A group of Canadian associations are collaborating, to develop a public blockchain registry. The registry, called “Imprimo”, will allow artists to register and enforce their copyright to ensure that value and benefit are gained in their work.
Blockchain is a digitized ledger of online transactions that records and stores information that is verifiable, public, and permanent. The transactions are written in “blocks”, permanently linked together by cryptography to create a “chain”. These “blocks” of data are stored on “nodes”, which are devices, such as computers, that are connected to each other. A key component of blockchain technology is that it is decentralized, meaning the information is stored and updated independently by each node of the network. This, coupled with its repetition by way of independent verification by each node, makes the system immutable and, for the most part, resistant to tampering.
The use of blockchain in Imprimo addresses the issue of attribution. An attribution ledger will allow artists to register their work and develop a trusted and authoritative record of ownership and attribution. The attribution ledger will create a database of works that promote artists’ ability to verify their works and assert their rights.
Artists will be able to submit their works for registration to an attribution ledger. This will then create a unique identifier for the work and also store data about the work, such as the creation date, the creator, and the copyright holder. The ledger will verify whether the work already exists on the attribution ledger. If the work already exists, the ledger will verify that the uploader has the rights to authorize use of the work. If the work does not exist on the ledger, the artist may submit a claim to add the work to the attribution ledger.
Through Imprimo, individuals will be able to track ownership, generate a certificate of ownership for verified works and, perhaps most importantly, link the works to the artist so appropriate tangible (i.e. financial) and intangible (i.e. publicity) benefits are inured to the artist.
A beta version of Imprimo is set to be released to select visual artists in 2020.
If successful, the ledger will likely be expanded to other types of copyrighted works. The use of blockchain will also allow for future incorporation of smart contracts, which will help facilitate artists being rightly compensated when their works are used, and make for an even more robust platform for artists, art collectors, and galleries.
About the authors
Michelle Noonan and Hashim Ghazi are associates at Deeth Williams Wall LLP, practising in intellectual property law and information technology law.
 The Canadian Artists’ Representation/Le Front des Artistes Canadiens, Regroupement des artistes en arts visuels du Quebec, Copyright Visual Arts, and Access Copyright.
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