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Kodak Pivots Toward Blockchain Technology

On January 9, 2018, Kodak and WENN Digital, in a licensing partnership, announced the launch of the KODAKOne image rights management platform and KODAKCoin, a photo-centric cryptocurrency that will empower photographers and agencies to take greater control in image rights management.

The announcement immediately boosted Kodak’s stock, which is now trading at more than twice its previous value.

The idea is that the KODAKOne platform, based on distributed ledger technology (DLT), “will create an encrypted, digital ledger of rights ownership for photographers to register both new and archive work that they can then license within the platform.” KODAKCoin, the native cryptocurrency of the new platform, will allow participating photographers to “receive payment for licensing their work immediately upon sale,” on a secure blockchain platform.

Redefining the “Kodak Moment”

Kodak has been one of the biggest names in photography for decades. The expression “Kodak moment,” popularized in 2013, was used to indicate charming moments worthy of capturing in a photograph. But recently, the expression also has taken on another, less-charming meaning. 

As blogger Dick Taylor wrote in August 2017, the new definition of a “Kodak moment,” could be a “situation in which a business fails to foresee changes within its industry and drops from a market-dominant position to being a minor player or worse, declares bankruptcy.”

Many experts believe that Kodak was too slow in transitioning from film to digital photography. As a result, the company was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection:

“We grew up with Kodak being one of the mainstay brands of the world,” noted Peter Diamandis, co-founder and chairman of Singularity University (SU), in a video for the World Economic Forum. “In 1996, Kodak was at the top of their game. It was a $28 billion company with 140,000 employees that, 20 years earlier, had invented the digital camera but failed to see the potential of it. In 2012, Kodak declares bankruptcy, effectively disrupted by the very technology that they had invented. They didn’t understand what exponential growth would look like.”

Kodak then abandoned its unprofitable legacy business lines and eventually exited from bankruptcy in 2013. The move toward the DLT space indicates the company intends to learn from its past mistakes and heed Diamandis’ advice. Companies in all business sectors are adopting DLT to streamline their existing business lines or pursue new ones, and Kodak’s initiative in creating a blockchain-powered digital rights market for photographers, both professionals and amateurs, makes a lot of sense.

The New Picture

A Kodak press release states that the KODAKOne platform will automatically monitor the web to search for and protect the unlicensed use of images registered on the platform. Kodak hasn’t released detailed technical information, but Etherworld and other news outlets reported that the KODAKOne blockchain will be based on Ethereum and use Ethereum’s smart contracts, at least initially: “We are using Ethereum Smart Contracts, but we’re also developing our own proprietary blockchain and will evaluate the optimal solution during development,” a Kodak spokesman stated.

According to Ars Technica, KODAKCoin may be a rebranding of RYDE, a discontinued cryptocurrency developed by WENN Digital. 

“For many in the tech industry, ‘blockchain’ and ‘cryptocurrency’ are hot buzzwords, but for photographers who’ve long struggled to assert control over their work and how it’s used, these buzzwords are the keys to solving what felt like an unsolvable problem,” said Kodak CEO Jeff Clarke. “Kodak has always sought to democratize photography and make licensing fair to artists. These technologies give the photography community an innovative and easy way to do just that.”

WENN Digital, a development team associated with the Deloitte Analytics Institute in Berlin and the Deloitte Blockchain Institute in Munich, will utilize its experience in blockchain development to participate in the development and deployment of the KODAKOne platform and the KODAKCoin cryptocurrency. 

“Engaging with a new platform, it is critical photographers know their work and their income is handled securely and with trust, which is exactly what we did with KODAKCoin,” said WENN Digital CEO Jan Denecke, in the press release. “Subject to the highest standards of compliance, KODAKCoin is all about paying photographers fairly and giving them an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new economy tailored for them, with secure asset rights management built right in.”

The official KODAKCoin website was not functional as of January 17, 2018. A KODAKCoin initial coin offering will begin, according to Kodak, “on January 31, 2018, and is open to accredited investors from the U.S., U.K., Canada and other select countries.”

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