It goes without saying that the evolution of the internet has been proportional to the downfall of analogue methods of consuming media – mediums like DVDs and CDs have been abandoned in favour of downloadable (or increasingly streamable) digital files. Of course, the migration to the cyber plane has not come without challenges – the proliferation of pirated material means that content creators are not getting remunerated for their hard work. The 27 billion visits to pirate websites in 2017 in the U.S. alone would suggest that this is a bigger problem than one might initially realise.
We need a more effective system: one that doesn’t force the hand of creators, giving them little choice but to list their content on a third-party’s platform (further cutting into their royalties with steep fees). We need a system that allows them to safeguard music, movies, ebooks and artwork from prying eyes, whilst simultaneously giving them access to a wide market of consumers who are happy to pay for content.
I’m a strong proponent of blockchain technology as a means by which to bring such a platform to fruition. At its crux, the technology allows for individuals to truly own their data (mitigating risks surrounding piracy or illegal distribution). That said, there are two major problems with the storage of large amounts of it on-chain – that is, the cost to do so (it’s extortionate to store anything on, say, the Ethereum chain if it exceeds a handful of kilobytes), and the privacy concern: public blockchains are possible because everyone can see the ledger. It’s antithetical to assume that privacy can be preserved.
I like to view blockchain technology as the base layer of a stack of tools. They allow for the trustless execution of Turing-complete code in smart contracts, opening the door to a wide range of applications being built. As the base layer, a distributed layer works excellently for settlement – individuals can send tokens to a given smart contract, in order to get it to automatically perform a certain action.
Mesh this concept with off-chain distributed storage (IPFS is ideal to these ends), and you can effectively manage permissions around storage that is both cheap and voluminous. For content creators, this means that their digital content can be stored in an unreachable container (unless certain conditions are met), with an address pointing to its potential location incorporated into a smart contract. They can set a price in the blockchain’s native tokens for which the container will be revealed. With this framework, the author of the contract can set a range of conditions surrounding use, and no longer need to rely on high cost third-parties for their hosting and distribution needs.
The digital entertainment industry is booming, but lacks the infrastructure to curb the issues that plague it today. Using bleeding-edge technology like blockchain and distributed storage, we can usher in a new iteration of the industry that empowers individuals to earn more and to protect their content from non-paying parties.