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Baidu's Blockchain Photo App Launches With Its Own Token

Chinese internet search giant Baidu has launched a proprietary token to incentivize users of its new blockchain-based photo validating and sharing service.

The firm announced on Wednesday during a press conference in Beijing that the photo sharing platform – called Totem – is now live and features a dedicated token called Totem Point, according to a local news report. The launch marks the first blockchain application to be released on Baidu’s private XuperChain network.

Baidu said it will initially generate 4 billion Totem tokens with an annual inflation rate of 4.5 percent to encourage individuals and institutions to submit original photographs.

According to a white paper also revealed today, the quantity of tokens awarded will depend on the validation process, including the quantity and quality of images submitted by a user.

Whether or not the Totem token can be traded for cash or other cryptocurrencies has not been disclosed as yet. Similarly, its full use case scenarios have not been spelled out, although Baidu did say that the token could ultimately be used across different applications built on top of the XuperChain network.

Baidu first announced the Totem initiative in April – without mentioning the token – describing it as a distributed platform that creates a traceable chain of tamper-proof data to protect photo sharers’ intellectual property.

After platform users upload their original images through the application, the blockchain’s participating nodes, such as invited third party photo stock agents and copyright protection organizations, will validate the originality of the images. If approved, the nodes timestamp the images’ critical information and store it on Baidu’s blockchain, producing verifiable data that could be vital in the event of a copyright dispute later on, the company said.

As a next step, Baidu aims to expand the blockchain rights protection system to include other types of digital media asset such as videos, an addition expected by the first quarter of next year.

Photos image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Intel Thinks Blockchain Could Power a Next-Gen Media Rights Manager

Tech giant Intel is joining the growing list of enterprise firms that see blockchain as a way to reimagine digital rights management.

In a patent application released March 8 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the Silicon Valley tech company described a method for using a blockchain for downloading, editing and storing digital images.

The patent application states:

“Blockchain technology is used to document and verify attributes of digital content that are relevant to copyright protection. Such attributes may include, for instance, an identifier for the author of the content, a timestamp to indicate when the content was created, and a measurement that can subsequently be used to detect copying or modification of the content.”

As described, the proposed platform uses several types of software to automatically assess copyright policy settings for each image, even if the picture was taken from external sources. Then, it creates a unique identity for both the original content and any modified versions. The patent calls these identities “shadow images.”

Intel’s patent goes on to mentions video and other types of content aside from images, offering a more comprehensive system with additional features.

For example, Intel’s system seeks to allow users to maintain works in progress, including “unstructured” pieces such as literature with multiple editors. In this way, content can only be modified in accordance with copyright policy settings.

Still, Intel is far from alone in pursuing the idea. In addition to blockchain industry efforts, like Berklee’s Open Music Initiative, companies including China’s ZhongAn and WENN Digital are firms to make headlines for similar ideas in recent weeks.

The patent is also that latest that finds Intel seeking to protect its intellectual creations related to the industry. In June 2016, the company filed a patent for blockchain-powered software to help research DNA, genetic sequencing in particular.

Intel image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Coders Beware: Licensing Issues Abound for Ethereum Apps

Matt Savare and John Wintermute work at Lowenstein Sandler LLP, where they practice intellectual property, digital advertising, technology, blockchain and privacy law. Shailley Singh is the senior director for product and R&D at IAB Tech Lab.

Despite the incredible amount of attention blockchain technology has garnered in the last year, very little has been reported on the open-source licensing issues and related risks developers face when using ethereum as a foundation for their own applications.

Many developers may not understand (or willfully ignore) the unique risks when utilizing open-source software. (These risks are not present in bitcoin, because the bitcoin blockchain, unlike the ethereum blockchain, is not a platform upon which developers can easily create decentralized applications using open-source code.) 

The Ethereum Foundation currently utilizes a variety of open-source licenses for ethereum’s different components. To make matters more complicated, the body has indicated that it has not yet selected a final open-source license on which the core of ethereum will be made available in the future.

For this reason, developers of ethereum-based applications should identify, understand and address these risks and limitations.

Utilization of ethereum involves a number of business and legal issues, but perhaps none are more pressing for an ethereum-based app developer than what is usually a straightforward question: what are my rights to use ethereum?

The answer, it turns out, is not so simple.

