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Author Topic: Using the Blockchain to Document Intellectual Property Rights  (Read 6812 times)
Razick
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August 09, 2014, 04:16:57 AM
Last edit: August 13, 2014, 01:19:55 AM by Razick
 #1

Abstract

Intellectual property at its roots is all about who thought of something first. Hindsight is 20/20 and even some of the most valuable ideas ever invented are common knowledge today. At a high level, the only difference between "us" and the inventors of important technology is that they possessed the knowledge required to accomplish a certain task before we did.

The same goes for stories, images and other intellectual property. From a legal standpoint, if you can prove you possessed that intellectual property before another person, you are likely to win ownership in a legal battle against that person.

So how can an inventor prove they were the first person with an idea? As it now stands, the only way is to publish it in a manner that can be referenced later: "Look, I posted a whitepaper about a P2P digital currency on so and so forum in 2007 whereas Satoshi claims he invented the currency in 2009" someone might tell a judge. Or they can register their IP with the government.

What if a person could prove that he had an idea at a certain point in time without even publishing that idea? Until recently that wouldn't have been easy to accomplish. Sure, I could sign a statement in 2007 claiming that I invented a P2P digital currency, but how would I demonstrate that I signed the statement at that point in time as opposed to the day before my court case?

The blockchain solves that issue.


Demonstrating First Occurance of an Idea

In order for me to prove ownership of intellectual property, I must prove that I was the first person to come up with an idea.

By solving the Byzantine Generals Problem for a digital currency, Satoshi gave us a method of creating a record of "events" that theoretically cannot be altered or forged. The blockchain stores a record of every Bitcoin transaction ever made. Not only that, but it also records a timestamp of when each and every transaction takes place.

This solves a problem traditionally cryptography couldn't: No matter how you sign something it is, as far as I know, impossible to prove that it was signed at a certain date. However, if I sign documentation of a certain piece of knowledge, such as Satoshi's whitepaper, and embed that signature in a Bitcoin transaction (as a public note) I can later prove not only that I had that knowledge, but also that I had it at a specific point in time.


In Practice

I know that Cars can be painted a number of different colors, including red, is true. I am now going to prove that, using the blockchain*, that I know this as of 8/9/2014.

First, I am going to prove that I know this by signing it with my public Bitcoin address 1CBNHbNNJ4C3dTELRJq312hXFwUqxg7bnm which is connected to my Bitcointalk identity.

Signature of "Cars can be painted a number of different colors, including red." (without quotes): HEUCD7JeFipYSPfJpvl5UZPS3H5zDoAjyBSwecyciOJvy9JNGwaClBaASEOaGejEO576dswN0XxFZb/dCc6OKeI=

Next, I am going to prove that at the time of writing, 8/9/2014, I know that "cars can be painted a number of different colors, including red." I am going to do that by sending a transaction to myself with my signature embedded in the public note.

Now that that is done, no one can claim that I didn't realize "cars can be painted a number of different colors, including red" until 8/10/2014, because I have proof embedded in the blockchain*: https://blockchain.info/tx/e32ced8e2c3431a93a6112383e18c694b990f01cfe75edf14993500790e0d81f

Notice on that page that you can see the signature of my statement and the time recieved, 2014-08-09 03:47:39. You can then take my signature and verify it with my public address.


Limitations

Now of course there are some downsides. Someone else may have realized that "cars can be painted a number of different colors, including red," but unless they published this information or embedded it in the blockchain, they can't prove it. However, this makes proving IP ownership easier so that people are more likely to do it. In the future, instead of going to a government office, filling out complicated paperwork and paying heavy fees, anyone can simply put the information in the blockchain and, assuming courts can be convinced, have undeniable evidence that they created an idea. I may not be able to claim that no one else had the same knowledge at that time, but neither can you claim that I didn't have it at that time at all!

The other major weakness is making changes. Given how little proof-reading I did on this post, there are liable to be some serious typos and maybe even some parts that make no sense, but if I want to make changes, I have to keep a copy of the original without a single character changed or my signature will no longer be of any use.



