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Sub-Genre is a strategic consulting company focusing on business development projects in the entertainment and cultural industries. Sub-Genre is also the film production and distribution company of Brian Newman, who serves as executive producer and/or producer on several films.

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About

Learn more about Sub-Genre Media and Brian Newman
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Brian serves as Executive Producer, Producer and Advisor on several films. See the films he has produced and consulted on.
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Blog / News

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Blockchain and the transformation of the ownership of digital culture

blockchain Now that’s a title I’ve been waiting to use for awhile! I’ve been thinking a bit lately about how Blockchain might transform industries beyond finance, like film, for example. If you don’t know what the f I’m talking about, you’re not alone. While many tech people know Blockchain as the fundamental technology behind Bitcoin, few of the rest of us know much about it, and I’m not calling myself an expert, but many people believe it is as transformative as anything to have come around in quite a long time – so one has to ask, will it transform multiple sectors, and if so, will film be one of them. I think….maybe, and Monegraph points towards that future.

Quickly and grossly simplified, Blockchain is the technology that allows Bitcoin to work – it’s a way to ensure that when I pay you with Bitcoin, I am using a real Bitcoin, that I haven’t also sold the same Bitcoin to someone else. It’s like a virtual ledger that can show the history/ownership of any file (not just Bitcoins, it could be a media file for example) and allows for a decentralized mechanism to trace ownership. If you want to really understand it read this or this, but importantly, the technology allows one to authenticate the a certain file is a unique, true “original” file. It also allows for many other complex interactions, including interfacing with devices. This solves many a problem when you’re trying to trade money and buy/sell things, and it might also solve the question of authenticity in a digital world. That’s where Walter Benjamin comes in (again) to the conversation.

As any (poor-out-of-work) liberal arts major knows, Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction summed up what happens when mechanical means make it easy to copy pretty much anything. The aura of an artwork is lost – what’s the value of an original when anyone can access a copy? Well, you can read that again to find out what happens (politics) but we’ve been wrestling with the nature of ownership in a digital world for a very long time, and Benjamin is a good reference point for the conversation.

Monegraph is a novel attempt to restore the aura of originality to digital artworks. It uses blockchain technology to authenticate an original work of art. You can watch this presentation on Monegraph, or watch the founder speaking about Monegraph for more details, but essentially you submit your work to Monegraph using your Twitter handle, the NameCoin client (you’ll spend a few pennies to get some NameCoins) and then you can create a Monegraph for your digital file. This is kinda like an interactive digital stamp that says: this here is the original artwork as created by the artist on this date. Yes, people can still make copies (legally or illegally), but only those created through a blockchain type transaction are “authentic.” The copies coexist, but if you want to buy and “original” work, you can do so through Monegraph.

As this same technology can be used for any file, it could be used to authenticate films, books, music, pretty much any digital file. In theory, it could be used to sell artist “special editions” of films, but it could theoretically be used instead of technologies like Ultraviolet, de-centralizing the control of the files, but allowing for authentication of “real” copies. Doing research today online, I found a writer, Ken Tindell, who has even proposed that the blockchain could be tied to your digital device, allowing it to read whether you have proper ownership of the file. So a Studio could sell you a film and you could own it and not have to worry about that file disappearing should Amazon suddenly stop carrying that title (which has happened). As Tindell proposes: 

“The full features of Bitcoin transactions could be then used, enabling a movie to be rented, sold, re-sold, loaned, and so on. The issuer of the coloured coin for a movie would be the movie studio and they would control the terms of the market for their own movies (perhaps demanding a ‘droit de suite’ fee when it was transferred). Because the rules of the scheme would be open and transparent and the ownership rules (such as requiring the issuing studio to countersign transfers) embedded directly into the blockchain it would then be possible to define just what ‘ownership’ of a movie means.”

That’s pretty cool, and is probably just the tip of the Iceberg, because we’re at the beginning of this revolution. But as an indie producer, I could sell my film and control how you share it (giving various permissions or charging certain fees based on my proclivities) without using iTunes or Netflix or Amazon. Sure those services still help with discovery, but a blockchain powered VHX could be pretty cool. It could also be used to make a better system of copyright registration, so we don’t have to send VHS, beta tapes or film to the Library of Congress (though film is a great storage medium).

In theory, I could also tie the blockchain at the clip level of my film, enabling me to share the clip with another filmmaker for “free” up-front, but then demand payment based on how that subsequent film is bought and sold. This would revolutionize the clip licensing business, letting me pay based on how successful my film is instead of some theoretical price paid up front before I know if my film will even be seen. It could allow for remix in new ways as well, perhaps allowing effective monetization, while retaining some artistic control and de-centralizing the authority (go direct to the artist instead of some agency). This could work not just for films, but any digital artwork, meaning a(nother) transformation of the relationship between artists and audiences, as well as a transformation in the concept of ownership of culture.

