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.

Turntable.fm co-founder Billy Chasen recently took to Product Hunt to unveil his latest creation — DoubleLock. The product creates two “keys” which must both be entered in order for a file to be unlocked or modified. Perhaps in light of the Ashley Madison hack, Chasen’s use cases involved naughty pics and videos, but there are plenty of less salacious uses for a product like this. In cases of severe illness or death, you could provide two trusted friends with keys to unlock social media and personal finance accounts — a hedge against anything going off the rails if one of those two people turn out to be untrustworthy. While DoubleLock is still in its infancy, it might be the product that introduces the idea of a multi-sig smart contact into the mainstream.

Smart contracts are contracts that are automatically executed by a computer program; in order for them to be changed, all parties must use a key to unlock the contract and consent to the modifications. The idea of the smart contact has been around since the early nineties, but because there was no one universal and digital financial system to facilitate payments, the concept languished. With the rise of the blockchain and bitcoin, however, interest in smart contracts has grown.

For artists, this could mean the dawn of a new era of payment transparency. At the simplest level, smart contracts could ensure that each band member gets his or her fair say when anyone wants to change a deal. We’ve all heard horror stories about unscrupulous managers or band members who cheat other members out of royalties; most recently, this narrative appeared on the big screen in “Straight Outta Compton.” An expectation of transparency, facilitated by smart contracts, represented a step forward for artists who want to be protected and make sure they are compensated fairly.

Assuming smart contracts can be used on a mass scale, this would also give artists more negotiating power. If a group of artists all have contracts with a single party, they could collectively bargain in order to get better terms, because they all hold the power to hold out until they get a fair deal.

On the back end, smart contracts have the potential to open up the black box system that has come to characterize most payouts. If you follow music and tech at all, before long you’ll likely run into an artist sharing a story about getting a check for a small, random amount and being completely befuddled about how ten thousand plays worked out to twenty-seven cents. It’s the same record label math that led to an artist who sold a million record still not recouping. But a smart contract system would allow artists to track money every step of the way and for each member to make sure they were being paid the correct amount. They also allow for payments to be made automatically — no more waiting around for a check or a deposit to clear.

Smart contracts could also act a defense for major labels. If they put up money to pay for expensive producers and guest verses, they should be able to make the money back, and having everything laid out clearly creates a system where everyone knows where the money is going.

There are a few other benefits of smart contracts that artists might want to explore. Some developers are working to combine the blockchain with the “internet of things;” for instance, if I rent a house on AirBNB, as many touring artists do, the house could unlock automatically once a payment clears. Artists who rent their equipment or vans while they’re not on the road to make some extra money could use smart contracts and shut off the rented gear if payments don’t go through, which is much easier than tracking down someone halfway across the country and forcing them to pay up.

As more artists demand transparency and accountability, smart contracts and multi-key systems will quickly come to represent the new normal. In a few years, we’ll all look back and wonder why we put up with “dumb” contracts and even dumber passwords in the first place.

Want to add your thoughts to this discussion, or learn more about Revelator? Visit http://www.revelator.com.

DA Wallach is fully aware he’s in uncharted territory. “I’m unaware of anyone who has used the blockchain to share data around music,” he says.

But just because no one in the music business has used the technology yet doesn’t mean that it’s not a potentially viable solution to fix the industry’s data, payments, and transparency woes.

“We don’t have a single, objective database to keep track of who owns what and is owed what, partially because no one has trusted each other enough to create something like that,” says Wallach. “But the blockchain represents a neutral ground, and a possible solution.”


“There are massive problems with the way music
copyrights and payments are currently managed”.

At this point everyone is aware that there are massive problems with the way music copyrights and payments are currently managed. Lacking a central database, those seeking to license music are forced to wade through disconnected and often incomplete information.

Artists are left to receive checks every quarter for seemingly random amounts, with almost no information about why those payments are being handed down.

And plenty of artists don’t even see money owed to them, not because of bad faith or unscrupulous actions by any one party, but simply because no one predicted the digital revolution thirty years ago when entering information in a database.

“No one predicted the digital revolution thirty years
ago when entering information in a database”.


The summer of 2015 has been the summer of the blockchain for the music business. Plenty of op-eds on either side have been published, with tech savvy artists and startup founders praising the technology as the means to an open and transparent payment system and naysayers dismissing it as another fad.