When ‘free’ isn’t free   

The Ethereum Foundation promises that ethereum “is both open-source software and Free software after the definition of the Free Software Foundation (so-called FLOSS).” In other words, licensees will generally receive broad rights to run, copy, distribute and improve the software.

Beyond this basic premise, however, things get uncertain.

As any seasoned open-source software developer knows, “free” software does not mean “free of restriction,” neither does it necessarily mean “free of cost,” though it often is. Those restrictions, which can disrupt the core of a downstream developer’s business model, are particularly complicated when it comes to ethereum.

Open-source software, which is premised upon the notion that every software licensee should receive a program’s source code and the ability to modify the software for its own purposes, generally falls into one of two broad categories: “permissive” and “restrictive.”

Permissive-type licenses, which include MIT, BSD and Apache, contain minimal restrictions and grant broad rights to licensees to use and modify the covered software and to re-distribute the modifications on the licensee’s own preferred terms.

For commercial developers, permissive licenses are generally considered safer than restrictive licenses, because they do not run the risk of “tainting” any developments or modifications with the open-source terms of the in-licensed software.

The MIT License, for instance, requires only a copyright notice, a disclaimer, and that the disclaimer and notice be passed along to any downstream licensees. A developer is free to take software that is licensed pursuant to the MIT License and to re-license any modifications or derivative works as part of a standard commercial offering.

Infectious licenses

Restrictive-type licenses, or “copyleft” licenses, include the Mozilla Public License, General Public License (GPL), Lesser GPL and Affero GPL.

In contrast to permissive licenses, these licenses restrict a licensee’s ability to distribute modifications and derivative works under commercial or non-open-source terms.

Copyleft licenses are also called “viral licenses,” because they may potentially “infect” a software product with the open-source terms of the underlying copyleft program, leaving a licensee unable to distribute a modified or derivative version for a fee or in non-source form.

Depending on the copyleft license, there may be ways to utilize the open-source software in a way that does not infect the overall product, and the manner of use that will trigger the terms of the viral license is often a complicated and fact-specific question.

Thus, the use of open-source software, while tremendously valuable, carries levels of risk that must be parsed before in-licensing any open-source product.

At the highest level of risk, a developer may jeopardize the entire proprietary value of a project.

Conflicting views

For developers seeking to understand the implications of licensing ethereum for use in their businesses, the Ethereum Foundation complicates this already sensitive issue in two ways: first, by leveraging a variety of open-source licenses for ethereum’s various components; and second, by remaining indecisive as to the future licensing scheme of ethereum, particularly the ethereum core.

According to the licensing section of ethereum’s GitHub page, applications will be distributed under GPL, and the middleware will be made available under a version of the Affero GPL. Both licenses are restrictive in nature, and therefore limit a licensee’s ability to re-license modifications or developments on commercial terms.

They differ, however, in the definition of “distribution” that triggers the viral restrictions in each license. Affero’s wrinkle is that remote interaction via the web is sufficient to trigger a requirement that an Affero licensee make generally available the source code of its own developments and modifications.

In other words, a licensee of an Affero-covered software product might wish to make modifications or improvements to the underlying software and to make that improved product available as software-as-a-service, but in that case, the source code of the entire derivative work must be made available to users interacting with it. Obviously, this requirement is often prohibitive for a developer wishing to retain the product’s proprietary value.

The Ethereum Foundation explains that ethereum “is distributed under several licenses” in part “to reflect the different thinking of the minds behind different pieces of software.”

These conflicting views are also apparent in that the Ethereum Foundation indicates that it has not selected a final license for the core of ethereum, which includes the consensus engine, the networking code and supporting libraries.

Unresolved questions

Although the Ethereum Foundation states that the “core of ethereum will be released under the most liberal of licenses,” it cites the MIT License, Mozilla Public License and LGPL as the three leading candidates – the latter two of which are actually copyleft in nature (albeit generally considered to be “weak copyleft” licenses).

The goal, according to the foundation, is to make the core “available for use in any commercial environment, closed or open source.”

To make matters more complicated, cpp-ethereum, which contains all of ethereum’s core libraries, appears to be currently licensed under the GPL.

