Copyright & Law

Attorney: Steer Clear of Blockchain Copyright Services

January 11, 2018

By Greg Scoblete

David McBee | Pexels CC

With Kodak’s move into blockchain-based image licensing, many photographers and creative professionals are no doubt wondering whether this is a viable avenue to secure their rights and pursue infringers.

Not everyone is convinced that blockchain is a desirable solution for protecting your creative rights. One such skeptic is attorney Leslie Burns, who penned a long blog post highlighting the many pitfalls of using the new technology.

Burns’s post is definitely worth reading in full, but her argument boils down to three main complaints.

First, she claims that photographers will recoup much less money using blockchain-based image licensing than they would simply pursuing image infringers the old fashion way. Burns claims that the blockchain-based services are liable to collect far less money from infringers than a copyright holder is legally entitled too and then take a cut of that money to boot, further diminishing a photographer’s bottom line.

This failure to charge infringers adequately for an image license doesn’t just pinch a photographer’s bottom line up front, it also establishes a price history for that image which can damage a photographer’s ability to pursue larger infringements down the road.

Writes Burns, “Now, that same photograph gets used by MegaCorp on its website and, in the negotiations, MegaCorp says it will pay $2500 to settle–five times the largest amount you ever got for a license for that photograph. You know that the license is worth more like $10,000 so you refuse (assuming you can–the agreement with the [blockchain] service may have you waive the right of refusal) and the case goes to court. Not only is it very possible that the court will not award you more than $2500, because, in part, of your low price history, it is unlikely that you will collect attorneys’ fees since you refused what appears to be, in that context, a reasonable offer, pre-suit.”

Second, Burns notes that using blockchain to prove image ownership and copyright registration is redundant since, if a photographer has registered their copyright, the burden of proof is on the defendant (i.e. the infringer) not the photographer.

Finally, Burns isn’t sold on the use of crypto currency as a medium of exchange, claiming it can swing too wildly in value. (She also claims, somewhat oddly, that crypto currency is financing drug trafficking and North Korea’s illicit activity. This may be true of some crypto currencies but the specific currency in question, KodakCoin, isn’t even available yet. Beyond that, all  currencies fund illegal activity. No one suggests U.S. dollars are dangerous because people buy drugs with them.)

As we said, Burns post is worth reading in full to get the whole scope of her critique.

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