An announcement from the startup Dot Blockchain Media a couple of weeks ago heralds an exciting new development in the potential for blockchain technology in the media industry. Dot Blockchain has partnerships with the New York-based recording artist STOLAR and the indie distributor FUGA. These partnerships enabled Dot Blockchain to take STOLAR’s track “Forget And Feel” and place an entry for it on a blockchain.
But Dot Blockchain has taken an important step beyond that: it has embedded the blockchain address for the track into the track itself, using audio watermarking technology from Digimarc. This means that anyone who comes upon the file can use the identifier to read metadata, rights holder, licensing, and transaction information from the blockchain.
Unlike metadata stored in file headers — which anyone can alter or delete, unless it’s protected by some sort of DRM scheme — the identifier is inextricably bound to the file and very difficult to remove without marring the audio. The data it leads to can be changed on the blockchain, so that anyone who reads the address by using Digimarc’s watermark detection app can see the data. And the data can change as necessary, but only those with permission (such as the artist or distributor) can make changes.
This is the vision for watermarking and blockchain technology that I laid out in the whitepaper I published last April, with support from Digimarc. I don’t claim credit for coming up with the idea, but it’s great to see the actual implementation.
Some startups’ visions include the idea of digital content files themselves existing on blockchains, even files that are licensed or purchased by users. I don’t subscribe to this idea, for reasons that go beyond the current limits in blockchain efficiency and scalability that make it impractical. Instead, there are many good reasons to put metadata, licensing information, and transactions on blockchains instead of monolithic databases maintained by single entities; see the whitepaper for more on that.
The music industry has largely ignored watermarking for a long time. The one mainstream use of watermarking that I’m aware of is not very sophisticated: some labels use it to embed simple identifiers of retailers (e.g., Apple or Amazon) into files they send to those services, so that allegedly infringing files found “in the wild” can at least be traced back to a retailer without implicating an individual user.
Instead, many applications currently exist for music fingerprinting. In a fingerprinting scheme, an algorithm makes an educated guess at the identity of a music track by calculating some salient characteristics of the file (the fingerprint) and looking those up in a database of fingerprints to see if there is a match. Although the leading fingerprinting schemes are decently accurate, the limitation with fingerprinting is that every instance of a given music track has the same fingerprint; while in contrast, multiple files containing the same music track can have different data embedded as watermarks if the files are to be used for different purposes.
Thus, Dot Blockchain Media’s use of watermarking for music is among the most significant and promising ever. Dot Blockchain is not a solution provider but a developer of technology architecture designed for others to build solutions on, organized as a public benefit corporation (think Kickstarter). Kudos to Dot Blockchain for taking this step, and let’s hope that others take up the mantle and continue the experimentation.