Looking Ahead: Copyright Developments on the Horizon for Canadian Artists

2020 is shaping up to be an exciting year for Canadian artists. With new developments in blockchain technology, the Canadian Artists’ Representation/Le Front des Artistes Canadiens (CARFAC) and Access Copyright are working together to revolutionize digital copyright protection to support Canadian artists using cryptography.

Blockchain, a ground-breaking technology synonymous with cryptocurrency platforms such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, is a decentralized network that supports peer-to-peer (P2P) transactions. By way of a public ledger, individuals can encode and send digital information to each other, protected by cryptography. Each transaction is verified by other network users using a consensus mechanism, which in turn creates a new digital block that is added to a pre-existing chain of blocks representing previous transactions. The result is a permanent, transparent record that can be accessed by users to verify transactions.

Roanie Levy, President and CEO of Access Copyright, believes that blockchain can be of assistance in verifying provenance, the record of ownership and exhibition history of a work. Through Prescient, Access Copyright’s innovation lab, artists will be able to register their work to an attribution ledger that will track the work’s history as it changes hands. For artists, this means that any subsequent copies of their work can be traced back to its original source. Each artwork registered to the blockchain platform corresponds with a unique digital fingerprint, the International Standard Content Code (ISCC). Parties can consult Access Copyright’s Attribution Ledger to determine the rightsholder if copyright to a registered work is disputed.

An innovative feature of Prescient’s blockchain is its capacity to support artist resale rights, whereby visual artists receive payment when their work resells on the secondary market. Smart contracts (self-executing contracts supported by computer protocol) corresponding with artwork registered to the blockchain can automatically divert a percentage of the sale price to an artist each time their work transfers ownership.

Unfortunately, artist resale rights have yet to be legislated in Canada. Although musicians receive royalties each time one of their songs is played on the radio or streamed online, Canadian artists still do not receive compensation when their work resells on the secondary market. The nature of the art market is such that works tend to appreciate over time. It is not uncommon for collectors to turn large profits when they resell work that they purchased for a fraction of the cost decades prior because the reputation of the work’s producer has developed over time. With the establishment of a blockchain solution, Canadian artists may soon find themselves sharing in the proceeds of their labour.

Public consensus is a key requirement for a technology of this nature to gain traction, and there are still many questions that remain unanswered with regards to the sustainability of the proposed blockchain platform. Only time will tell what the future holds for Canadian artists, but with the CARFAC set to begin administering services for this new platform in 2020, the future appears to be bright for copyright protection for creators and artists in Canada.

Written by Lamont Abramczyk, a first-year student at Osgoode Hall Law School.

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