DRM and Blockchain: A Solution to Protect Copyrights in the Digital World?
In the artistic world, the development of the
Internet, while creating a tremendous way for artists to spread their work
worldwide and gain in notoriety, created an environment very much in favor of
online piracy, which right holders are still trying to circumvent. The
development of new technologies made possible the transmission of unlawful
high-quality copies of protected works to millions of individuals worldwide in
a single click. But technology is also used in combination with the law so that
the rights attached to each particular creation can be efficiently protected in
the digital world.
To give right holders a way to control the
distribution of their work and to measure content usage, digital rights
management (DRM) technologies have been developed. As early as 1998, companies from
the music industry and other sectors launched the Secure
Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) with the goal to both protect the storage
and distribution of digital music and protect the interest of consumers. Besides,
companies like Microsoft
started investing in the development of digital rights management technology.
To ensure the efficiency of these technical measures
that were starting to appear, several countries started implementing laws not
only authorizing but protecting DRM. At a global level, the World Intellectual
Property Organization (WIPO) adopted the Copyright Treaty.
Article 11 of this treaty states that “Contracting Parties shall provide
adequate legal protection and effective legal remedies against the
circumvention of effective technological measures that are used by authors in
connection with the exercise of their rights […] and that restrict acts, in
respect of their works, which are not authorized by the authors concerned or
permitted by law”.
In the United States, copyright protection and
copyright managements systems are protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright
Act of 1998, which criminalizes the circumvention of technological measures to
prevent copyright infringement.
In Europe, a 2001
directive created an obligation for every member State to provide “adequate legal protection” against the circumvention of any
effective technological measures which controls access to a copyrighted work. In application of this
directive, France for example, made it a misdemeanor to knowingly get around a
But despite this legal protection and the
technological efforts that were made, these mechanisms were often circumvented
and resulted in a meager protection that hackers could bypass once, before
sharing the copyrighted content left unprotected. In addition to not prove very
efficient, DRM technologies have been criticized
as liberticidal. Consumers who lawfully obtained copyrighted content
and were limited in its use were seeing DRM as imposing unfair restrictions.
Based on the idea “that basically consumers were not going to put up with DRM
stopped using DRM on the contents available on iTunes Stores.
Despite these obstacles, DRM technologies are still
used to try to control the diffusion of copyrighted work on the Internet and
tech companies are looking for ways to improve them. Recently, the solution
that sparked most interest is resumed in one word: blockchain. This new technology,
by allowing to embody copyrighted works in a “secure, time-stamped and
immutable chain of information,” will make these works
unalterable and their further uses very easy to control by the copyright owner,
as every usage of a specific content will be recorded in the chain.
On October, 15, 2018, Sony announced his intention to
use the blockchain technology in order to make digital rights management more
efficient. According to its press
system is specialized for managing rights-related information of written works,
with features for demonstrating the date and time that electronic data was
created, leveraging the properties of blockchains to record verifiable
information in a difficult to falsify way, and identifying previously recorded
works, allowing participants to share and verify when a piece of electronic
data was created and by whom. In addition to the creation of electronic data,
booting up this system will automatically verify the rights generation of a
piece of written works, which has conventionally proven difficult. Furthermore,
the system lends itself to the rights management of various types of digital
content including electronic textbooks and other educational content, music,
films, VR content, and e-books”.
In other words, blockchain would offer a very
performing way to prove ownership and to trace utilization of a copyrighted
Other companies started working on the subject. In the
music industry, Spotify
acquired Mediachain, blockchain startup which aims to facilitate the
payment of musical artists through cryptocurrencies. The goal is to identify
which songs were played and to pay the right artist accordingly using digital rights
The development of
these new blockchain based DRM is really encouraging and constitutes a step
toward an efficient protection of copyrighted content in the digital world. According
to Rahul Gautam, Ernst & Young analyst, “the prospect of being able to manage who has
the ability to access that content […] and where that money should go at the
end of the transaction is extremely daunting for existing technologies,” but
this goal could be achieved through blockchain.
Copyright Treaty, Art. 11, 36 I.L.M. 76 (Dec. 20, 1996)
 Millennium Copyright Act (Dec.
1998), 17 U.S.C. §§ 1201 et seq.
2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council (May, 22, 2001), art. 6
 Article L335-3-1 of the French Intellectual Property Code
and IP Law: A Match made in Crypto Heaven? WIPO Magazine.
 News Releases, Sony
Develops Rights Management System for Digital Content Utilizing Blockchain
Foundation, SONY (Oct. 15, 2018)
 Stacy Nawrocki, Could
Blockchain DRM Stop Digital Film Theft? (Nov. 16, 2017)
Flore Brunetti is an LLM candidate, 2019, at NYU School of Law.