In February 2014, marketing blogger Glen Allsopp noticed a remarkable trend. Many of the most trafficked new content websites in the world had no original content. Viral Nova was one example of a blog receiving 100 million unique visitors a month, using the following strategy:
- Simple website design focused on social sharing and clicking on more articles
- Each article has a very enticing headline that makes you want to click through
- Articles are primarily targeted towards users of Facebook
- Steals stories and links to the source at the end
Before the social media revolution in 2008, these websites wouldn’t have stood a chance at ranking well in Google’s results. But today content is shared “virally” – which means peer-to-peer and instantly – without an authoritative claim on who created the ideas, or any retribution for stealing content. Articles can be backdated, and discovered by search engines in the incorrect order in which it was published. In short, the 2017 world of content creation lacks any source of truth about the authors of its ideas. Originality decreases as the content we get is a mere spin on what already exists.
The origins of Blockchain technology, going back to 1991, was an idea to collect and time-stamp digital documents, such that these timestamps could never be changed. Satoshi Nakamoto applied these ideas in the creation of Bitcoin by distributing a blockchain of financial transactions on a peer-to-peer network. This is the most famous application of a blockchain, but new uses are being discovered. Tracking the ownership of digital content is one such application.
In tracking content on a blockchain, one method is to encrypt the content and upload the resulting cryptograpic digest to the blockchain – along with metadata about the author. Then, if proof is required about the date and authenticity of the content, the content can be re-encrypted using the same technique as before, and compared to the digest on the blockchain. If the digests match, then we would know for certain that the content is authentic, since the information on the blockchain could never be compromised. This is called a “proof-of-existence” technology.
For example, if a photographer wants to make sure that his photos are appropriately attributed and shared, he could get a license on CreativeCommons.org – a nonprofit founded in 2001 with the aim to coordinate legal sharing of the world’s creative content. But Creative Commons is an organization, and organizations (and their databases) don’t exist forever. They can also get hacked. We expect a blockchain such as Bitcoin’s to be more permanent and far safer, and therefore a better place to settle content licensing.