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Blockchains and the Modern-Day Artistic Renaissance

The widespread expansion of the internet in the mid-1990s spurred decades of innovation, including a proliferation of e-commerce businesses, social media platforms, apps, smart devices and streaming services. But the internet has also brought us complicated problems like “fake news,” hackers and the erosion of mechanisms that once enabled the harbingers of creativity — artists, musicians, filmmakers and writers — to receive proper recognition and compensation for their creative works.

A culture that fails to reward the arts offers little incentive for people to invest in artistic careers. This can lead to societal stagnation. Emerging blockchain technology allows for the secure exchanges of value, attribution and tracking, factors that have the potential to trigger a modern-day artistic renaissance. We may be on the cusp of a cultural rebirth as impressive as that set in motion by the invention of the printing press in the mid-fifteenth century.

Art Appreciation

Appreciation for the arts is dependent on cultural exposure; but in order for the arts to flourish, cultures must also recognize and reward artists for their contributions. The internet allows for mass exposure of artistic work, but established systems for reward and attribution are sorely missing. If an artist chooses to share work on a website or social media platform, in practice, anyone can repost, share, take a screenshot, download and repurpose the work for their own ends. After numerous shares, downloads, and reuses have occurred, the original artist’s name is frequently no longer tied to the work. Additionally, the creator receives no reward for all of the times that the work has been seen and repurposed.

Blockchain technology can provide some solutions. For instance, the company Ascribe uses the Bitcoin blockchain to securely record ownership of visual art works and track transactions. Artists are able to digitally license their work for an agreed-upon price and duration, empowering artists to share and display their creations without fear of losing ownership.

Problems of artistic attribution and compensation — and the potential for blockchain-based technology to furnish solutions — are not limited to the visual arts. The music industry faces similar challenges when it comes to tracing the use of songs, as well as collecting remuneration for musicians. Singer/songwriter Imogen Heap founded Mycelia to create a digital blockchain-backed rights management and payment layer to collaboration and license practices. Heap maintains that the rise of internet streaming services has rendered the concept of paying for music nearly obsolete and, along with it, the mechanism by which many musicians made a living. As with visual arts, music is often reappropriated in YouTube videos, presentations and personal websites, frequently without credit attributed to the original artist.

In an article published in the Harvard Business Review, Heap explains of blockchain technology, “listening to a song might automatically trigger an agreement for everyone involved in the journey of a song with anyone who wants to interact or do business with it — whether that’s a fan, a DSP (digital service provider such as Spotify or iTunes), a radio station, or a film production crew.”

The peer-to-peer system of exchange enabled by the blockchain-backed network endows creators with increased freedom to present and share their songs without having to cater to the demands of streaming industry giants. 

From da Vinci to N.W.A

Throughout history, the arts have been a conduit for new ideas, perspectives and knowledge. Think of the cultural impact of Bob Dylan or N.W.A. Envision a future devoid of artists such as Salvador Dali or Andy Warhol. We need artists to challenge entrenched thought patterns and bring new interpretations to light. The lack of secure mechanisms for value exchange, tracking and attribution has made it difficult for artists to thrive in the digital age, but blockchain startups like Ascribe and Mycelia are changing that. By building systems that enable artists to receive monetary reward and credit for their work, blockchain entrepreneurs are laying the foundation for a new era in which artists prosper and culture flourishes.

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Distributed Summary:

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  • Filed patent for “expedited virtual currency transaction system” in March
  • Historically cold toward crypto/Bitcoin, this could signal shift from PayPal

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