*Before you comment that I haven't actually stored my message in the blockchain, I am aware of that. I used blockchain.info's public note service because that's the Bitcoin client I'm most familiar with and I just want to demonstrate the concept. For one, although not quite as permanent, using blockchain.info's service actually accomplishes the task quite nicely without bloating the blockchain, secondly, this could be done with the actual blockchain, and I do plan to do so in the future once I find the best way.

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Razick
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August 09, 2014, 04:21:41 AM
 #2

Credits:

- Anyone who came up with this idea before me but didn't publish it.  Wink
- vintagetrex for sparking the idea with his more focused solution https://bitcointalk.org/index.php?topic=727662.0.

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August 09, 2014, 05:05:49 AM
Last edit: October 16, 2014, 07:23:23 PM by Peter R
 #3

Manuel Araoz (maraoz on r/bitcoin) has a service called called Proof Of Existence (http://www.proofofexistence.com) that will time stamp documents in the Blockchain for a small fee.  His service hashes your document file and then writes this hash value using OP_RETURN in a bitcoin TX.  

For example, if you download this white paper and drag-and-drop it into proofofexistence.com, you'll see this document has existed since 2014-05-15.  

I should add that you don't actually have to embedded the signature [you don't have to sign it, just hash it] of the document in the Blockchain.  For instance, I can provide good evidence that I am the author of that paper because I'm the only person who can produce a bitcoin-signed message that verifies to the bitcoin address written in the PDF file.    

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August 09, 2014, 06:22:04 AM
 #4

I should add that you don't actually have to embedded the signature of the document in the Blockchain.  For instance, I can provide good evidence that I am the author of that paper because I'm the only person who can produce a bitcoin-signed message that verifies to the bitcoin address written in the PDF file.    

That would work too. I'll take a look at his service. It should be easy to do for free though with something like Armory.

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August 12, 2014, 04:43:07 AM
 #5

Razick, I had this idea about a week ago and have been thinking about it constantly since. Funny how that works!

My thoughts lead to some extensions on this idea in the context of torrent tracking communities like What.cd, and the possibility of having monetized media sharing communities that collect royalties for the content originators.

To make this system work would require something more complicated than the ideas mentioned in this thread. I haven't had a chance to really develop my thoughts, but it could be something like:

- Use a blockchain as a decentralised 'copyright registry'. The best way to do this could be based on the hash of an uploaded file, a la proofofexistence, OR via content fingerprinting systems (unfortunately these are encumbered by patents). To make what I have in mind work automatically, you probably want to use the latter, but if we assume some centralization as in the case of communities like What.cd, then that isn't necessary.

- One of the problems with making a 'decentralised performance rights agency' work (if we assume firt of all, that users are willing to use monetized P2P communities) is that even is we successfully foster a P2P music platform that collects BTC royalties in proportion to the popularity/snatches of torrents, the platform has no way of distributing these royalties to the content creators, because it cannot verify their identity.

- By tying a file, or a sound recording or video (if we use content fingerprinting) to a Bitcoin address, via our blockchain 'copyright registry', we suddenly have a way that someone can stake an ownership claim to a piece of content.

Of course, this is a problem for everything that already exists - there's nothing stopping me registering David Bowie's back catalogue to my BTC addresses in the blockchain. But for new content, if such a system took hold it would heavily incentivize artists to 'blockchain register' their work as soon as/before it was released, which would in turn enable all kinds of automated monetization and flow of cryptocurrency royalties.