Importantly, it’s also a move towards de-centralization of the ownership and trade in culture. As Taylor Davidson has written elsewhere, there’s a big trend online now towards decentralization as people start to realize the problems we’ve got with so much power being held by Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix and the NSA. Peer to peer transactions, like Bitcoin and Monegraph, among others, put more power back in the hands of people, and in this case give more power to artists connecting directly with audiences. As Taylor writes:

“But it’s possible to see how bitcoin, as a leading app for the blockchain, and a wide range of other peer-to-peer apps built on top of new mesh network technologies, could create unique, valuable, distributed alternatives to centralized approaches. Alternatives, not complete replacements, but viable alternatives could create knock-on effects at how the stacks do business. And the time for it could be now, as people are beginning to see the broader implications of the centralized Internet, and it’s feeding a burgeoning appetite for alternatives to the stacks. Bitcoin, multipeer connectivity, and mesh networking may seem far-fetched, but they could be signals that the next movement is already here.”

I’ve not given enough thought yet to figure out all of the potential uses and possible futures this affords, but that’s a panel/conversation I’d like to attend at some film festival (instead of another transmedia panel).

Got any ideas on how else this might be used?

Join/Stop the Internet Slowdown

  People keep trying to ruin the internet, so I keep hollerin’ back at them. September 10th is the next big battle, as thousands of tech companies, blogs, news sites, etc etc all join together to bring attention to the issue by doing a symbolic internet slowdown to convince people to send comments to the FCC – which they stop taking just a few days later. There was a lot of attention on this back earlier this Summer, but those (continuing) Summer days tend to slow the news cycle and there’s been a slow-down in commenting. So get your heads out of your nethers and get involved. Here’s how.

  It’s easy, just click that link, add some code to your website and install a fake slowdown swirl to your website, your Twitter/Facebook or other Avatars, sign the petition and learn why you should care. You should…quite literally, if we allow Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon and AT&T to control what gets seen, and how fast, we’ll break the internet as we know it. Need proof? Turn on your TV and try, just try, to use the interface. Do you want them making decisions about how the internet works too? Didn’t think so. Get involved.

Three Cool Things from this Summer

I took a much needed month vacation from social media, blogging and pretty much all emails through August, and am just back, feeling refreshed and ready to share things again. Ok, I actually left Twitter and LinkedIn for two months and won’t be back, they just don’t do it for me, and I left Facebook and other social media (including reading any blogs) for August, and might leave Facebook for good as well. But I didn’t leave Instagram, it was the one thing I enjoyed using while on vacation, and frankly, I wish it was the only social media anymore (though the new ads suck bad).

Anyway, here’s a few things I enjoyed towards the end of my vacation and/or am enjoying now:

hope Hope for Film by Ted Hope

This is no big discovery, as Ted has quite a following and there’s been a fair bit of press, but given that his new book was launched during the doldrums of August when no one pays attention to anything, I thought it might be worth plugging Ted’s new book for anyone who missed its launch. Ted has been a leader in the indie film sector for decades, and has been writing prolifically about indie film for the last few years. Given his numerous, insightful posts about the industry, I was skeptical I would learn anything new, but Ted did a great job of speaking less to the future of film (his usual posts), and more about his time in the industry from his first days to his hopes for the future. This look back at what he loved, what kept him involved and what he learned while producing some of the best indie films out there is truly a must-read for anyone interested in the industry, especially up and coming producers, of which we need many more who can fill Ted’s shoes (and those of his contemporaries like Christine Vachon, et al) and help make sure masterful films are made and seen today. Full disclosure: I am friends with Ted and we have been business partners on a couple of things, but I can honestly say, I loved reading this on my vacation and would recommend it regardless.

USOpenSessions-IBM-James_MurphyUS Open SessionsOne of the more interesting uses of data right now has to be the James Murphy US Open Sessions – Murphy, the LCD SoundSystem frontman, has worked with IBM and the US Open to develop an ongoing music site that utilizes data from the US Open tennis matches to make interesting music. The system has an algorithm – that I can’t begin to understand in spite of listening to it while watching several matches – that combines weather, fan sentiment, the actual playing going on, and more to make music. But it’s not all data, as the Guardian explains, Murphy had a lot of artistic input into the sound:  “Murphy is collaborating with a developer called Patrick Gunderson, creative director at Tool, who devised an algorithm to turn tennis plays into sound. With this software in place, Gunderson built a synthesiser-like interface – something Murphy could use to design and tweak each component of the music.” Definitely worth listening to as the US Open plays out for the next week.

 Art Everywhere

IMG_1099 This technically ran through August and is over now, but luckily, in NYC at least, the MTA is pretty slow to remove subway and bus ads and artwork, so I am still running into art daily. Art Everywhere was a project modeled on a similar initiative in the UK where five museums picked samples of historic/important American art, and then allowed the public to vote on their favorites online. The 58 “winners” were shown online, on billboards, in subways, and various places around the US. While some of the selections were a bit populist, these were much better billboards to see than the norm. Check the (horrendous to use) map on their site, or just look in any station. Some are simply billboards, but a few were cleverly placed in locations such as along stairwells, etc.