Copyright & Cryptocurrency: The Past, Present, and Future
Let’s play a word association game. When we say the word “copyright,” what terms come to mind?
……..we’ll give you a second to think……….
You’re probably familiar enough with the term “copyright” to know that it’s a type of legal protection. However, copyright has moved beyond its traditional implications, and will arguably be a significant gamechanger for startups working in cryptocurrency in 2018. We bet your first-word association with “copyright” wasn’t “cryptocurrency”—but it’s time to start thinking about copyright with forward-looking mindset!
I. The Past: What is a copyright?
Copyrights have historically (and continue to) protect artistic and creative works – basically any type of creative content. If the content is the main feature of your creative idea, then copyright is probably your best bet for intellectual property (IP) protection. It also protects computer code. Sometimes, it can be used to protect a logo – but see below for when that’s possible.
Copyrights have many advantages over other types of IP protection. For one, it is quite inexpensive – the registration fees at the US Copyright Office (if you do it yourself) are only $55. It is also a very fast procedure, as you will receive a filing receipt immediately if you file electronically. Finally, copyrights do not involve any type of examination procedure; once you receive the filing receipt, then you have automatically registered your copyright.
II. The Present: When can copyright help you—and when can’t it?
Copyrights can be used to protect specific types of ideas. Some ideas that copyright can be used to protect:
· All printed material – including books, manuals, brochures, magazine articles
· Contents of websites
· Images (whether physical or digital)
· Video – including the components of videos (visual information, story, spoken words, music)
· Music – including lyrics, melody, sound recordings, written the musical score
· Computer code (but not the underlying idea or design – see below)
Some ideas that copyright can’t be used to protect:
· Cannot be used to protect names or slogans – those must be protected with a trademark.
· Cannot be used to protect broad software ideas – those must be protected by a patent.
Logos can go both ways – sometimes they can be protected by copyright, sometimes with a trademark – and sometimes with both. Check with a copyright or trademark professional for any specific logos that you want to protect.
III. The Future: Crypto-copy
You may have read that camera company Kodak is launching its own cryptocurrency. As part of its cryptocurrency launch, Kodak is looking for new ways for photographers to protect their artistic work. As CEO Jeff Clarke noted:
"For many in the tech industry, 'blockchain' and 'cryptocurrency' are hot buzzwords, but for photographers who've long struggled to assert control over their work and how it's used, these buzzwords are the keys to solving what felt like an unsolvable problem. Kodak has always sought to democratize photography and make licensing fair to artists. These technologies give the photography community an innovative and easy way to do just that."
The technology behind cryptocurrency, the blockchain, could also lead to more demand for copyrights, as it can also be another enforcement mechanism for intellectual property. By having a decentralized ledger that is impossible to corrupt by just one individual, blockchain provides copyright owners with another possibility to ensure that their precious content is protected. In addition, the integration of blockchain into various use-cases has resulted in blockchain startups receiving a lot of attention in 2017 (and moving into 2018). Both customers and investors are putting their money (and significant amounts—up to $40 million for one funding round) into blockchain and cryptocurrency.
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