Why Blockchain matters to photographers
Updated: Sep 18, 2018
Blockchain and the image industry
If you are tired of seeing your images pop up on someone else's site without your permission or a license, and you are tired of not being able to control how your images are used, listen up.
Blockchain is a technology that securely records, transfers, and stores data and transactions. This is the technology that has enabled cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin to exist. What makes this technology so special is that it stores data and all transactions involving that data on a secure distributed network. I am simplifying this grossly, but the data stored on that distributed network is immutable and is not susceptible to hacking.
For photographers, you can record your images on the blockchain by means of a hash (hash is a blockchain term that is a unique code assigned to your block of data). The hash acts like an immutable watermark - that illusive ownership tag - that we have been pursuing without success for nearly 20 years. Once a photographer’s images have been “hashed” and are on the blockchain those records are there forever. Theoretically, you can track them anywhere in the ether by locating that hash.
You can also record images in such a way that you can set your own pricing and your own use parameters. (This requires another application involved in blockchain called “smart contracts”). Setting up your images with parameters for use and smart contracts is very similar to the whole idea behind Creative Commons. You can let people license your images directly by creating a fee or allow people to use your images for certain purposes but this time it is ENFORCEABLE, because you can track and monitor the use wherever it goes.
As someone who worked in this image industry for a long time, this is a particularly exciting inflection point for the future of photography as a business. How many times have images been used because the image had no information? Or maybe the person didn’t think the image required a license? Because the image is part of the blockhain, the basic information of ownership will always be part of the image record and available to anyone who wants to use the image.
So, where can I get this great new technology? Sign me up! This is all just beginning to happen. There is no product on the market that currently does what I have described here. But, in about 2 years, this will be reality.
Currently there are more than a handful of photography businesses either incorporating blockchain records already or in start-up mode to create blockchain marketplaces with data records and smart contracts. You should take a look at these companies – all of them. You should learn what they plan to offer you and who their customers are. You should understand what their fee structures are and how they plan to make money. Maybe you will decide to experiment with some of these. If you do, just make sure that your images can exist with other blockchain systems as well (ask them what their interoperable capabilities are). If not, proceed with caution. We are embarking on a major shift that will cause a lot of change in our industry.
The bottom line: Will this new technology impact my revenues? It can, but that only depends on whether customers understand the value of images that can be tracked and given a reliable license history, and if the fees in getting images published are eliminated or reduced. If you need a service to market and sell your images, of course those services will cost something, but going forward, you will be able to track all of your licenses and where your images are so that you will know the value of those services and quantify how much of the revenue pie you can afford to give away.