Unlevereged financial instruments acting as a store of value that fluctuate 50% within 10 minutes is perfectly acceptable. I think it should be offered in IRA form to soon to be retirees.
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August 12, 2014, 05:24:12 AM
 #6

Cool idea. Will be following this thread

http://BitcoinValue.net-Bitcoin Price Calculator and in-depth blog on Bitcoin Economics/Value.
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August 12, 2014, 06:47:43 AM
 #7

http://www.originstamp.org/ ?
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August 12, 2014, 04:59:48 PM
 #8

Neat concept... But we need the government to recognize it
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August 12, 2014, 05:25:29 PM
 #9

We are currently in the very early development stages of such a system.
It is targeted especially to content owners and creators, and is based on the ideas behind, what is currently know as, robust hashing.
We believe there is a lot of potential in this field.
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August 13, 2014, 01:12:08 AM
 #10

Neat concept... But we need the government to recognize it

Actually, they already do to a certain extent. Intellectual property is protected by common law regardless of whether it is registered or not, but proving ownership is difficult. If an IP owner could convince a judge of the sound logic behind this method, they could probably win a case. Although IANAL.

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August 13, 2014, 01:16:10 AM
 #11

Razick, I had this idea about a week ago and have been thinking about it constantly since. Funny how that works!

My thoughts lead to some extensions on this idea in the context of torrent tracking communities like What.cd, and the possibility of having monetized media sharing communities that collect royalties for the content originators.

To make this system work would require something more complicated than the ideas mentioned in this thread. I haven't had a chance to really develop my thoughts, but it could be something like:

- Use a blockchain as a decentralised 'copyright registry'. The best way to do this could be based on the hash of an uploaded file, a la proofofexistence, OR via content fingerprinting systems (unfortunately these are encumbered by patents). To make what I have in mind work automatically, you probably want to use the latter, but if we assume some centralization as in the case of communities like What.cd, then that isn't necessary.

- One of the problems with making a 'decentralised performance rights agency' work (if we assume firt of all, that users are willing to use monetized P2P communities) is that even is we successfully foster a P2P music platform that collects BTC royalties in proportion to the popularity/snatches of torrents, the platform has no way of distributing these royalties to the content creators, because it cannot verify their identity.

- By tying a file, or a sound recording or video (if we use content fingerprinting) to a Bitcoin address, via our blockchain 'copyright registry', we suddenly have a way that someone can stake an ownership claim to a piece of content.

Of course, this is a problem for everything that already exists - there's nothing stopping me registering David Bowie's back catalogue to my BTC addresses in the blockchain. But for new content, if such a system took hold it would heavily incentivize artists to 'blockchain register' their work as soon as/before it was released, which would in turn enable all kinds of automated monetization and flow of cryptocurrency royalties.

I definitely think there is a lot of potential here, the biggest problem in my mind is that if a blockchain dedicated to protecting IP was created it might lose credibility because of all the false claims.

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August 13, 2014, 07:40:07 AM
 #12

I like this idea, but I wouldn't recommend using it as a primary safeguard of IP ownership. All it would take to invalidate your claim of ownership via this method is to lose control of your private key. You might argue that that's not a very common scenario, but the endless stream of people losing their keys everyday would beg to argue. Mailing yourself a legally verifiable timestamped envelope containing evidence of your ownership is still better, and definitely much simpler to execute. While I do plan on using this method myself one of these days, I would do so only as a matter of redundancy and not as a replacement for much more verifiable methods.
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August 13, 2014, 05:21:04 PM
 #13

I like this idea, but I wouldn't recommend using it as a primary safeguard of IP ownership. All it would take to invalidate your claim of ownership via this method is to lose control of your private key. You might argue that that's not a very common scenario, but the endless stream of people losing their keys everyday would beg to argue. Mailing yourself a legally verifiable timestamped envelope containing evidence of your ownership is still better, and definitely much simpler to execute. While I do plan on using this method myself one of these days, I would do so only as a matter of redundancy and not as a replacement for much more verifiable methods.

I would print out the information on a piece of paper and file it away. I do see your point though.

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August 14, 2014, 12:07:48 PM
 #14

Oddly enough, I registered a domain for this service in April 2012.  I even implemented a proof of concept and hid a few timestamps in the blockchain.  Demand for the service was zero though, so I never bothered to polish it up for a public release.

There are, I should point out, a variety of ways to implement the idea.  Using blockchain.info is on the, erm, less good end of the spectrum.

