Internet came with many good things. Some people took long to embrace the idea, but they eventually did and have benefited immensely.
However for some, particularly creative artistes, the ubiquity of the Internet has become a source of regret because of piracy.
The Internet changed business models, drove several companies out of business and lowered revenues for many other individuals and organisations.
Blockchain technology is promising to bring about a more just and equitable society by reversing the pain brought about by the Internet.
Although everybody in the world knows stealing is wrong, the Internet has made it so rampant that some people don’t even know what constitutes theft online.
There are ethical, moral and financial arguments as to whether there is a problem in stealing works of creative people.
With reduced income, artistes have had a longstanding conflict with content providers around the unfair distribution of revenue from the Internet.
It was also becoming clear that existing channels of distribution could not keep up with the explosion of creative content distributed online.
Problems are the mining ground for innovation, especially in the tech sector. It was not going to take too long before someone came up with a solution.
Problems present an opportunity to create a new enterprise and indeed new startups like Ujo Music, Allmade Records and Mycelia for music are leveraging blockchain technology to provide new solutions that they say “can empower artists with direct payments, a closer connection to fans, and a home for their music that is wholly-owned, rather than rented from online music services. This is just the first step in bringing to life a fair and healthy music industry fit for the digital age.”
Monitoring of music does not just stop at what happens in streaming. It goes further with Allmade Records, which has a monitoring gadget that is placed in public places to monitor offline music.
Some of the places that respect intellectual property (IP) will make arrangements through smart contracting and the revenues will go to the artistes. Since blockchain maintains a record that cannot be erased, those who violate IP will find themselves in court.
This comes at a time when Kenyan artistes are embroiled in a fight over unpaid dues with the Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK). Even when artistes are paid, they receive peanuts in royalties.
I doubt that even MCSK has a complete grasp of the magnitude of revenues that go uncollected or IP violations that could be recovered through court action.
Instead, artistes continue to suffer, alleging corruption among the MCSK ranks. Whether this is true or not, there is need for watertight technology to help solve this longstanding problem.
Blockchain promises to deal with just that.
Television artistes in Kenya die poor as people enjoy their content without paying for it.
It is possible that some of the older shows like ‘‘Vioja Mahakamani’’ and ‘‘Vitimbi’’ could attract greater revenue, especially on the online distribution channels, to rescue the aging entertainment icons of our country and the families of those who have departed like Mzee Ojwang (Benson Wanjau).
The contracts of the works of these icons were on television and not the new distribution platforms like YouTube that have not remitted any royalty to any of the artistes.
At a recent conference on blockchain held at Strathmore University, lawyers defined smart contracts as computer protocols that help people exchange anything of value transparently without the services of a middleman.
Others define them as a mechanism to facilitate, verify, or enforce the negotiation or performance of a contract, or that which makes a contractual clause unnecessary.
In an increasingly digital world, smart contracts will become more common and enforceable. Besides these contracts, there is also a mechanism of protecting IP in blockchain technologies.
In all fairness and with the new technologies, efforts should be made to bring justice to the otherwise marginalised creative members of the society.
On my part, in the coming year, I shall put together a team to sensitize all artistes of their rights and how the new technologies will help them recover what is due to them.
This is an exercise that I tried to intervene through policy a few years back, but failed due to lack of monitoring mechanisms.
Blockchain technology has brought hope to enable creative artistes to reclaim control and protect their IP. Ours is to support the success of the creative sector and help create wealth and employment.
The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi’s School of Business