My last post on Blockchain and the future of content led to many interesting exchanges – people emailed, people scheduled meetings, and many of them were way ahead of me in terms of thinking about how blockchain, the technology underlying Bitcoin, might be used to change various cultural industries, especially music and film. While there are still some problems with this theory, I’m increasingly convinced that blockchain could completely revolutionize the business models here, just as it might in finance and other industries. There are a lot of vested industry players that will fight this tooth and nail, but I think it’s worth exploration. Here’s some of the ideas I’ve learned about, and what I think is needed.
Perhaps the most interesting take on this has come from the musicians Imogen Heap and Zoe Keating. No surprise there – I feature Zoe in almost all of my lectures, and Imogen has been very tech savvy. Imogen Heap proposes a new service she calls Mycelia, which would be a blockchain based digital eco-system for the connection of artists and fans, eliminating many of the middle men. She explains it on her site (note, it seems to work best on Safari, not Chrome), but the best summary of this comes from George King, who has been writing a series of posts about blockchain and the future of music and the arts on Forbes. I recommend reading all of these articles. Among other things, her system would use the blockchain to tie-in payment info, artist info (who played the bass on that song, how do I find their other music?) and track derivative works. It would eliminate many middle-men and allow for much greater transparency in how the money flows – something Zoe proposes as well. Using blockchain as a way to track derivative works is precisely what is most interesting to me – in theory an artist could embed how much you must pay for using a sample or a film clip in the actual source file, and you could complete this transaction without any lawyers, agents or even an email, as it would all be handled on the blockchain. As a leader in the transparency movement, I am all for the idea of using this for greater transparency- in theory, an artists could see every way their work was used and accessed and payments could go directly to them (and sub-artists in the contract as well, such as your actors). But Imogen’s idea is even bigger – I think of it as a Library of Alexandria, mixed with Wikipedia, Kickstarter, Amazon, Creative Commons and the ledger of blockchain. Mycelia would feature all music, and all aspects of that music in a giant interactive database that allows for artists to set transaction rates, give you more data about their project and anyone involved in it, and trace its evolution, so to speak.
The idea of blockchain revolutionizing music and arts has gotten enough traction that Billboard has written a must-read article on how bitcoin/blockchain can change the music industry. A few businesses have launched specifically around this idea as well. ProMusicDB is proposing a system for better tracking of credits on music, and Ujo (no active site yet), is building an open source technology for tracking rights-holders and payments to artists. Because it is open source, it could also be used for film or any other art form. The Billboard article explains it a bit more. I also suspect many more businesses will launch as a result of Richard Branson’s blockchain summit, which Zoe attended, and I’ve had meetings with at least three other companies that are building businesses in this area (but who want to remain confidential for now). If you really want to get wonky, read The Mystery of Capital by Hernando de Soto. While the book is ostensibly about why capitalism has worked in the West but not so well elsewhere (it comes down to how we build property systems, but read it), it has become the new blueprint/Bible for those thinking about how property changes in the future, perhaps under Blockchain, and its extremely relevant to the future of intellectual property (I found the book by way of Zoe Keating’s writings).
To my mind, all of these ideas are great, but we need to combine them to make it work for film and other arts. Perhaps this could be built as part of Ujo, since it’s an open-source project. Artists and organizations supporting them should be getting behind these ideas, as they have great potential to help build a better business model for artists and to bring more (real) transparency to the financials. Here’s just a few of the things I’d like to see in this space. If done properly, it should include (at minimum, and here for film, but you can see how it works for other fields):
- Deep rights agreement tracking systems: track all artists/people involved in a film and any payment agreements, license agreements, etc with them, as well as other agreements such as locations, music licensing, clip licensing, releases, etc;
- Allow for micro-transactions with them – set how each of the people involved get paid;
- Expanded linking to items/artists involved in a project – allow you to connect to these artists involved in any project in other ways – see a dress in the film, know the designer and also see her info and not just buy the dress but also commission a design for your film, etc (and trace the history of this engagement);
- Micro and advance Licensing terms – license a clip with a compulsory license, pre-paid – down to the clip level; You could agree in advance to pay an amount based on the future views of your subsequent film. Payments can go back to the source film and any sublicensees/artists, etc. What I pay back varies based not just on total views, but what type of views, whether they were at a nonprofit, theater or other venue, or person at home, etc.; This is essentially the same as the derivative works proposals from Imogen Heap and Zoe Keating, but for film, and would allow a whole new business to be built upon sampling, mash-ups, remixes and bring greater ease to clip licensing. A work-around for fair-use would need to be developed, but that should be technologically possible;
- Expanded, artist-centric payment schemes & term setting – facilitate payments directly to the artist, but not just for this film – I can pay for the film, or for the song in the film, or can subscribe to the artist’s future work, make donations, or whatever else the artist has set up, and the artist not only sets the terms but can see how the money flows along the way. For example, the artist could set what iTunes must pay them as a percentage of any sale, and know how many transactions there were, or even turn them down if they don’t agree to her terms;
- Permission levels, so that I can share work privately and authenticate who watched it, for how long, etc, as well as share contractual information, fee payments etc based on various permission levels; This should include permission based data sharing as well – perhaps I want to share how many downloads I had publicly, or from what regions, all of this could be shared via this system;
- Authentication of originals vs copies, etc. Consumers don’t care about originals vs copies, but it would be a way to combat piracy, as well as to assign value to the original work; One could theoretically build a system as well that allows for only authenticated devices to play content, meaning that I could share a rough cut and if it’s pirated, I would know where it leaked (this has major DRM implications, I know);
- Usage tracking and types of usage (not just for payments, but to see impact, subsequent uses, what types of eyeballs watched my film, etc);
- Ancillary content – version tracking, ancillary materials access (poster, etc), unlocking of bonus content, etc.
Some of this is blockchain related, some is just stuff that we need that can be done technologically now with or without blockchain, but the ideas represented by blockchain could help build a smart eco-system for film. These are just some preliminary thoughts, but I’m becoming increasingly convinced that blockchain has relevance for the film business in myriad ways and is worthy of further exploration. Care about this at all? Send me your thoughts.