By CaroLea Casas
We are in the midst of a cryptocurrency frenzy. A series of memes has taken over the internet in recent months—all about Bitcoin. Some economists have considered whether the cryptocurrency market is a harbinger of yet another devastating economic debt bubble. In a comment to Fortune, Meltem Demirors, the director of Digital Currency Group, explained the widespread interest simply: “We are going through the biggest wealth generation opportunity of the century, and people want to participate.”
Demirors’ comment rings true. From the businesses rebranding to offer coin, to the investors looking for legitimate opportunities to get in on the ground level, to the federal agencies ensuring compliance with securities law, everyone seems to have an interest. And of those rebranding companies, one sits right at the crossover between technology and art. That company is Eastman Kodak.
On January 8, 2018, Kodak formally announced KODAKOne and KODAKCoin, a hand-in-hand blockchain and cryptocurrency platform, made possible by a union with Wenn Digital and Overstock.com’s offshoot company, tZERO. What seems different about Kodak’s crypto currency platform is that it doesn’t just trade in currency—it also streamlines the procurement of image rights. As the Business Standard recently reported, Kodak’s announcement is elevating blockchain technology to an entirely new level. The article explains, “Just like Bitcoin demonstrated it was possible to have a digital currency that didn’t require third parties (banks or governments) to validate transactions, KodakOne hints at a future where intellectual property works without the need for third parties to enforce property rights.”
The premise is simple, yet sophisticated. Photographers take pictures, register those pictures on the KODAKOne blockchain, and wait for image rights to be purchased by reputable buyers.
This infrastructure would be a stark departure from how photographers currently protect their rights. The ease of sharing multimedia information and content on the internet is great for most people. But the advent of viral sharing has also brought undesirable, often expensive exposure for photographers. Image infringement is rampant. In one account, a photographer discovered fourteen thousand dollars worth of infringement — all due to viral sharing of her work.
The U.S. Copyright Office recognizes a photographer’s image rights from the moment the camera shutter clicks. But defending those rights is another process entirely. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) provides a number of options for image rights protection. Post-infringement damages differ based on whether a copywritten photo has been registered or not. Basic options range from filing a takedown request against infringers to filing suit for actual or statutory damages. Online services and resources do exist for managing infringement claims and explaining the steps savvy photographers should take to protect their work. But the overwhelming onus is on the photographer to proactively protect images, search for infringement, and spend time and resources to collect remedies.
The Copyright Office has made registration of images easier with a new application process that allows photographers to register copyrights in entire groups of photos. (For the full rule, see the Federal Register). But even so, the registration process can take anywhere between six and ten months, depending on the form of application.
What seems miraculous about KODAKCoin’s potential is that it may be able to consolidate and centralize that process. If predictions about the platform’s functionality are correct, then at the very least, the registration wait time is taken out. KODAKCoin, too, requires registration—but blockchain technology could increase efficiency and security. The Business Wire explains: “Utilizing blockchain technology, the KODAKOne platform will create an encrypted, digital ledger of rights ownership for photographers to register both new and archived work that they would then be able to license within the platform.”
The-Blockchain.com also reports that KODAKOne is equipped with “continuous web crawling services to detect unauthorized IP usage and offer an efficient post-licensing process to ensure photographers are compensated.” At minimum then, several major burdens on photographers stand to be lifted. KODAKCoin is well-aligned to be a one-stop-shop for photographers and investors in image rights: a regulatory body, an archive, a marketplace, and a bank all in one. Company partner tZERO’s CEO Patrick Byrne was quoted as saying that “the issuance and trading of KODAKCoin in compliance with securities laws will empower entrepreneurs and protect photographers’ property and licensing rights, while achieving another critical step in defining a new wave of digital capital formation.”
It remains to be seen just how much the new Kodak platform will change the face of intellectual property. Some sources remain hesitant that the concept will work. But in the meantime, Kodak is enjoying a long awaited jump in stock prices and economic expectations. Market Watch reports that the company’s stock price nearly doubled after the announcement, and that they expect an initial coin offering to bring in anywhere from $20 to $100 million.