Bitcoin Will Save Copyright Online

Former Pirate Party leader Rick Falkvinge is famous for two things: trying to end copyright and changing all his money into Bitcoin. Both of them can be thought of as a digital rebellion of sorts, but after a hearing in European Parliament today, it seems that perhaps Bitcoin will ultimately save Copyright.

Bitcoin is a cryptographic currency based on a technology called block chain (or “distributed public ledger” in EU Commission lingo). Block chains are sequences of information (blocks in a chain) which are supposedly impossible to modify or delete. The chain is updated with a new block every ten minutes or so, each block contains information about the previous blocks so the chain cannot be interrupted and the chain is publicly distributed so it is stored in many places and not in one. It is a database, but the data is not in one place but many. Some say it takes away the need for trust, some call it an accounting revolution, some say it’s a transparency tool. (Lots of insights in today’s event, check out the video stream here)

The internet is a great copy machine, which the entertainment industry learned the hard way. Nothing is easier than to make copies online, in fact it’s very difficult – if not impossible – to not make copies of files put on the internet. Many things can be said about that, but for now let’s focus on crypto-currencies. Let’s say you want to make a new kind of money. Then you don’t want that money to be copied, in fact that takes away the whole idea of money – it’s supposed to be a limited resource, otherwise there is no value. So how can you put your new kind of money online? Bitcoin solved that problem with block chain. As Pindar Wong of VeriFI said in today’s seminar “Block chain enables transfer, not copy”. If block chain works for new kinds of money, it also works for copyright. The idea of a digital copy rises again. I can own a copy of a song, I can give it away or sell it and after that I don’t own it anymore. All made possible through the distributed public ledger that is the block chain. The problem of selling content online was a problem created by technology, but now looks possible to solve by technology.

Despite his best efforts, Rick Falkvinge may not have ended copyright but rather found the answer to how to save it. Surely he will take comfort from the fact that if the Bitcoin rate keeps going up, he can afford to buy all the digital music he could ever want.