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The Promises and Perils of Blockchain Technology in Publishing

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Bill Rosenblatt is president of GiantSteps Media Technology Strategies, a consulting firm. Bill Rosenblatt is a globally recognized authority on technology issues pertaining to intellectual property in the digital age. He has contributed to standards initiatives related to content identification, metadata, and rights. He has testified before and advised public policy entities on digital copyright and technology issues on three continents.Read more

Everyone’s heard of blockchain technology. In just about every industry, claims are made about how blockchains can revolutionize, disrupt, streamline, or otherwise improve the state of the art. Although finance has been the first area of notoriety, there’s a lot of talk—and in some cases action—about applying blockchain technology to the media industry. Here I’ll discuss the types of applications that are being investigated for blockchain technology in publishing, and I’ll compare them to blockchain developments in other media industry segments such as music and visual arts.

First, for those who aren’t familiar with the basics of blockchain technology, a blockchain is a type of distributed database—a ledger of transactions that isn’t owned by any single entity. Instead, every entity that participates in a blockchain has a copy of it that is guaranteed to be complete at any given time.

It’s only possible to add transactions to a blockchain; once there, they can’t be altered or removed. When a process wants to add data to a blockchain, it constructs a block of data and appends it to the blockchain with a link. Then a protocol runs to validate the data in the new block. This typically involves other entities performing complex mathematical and cryptographic calculations on the data to validate it. The data is considered valid once a sufficient number of entities has agreed on its validity as a result of those calculations; details vary from one scheme to another. The entities performing the validation need sufficient incentives to do it correctly.


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