The truth seems to lie somewhere in the middle — while it’s dangerous to call anything a “savior” in this business without being reminded of videodisks, digital watermarks, and other flops, it’s also silly to dismiss the blockchain’s potential to create real change.

“One of the biggest problems now is a lack of understanding
about what the blockchain actually is”.

One of the biggest problems now is a lack of understanding about what the blockchain actually is and why it could power a solution where others, most recently the Global Repertoire Database, have failed.

Blockchain technology is most often related to bitcoin, the cryptocurrency associated with various illegal online activities (and, to be fair, plenty of legal commerce). But bitcoin and blockchain are not interchangeable terms; rather, the blockchain is the database that powers bitcoin, but it is certainly not limited to that one role.

Distilled down to its simplest essence, the blockchain is a decentralized public ledger that is duplicated across a “peer to peer network” while still maintaining a coherent state (agreed upon by all participants) without requiring a central authority.

New content updated to the ledger is validated and encrypted periodically and that data is bundled into a new block, making it hard to change the content of a block without permission.

Distilled down to its simplest essence,
the blockchain is a decentralized public ledger that
is duplicated across a “peer to peer network”.


Unlike many databases that exist today, the blockchain is public, meaning that data cannot be manipulated on the back end.

It is also open to public viewing and everyone has a full copy of the data, so it can never disappear, and everyone can participate. Think of it a little likeWikipedia, which allows open participation but open monitoring as well.


Blockchain technology also presents the possibility of using smart contracts. Smart contracts (or self enforcing contracts) are programs that execute a contract, without the need of an outside party to enforce them.

Because the blockchain is decentralized and immutable, everyone can trust a smart contract that runs on it.

For example, one can describe a contract where upon buying a song on iTunes, the value is immediately distributed with certain percentages (say 30%, 30%, 40%) between 3 predescribed parties (e.g. Apple, the record label and the artist).

Streaming services and labels could sync their payment systems up with the database and send royalties automatically, and artists could trust that they were being paid what they were owed.

“Streaming services and labels could sync their payment
systems up with the database and send royalties
automatically, and artists could trust that they
were being paid what they were owed”.


One interesting ability, available already on the Bitcoin blockchain, is a multisignature (or “multisig” for short) address which splits ownership between multiple parties (like a safe deposit box that needs more than one key to be opened).

Even if a band breaks up or members have a falling out, every member would still have to give permission for any contract to be modified, ensuring that no one member could monkey around with royalty payments.


One of the biggest battles will be getting artists and rightsholders on board the blockchain train. Wallach admits that this likely won’t happen overnight, and predicts it’ll be at least ten years before adoption will be widespread.

However, once information is being uploaded widely, the blockchain will provide accurate metadata for all to see, and transferring payments and copyrights will be as quick and easy as sending an email. Payments will be transparent and efficient, and easy to use as well.

“Transferring payments and copyrights will be
as quick and easy as sending an email”.

One possibility is that blockchain technology in music will be adopted first in developing markets that lack legacy databases.

As it stands now, most of the data is siloed and hard to understand even in developed markets, and as developing markets come online, the lack of any central database will be problematic.

In some African markets, mobile payments built on top of blockchain technology are commonly used; here in the US, it’s not hard to find business that don’t even accept credit cards.


The blockchain is also not the only game in town. Apple and Google, as well as the record labels, all have their own databases and many insist on those being used.

There are documented problems with historical data as well — even if artists all started using the blockchain tomorrow, there’s still almost fifty years of historical music metadata sitting out there, much of it incomplete and incorrect.

It makes sense for labels to make sure their most popular catalog content is correct — but pity the poor artist who sold a few thousand copies in the mid-seventies and then disappeared from view.

This is where a more open system could help; while that artist’s label has no real financial incentive to help him or her, the artist in question could upload their own information and at least start seeing some micropayments.


“An open and transparent platform that can
be used by anyone, anywhere in the world,
would open up opportunities for artists
to be compensated and music to be licensed
in new and exciting ways”.

Legitimate questions aside, the blockchain offers unprecedented possibilities in transforming digital rights management in the music industry.

An open and transparent platform that can be used by anyone, anywhere in the world, would open up opportunities for artists to be compensated and music to be licensed in new and exciting ways. Ultimately, greater transparency and smart contracts represent a great new way for artists to be paid fairly.

Revelator is one of a handful of startups innovating in this space, and isannouncing today a new partnership with Colu.
You can read the press release or the whitepaper.