Not only does this conflict with the foundation’s indication that the final core licenses are undetermined, but it is not even among the options listed by the foundation for consideration. The GPL is neither a permissive license nor a “weak copyleft” one. Rather, it contains significant restrictions on downstream modification and redistribution.

The current utilization of a strong copyleft license and the apparent uncertainty as to the final licensing scheme pose potentially material risks for developers.

Until the final license is determined, developers of ethereum-based applications are subject to any shifts or divisions in the philosophy behind the licensing of ethereum – a philosophy the Ethereum Foundation freely admits already contains rifts among the various stakeholders.

Tread carefully

None of this is to say that developers should not utilize ethereum or that the Ethereum Foundation is doing anything wrong in its approach.

Rather, commercial developers need to understand the complications of open-source licensing and the unique wrinkles in the context of ethereum.

The downside of underestimating or misjudging the risks is far too great.

Coder’s monument image via Shutterstock

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Fight for Your Right: Universal Music Veteran Launches Ethereum IP Platform

Andres Martin-Lopez is obsessed with music.

As a child, the former senior project manager for global music corporation Universal Music Group, thought it was fun to organize and reorganize his CDs by genre, artist or whatever other classification he could imagine. Now, he’s merging that passion with blockchain technology, recently raising $1.2 million for Blokur, a music-rights management firm that uses the ethereum blockchain.

It’s another instance of a legacy industry executive moving into the wild world of blockchain in an effort to disintermediate the middlemen that currently extract value from the little guy. Blokur’s mission is to ensure musicians get paid proportionately to the shares of the song they own, and the best way to do that, according to Martin-Lopez is to record music rights on a blockchain.

In his first interview since founding the London-based startup earlier this year, Martin-Lopez said:

“For each work, we’re creating a more precise and complete rights picture around it, which means it’s easier to license content for that piece of work, because it’s more accurate.”

Already, Blokur works with 3,000 music publishers and 10,000 songwriters, and its five-person team has already collaborated with the likes of Radiohead, and Imogen Heap.

The seed round of funding – raised by Digital Currency Group, Ascension Ventures, media entrepreneur Remy Minute and InnovateUK, a British innovation agency – will help the startup double the size of its team, while scaling the number of clients it helps move data.

Harmonizing the data

The first step to making sure musicians and publishers are paid out appropriately is reconciling information, so that a consistent set of data can be added to the ethereum blockchain.

According to Martin-Lopez:

“Reconciling all these different data sources, we’re using smart algorithms to resolve inconsistencies in the data automatically, and we’re capturing the data and writing a state on the blockchain for each individual’s music rights.”

If that sounds complex, that’s because it is. Every record company, publisher, musician, music rights non-profit has its own internal record of the people, bands, song titles and purchases. But many times those records can be wrong, with misspelled names or incorrect spacing or erroneous capitalization in band names – all discrepancies that can lead to right holders not getting paid.

Blokur is using machine learning software to help the company catch these mistakes, and then fixing them on a new aggregated list that can be added to the blockchain. According to Martin-Lopez, that system makes music rights management as much as 70 percent more efficient.

In addition to removing inconsistencies, Blokur also tracks the percentage stake each right holder has in a specific piece of music, paying them out directly with cryptocurrency.

And that process, Martin-Lopez estimates, earns each counterparty 4.4 percent more income on average.

Growing the platform

With music and other arts in the U.S. alone contributing $704 billion to the economy in 2016, the space has piqued the interest of plenty of blockchain entrepreneurs, which will mean strong competition for Blokur.

And even with its experienced team, others in the market have founders and advisers with equally strong backgrounds. For instance, Imogen Heap is developing a blockchain-based platform for music called Ujo, and Slovenia-based Viberate has snagged two high-profile advisers: bitcoin entrepreneur Charlie Shrem and Pinterest chief scientist Dr. Jure Leskovec.

However, Blokur contends it will launch a commercial product soon, after releasing its first product for helping music publishers manage composition rights in beta earlier this year.

Currently, the company is engaged in negotiations “with several large publishers, performing rights societies and artists,” and has been collecting data from early adopters on how to improve the platform.

Plus, the company has aspirations to expand into artist’s rights more generally, once they prove the solution within the music industry.

Martin-Lopez concluded:

“We understand the problem that needs to be solved, and we’re using these participants to try to help us solve that problem.”

Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in Blokur. 

CD collection image via Shutterstock

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