rights holders (and, hopefully, the correct rights holders, according to the legal test!) and end-users to sign up and license through the platform (including adopting the use of the unique digital currency).
Even then, unless all pre-existing licensing arrangements are registered on the platform, some manual rights management will be required. It's not yet clear how KODAKOne will distinguish infringing use from licensed use simply not registered in the blockchain, or how it will persuade unlicensed users to pay the copyright owner. Further, rights holders will be paid in KODAKCoin, which (if freely traded) will likely have a fluctuating value. Recent wild fluctuations across a range of cryptocurrencies highlight the challenges for rights holders looking for a constant royalty stream.
While conceptually a digital rights platform for photographers is very appealing, the success of the KODAKOne platform is in the hands of its target users, and will be reflected in the level of uptake. If the platform is a roaring success, perhaps it will encourage other management of other rights to move onto the blockchain.