Internet personality Josh Ostrovsky has recently come under fire for stealing jokes and images without proper attribution, and using that content to build a personal brand so strong he recently signed to talent agency CAA. Ostrovsky claims it was all a matter of misunderstandings and sloppiness on his part, and that no ill will was intended. In a recent interview with New York Magazine, he said the following in his defense: “The internet is a vast ocean of stuff, and sometimes it’s hard to find the original source of something. I now realize that if I couldn’t find a source for something, I probably shouldn’t have posted it in the first place.”
Ostrovsky probably should have tried harder, given his online stature, but he’s also right — the web is giant, and finding proper sources can be difficult. It’s easier than ever to share content — and harder than ever for content creators and owners to make sure they’re being credited, let alone paid, for their work. While the buzz this summer has been around the blockchain as a potential solution for music copyright management and payout transparency, it could also potentially serve as a solution for the broader woes of content creators.
The blockchain already allows messages, text, and and images to be stored, and it would be possible to create a digital watermark and timestamp on an image or piece of text to attribute it to the creator. The openness of the blockchain could help correct for any false attributions, so an average user couldn’t claim to be Andy Warhol. Smart contracts built on top of images could help facilitate payments more easily for commercial artists and photographers, and tipping services like Huzza could ensure that hobbyists can at least collect tips from fans.
For many casual social media users, the blockchain probably wouldn’t make much of difference — if I’m just sharing a funny joke or image to my small group of followers, I’m not going to take the time to do a full search for attribution, and the person who made the joke likely doesn’t care, anyway. But when you start dealing with people like Ostrovsky and his ilk, who make their living sharing content, it provides a neutral ground for determining who owns what and who should be credited.
That said, there are some definite downsides that need to be considered. If Tesla and Marconi could basically each independently invent the radio, the changes that someone else thinks of the same clever quip to slap on an image of a cat as you did are fairly high. The web has enabled a radical openness that allows people to see and share images from all over the world, and anything that chokes that ability would be a negative. But as all the work on Creative Commons has taught us, there are many creators who are fine with giving content away, so long as the credit is given to them and their work isn’t monetized by someone else.
There is also the challenge of getting old content on the blockchain, especially if it’s content that’s not very profitable. The same problem appears in music — data for catalog content from bands like Rolling Stones is likely to be complete and correct, whereas data for a band who sold 500 copies of an album thirty years ago isn’t. Still, the openness of the blockchain means that it will be easier for individuals to share their copyrights, and if you’re a member of that long-forgotten band, you still have some interest in getting paid.
A content-filled blockchain could stop plagiarism before a book even goes to press. An image filled blockchain could help a young artist get paid when his or her work appears in a magazine. A blockchain with smart contracts layered on top of text and images could mean more money for creators, paid out more quickly. It’s not a solution that will be implemented overnight, or even in the next five years, but it could be a long term solution to the copyright woes artists currently face.
Want to add your thoughts to this discussion, or learn more about Revelator? Visit http://www.revelator.com.