Digital rights management: what if the blockchain could change the game?

Will blockchain be the solution to many companies’ challenge: the reliable and sustainable management of copyrights, image rights and broadcasting management?

After highlighting a first use case centered around the traceability of raw materials, we continue our focus on blockchain as part of the work we are doing for the European Commission on the EU blockchain pre-commercial procurement. In order to develop and test new solutions that aim to improve the European Blockchain Services Infrastructure (EBSI) , we will focus on another case, that of digital rights management.

Blockchain technology is of interest to a wide range of sectors because of the extremely diverse uses it can be put to. Whether it's cryptocurrencies, transactions, contractual information, intellectual property or even data files, photos, videos, etc., the blockchain can greatly strengthen the trust between actors in the transactions they exchange and proves its reliability by its immutable and unfalsifiable quality.

In fact, when it comes to managing copyright, image rights and broadcasting management, blockchain technology makes sense. Because today, and this for many companies, the management of rights is a major challenge when it comes to reliable and sustainable monitoring.

Towards a new consensus on copyright?

When it comes to copyrights, image rights or broadcasting management, the exclusive right and the request for prior authorization are the norm to use the various media. On all digital media, including Internet and social networks, the broadcasting of the image of an identifiable person is subject to prior authorization. The freedom to photograph the property of others is also subject to copyright.

However, it should be noted that the multiplication of digital channels makes the control of authorizations impossible and jeopardizes the direct management of rights between author and distributor.

In the era of digital technology and the strengthening of rights protection, it is in the interest of rights-holders, authors, composers and publishers as well as digital service providers and broadcasters to reach a consensus on copyright. Otherwise, there is a great risk of seeing a proliferation of intermediaries seeking to capture the benefits of rights management to the detriment of one or other of the parties.

However, if existing solutions propose sophisticated software for the management and administration of rights, they seem to run into several difficulties:

  • Initiatives are not coordinated among all stakeholders, which favors opacity around the practices and reinforces the difficulty of analysis of all the dissemination data or obtaining the operating data
  • Lack of trust due to lack of transparency
  • The technological solutions chosen do not seem to be adapted to the proliferation of current content distribution methods and to the multiplication of actors at the origin of the distributions

Multiplication of media and rights management: a real headache

The problem of rights management affects many large companies that publish content on the Internet.

They manage multiple social network accounts, thousands of editorialized web pages and emails enriched with assets. They broadcast television and radio messages and print flyers, posters and catalogs every month. Each of these media may contain a "non-rights free" media asset. The sheer number of media outlets makes this a daunting task.

In addition, many media asset purchases are made outside of the processes (such as when it comes to the purchase order) and, therefore, do not use dedicated media purchasing contracts. This means that it is extremely difficult to trace the use of the works concerned. This non-visible part, not properly contracted, represents a risk that should be evaluated.

Another problem is related to the management of the end of rights. Indeed, it is common that resources at the end of their rights are not systematically withdrawn, or only in a limited way, on all the networks. The tracking or automation is rarely present.

In short, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to collect, centralize and make available confirmation of copyright and image rights for individuals on assets in environments as complex as large enterprises

The lack of oversight limits the operational efficiency in media assets management. They are accumulating on companies’ networks, making them more and more difficult to manage and increasing the risk of litigation.

It should also be noted that rights holders are equipping themselves with automated monitoring and complaint services. If these self-complaint tools become profitable, in other words if a “compliant business” emerges, the situation can deteriorate rapidly.

Finally, media assets, which are heavy by nature, have an ecological impact in data centers. Companies are communicating more and more on a more responsible approach. This approach however can only be successful if it is operationally viable.

Blockchain technology for managing digital rights offers tremendous opportunities

Contract creation: transactions are recorded and updated throughout the life of the contract.

Smart contracts whose content is shared by rights holders and media consumers are ideal to address this issue. Indeed, they can manage a large number of micro-contracts whose content can be broken down using forms and whose processing can then be automated.

For example, when creating a broadcasting contract for designated assets, all the attributes of the contract are known and repeated from one contract to the next: contacts, broadcasting clauses, image and property rights consents, supervised attributes (end-of-use date of the asset, place of broadcasting, authorized media), and these can be updated during the term of the contract.

Stored in a smart contract and notarized on the blockchain via a decentralized application (Decentralized Application or DAPP), it is possible to trace the contracts being used and their clauses, in particular the recording of consents for image and property rights.

With each update, a new version of the contract is published on the blockchain while keeping the history.

As the life cycle of the contract is not fixed between the start and end dates of the rights, several cases of update can occur: update of the clauses related to the use of rights, addition or correction of the authorization of image or property rights, the need to update the contact information of the broadcaster or creator, extension of the contract (update of the supervised attribute of the end of the period), update of the attributes of supervised clauses, etc. The DAPP will also be able to trigger alerts associated, for example, with the "end-of-rights date," enabling the notification of the broadcaster and the author of the end of the execution of the contract.

But there is still one element missing, and that is the question of identifying the owner of a media in a simple and unambiguous way.

This is where the NFT comes in, a title on blockchain that identifies the unique owner of a digital asset.

How does it work? For each media, a rightful owner will be able to associate an NFT, and it will be quoted as a reference in smart contracts. It will then become easy to determine if there is a contract or an authorization in progress for the use of the work.

Artificial intelligence is able to scan all social networks and media very quickly every day for image recognition, and alerts can be sent back when a contract is missing or when one expires.

Solutions such as the one proposed here are primarily aimed at simplifying the interactions between the author and the distributors. By standardizing and streamlining the exchange of information within a certified framework and by taking advantage of this new "intelligent" database made possible by the blockchain, the direct management approach is perpetuated, and the author's control over the use of his work is materialized.

Benefits of blockchain in rights management? Transparency, trust, better market organization, ...

The main benefit of using the blockchain is to improve control of the framework for the use of media assets and thus increase trust between authors and buyers.

This trust must make it possible to anticipate the risk that third parties, selling supervision products, invite themselves into the relationship at the cost of inevitable inflation and to the detriment of authors and broadcasters.

The autonomy of the parties, authors and broadcasters and the maintenance of an exclusive two-party relationship, as well as the maintenance of a zero level of financial compensation linked to infringements, will be the main indicators of success of the system.

...and reducing carbon footprint.

As we've discussed, media assets, which are heavy by nature, have an environmental impact in data centers. Enabling the management of assets, their deletion, and the optimization of their archiving, means reducing the carbon footprint of the company and its networks.

Through this case, and like all those proposed by the EBSI (European Blockchain Services Infrastructure), taking advantage of blockchain can therefore accelerate and make reliable the creation of services and strengthen the verification of information in an "intelligent" way.


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Antoine Maisonneuve
Antoine Maisonneuve

I am in charge of the Blockchain program at Orange Business. I have an intrapreneurial profile, and I am in charge of discovering the most relevant Blockchain use cases for our customers. For two years, we have been actively working with this technology to build the foundations of tomorrow's trusted networks.