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Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Heap's Giant Leap!

Another great discussion about distributed ledgers, this time focused on the music sector, hosted by the Copyright Hub at the Digital Catapult. A quick summary of the discussion along Chatham House lines to protect the innocent.

By now it's clear that people in different sectors are encountering very similar issues that might be solved by distributed ledgers, but each sector tends to have a different set of priorities that might mean one is faster to take advantage of the technology. The fact that the first solutions have been alternative currencies tells you that proponents of distributed ledgers are not shy of a challenge. Now music is to get the same treatment with key events this Friday and Saturday night featuring the release of Imogen Heap's song "Tiny Human" into a distributed ledger for 'hackers' to attempt to spoil the party, followed by a live Saturday night post mortem on what could be improved. No doubt future events will try to perfect the process.

Why music? 

The problems in the music industry (and most other segments of the entertainment market) are pretty well-rehearsed, with just about every stakeholder group (except the consumers, these days) split over whether digital technology is helping all the participants strike the right bargain or robbing them blind. The revenue flows (or lack of them) have been the subject of constant disruption from internet technology, with the advent of P2P file-sharing via Kazaa in 2001 and rewards-based crowdfunding through Artistshare in 2003.

But bigger obstacles to reaching a better settlement for all concerned lie in the notorious lack of data about who really created and/or worked on various tracks and albums; or even about what's really in many 'back catalogues'. Then there's the secrecy surrounding licensing/royalty deals and the snail's pace of royalty collection/distribution - not to mention who sampled what; whether a performance and related video was a private family affair or an attempt to build a public-facing YouTube channel; hacking digital rights management software; and file-sharing. 

A lot of these issues go away if you just focus on creating and dealing with new music in a more efficient way. And few of these issues are exclusive to music itself. They relate to any item whose status changes a lot and where a multitude of different parties are affected but find it hard to get all their systems and processes to talk to one another. 

So this seems another case for getting everyone's machines to share a single view of a marketplace that avoids 'capture' by any single intermediary. In fact, the 'ledger' they all share becomes that intermediary. In that case, all the participants' machines running the same ledger protocol would be able to see and agree who created which music in its myriad iterations and remixes; who has the various types of rights to exploit or consume the various versions; who owes what to whom; and even make payments in the ledger currency.

Will it work? There's only one way to find out - hence Imogen's giant leap on Friday night.

I reckon it'll be all the rage this Christmas ;-)


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