If you don't feel like searching for it, I'll summarize my method:  User submits hash or file and metadata.  Metadata and hash get stuffed into a text file with info from other documents.  Hash of text file is used as a private key.  Some random transaction is spent to the corresponding address.  Proof transaction output is swept by system.  Once sweep accumulates 6 confirmations, text file is published.

(Notice the lack of external dependencies and UTXO pollution)

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August 17, 2014, 06:19:56 PM
 #15

Oddly enough, I registered a domain for this service in April 2012.  I even implemented a proof of concept and hid a few timestamps in the blockchain.  Demand for the service was zero though, so I never bothered to polish it up for a public release.

There are, I should point out, a variety of ways to implement the idea.  Using blockchain.info is on the, erm, less good end of the spectrum.

If you don't feel like searching for it, I'll summarize my method:  User submits hash or file and metadata.  Metadata and hash get stuffed into a text file with info from other documents.  Hash of text file is used as a private key.  Some random transaction is spent to the corresponding address.  Proof transaction output is swept by system.  Once sweep accumulates 6 confirmations, text file is published.

(Notice the lack of external dependencies and UTXO pollution)

Cool.
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August 17, 2014, 06:47:11 PM
 #16

This is not really very bitcoiny.

http://log.bitcoin-assets.com/?date=17-08-2014#799060 Against Intellectual Property

https://bitcointalk.org/index.php?topic=695146.0 I am opposed to all intellectual property

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August 17, 2014, 07:49:37 PM
Last edit: September 11, 2014, 08:49:36 PM by deepceleron
 #17

You don't have to do anything so convoluted. Namecoin allows arbitrary strings to be included in its blockchain, retrievable by methods currently available in the client and through blockchain explorer tools on the web.

I could register a name ip/dc-invents-fire, and give the name the JSON:
 {"ipdocument-hash":"f196673ab59624b00c77c7f8e1764aa77665de6d44686d07d46650c9a61b4d1c"}

Elsewhere I could state that my message is "I discovered fire", and the SHA256 of that message is in block 123456 of Namecoin, proving that I invented on or before that block (which is timestamped +/- 2 hrs of actual time, outside of my control).

About the only thing quirky with Namecoin is that you have to pre-order your name 12 blocks ahead of actually registering the name with data. This little delay makes for some quirks:
- If you have an IP idea now, you can't publish your proof until after ~2 hrs (unless you planned ahead).
- Only the final registration can be considered the time proof, as someone could pre-order and have the pre-order waiting for the later "invention" or "discovery".

Name registration procedures, if you need a refresher:
https://wiki.namecoin.info/index.php?title=Register_and_Configure_.bit_Domains#2._Pre-order_a_domain_name

Looking up an example name with a block explorer website:
https://dotbit.me/block_explorer/name/id/deepceleron
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August 17, 2014, 11:05:32 PM
 #18

About the only thing quirky with Namecoin is that you have to pre-order your name 12 blocks ahead of actually registering the name with data. This little delay makes for some quirks:
- If you have an IP idea now, you can't publish your proof until after ~2 hrs (unless you planned ahead).

Well, based on my experience, timing is not that much of an issue with IP.
Further, putting an IP signature in a blockchain should be considered just an additional benefit or security if a claim arose.
Something in the lines of 'I am the first to publish it and a proof can be found in TX XZY on the bitcoin blockchain', which of course does not automatically mean you really have the IP rights or ownership.
Especially in the 'music industry' proof of ownership and IP can be quite a tricky topic and a simple hash signature in a blockchain would not mean anything by itself.
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August 21, 2014, 12:20:38 PM
 #19

"Intellectual Property"?  What is this the dark ages? 

Guess what if you put some information in the block chain I can read it and do whatever I like with that information. 


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deepceleron
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August 22, 2014, 04:40:14 AM
 #20

"Intellectual Property"?  What is this the dark ages? 

Guess what if you put some information in the block chain I can read it and do whatever I like with that information. 
Good for you, go ahead and read it, that's the whole idea. I doubt you would though; you didn't read anything else in this topic.
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