Blockai uses the blockchain to help artists protect their intellectual property

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While most of the discussions around blockchain have focused on its possible uses in finance, startup Blockai is looking at something different — helping artists, photographers and other creators register their work so that they can protect it from potential copyright infringement.

CEO Nathan Lands is pitching this as an intermediate step between registering your work with the Library of Congress and doing nothing. Technically, your work is copyrighted as soon as you create the novel, drawing or whatever. However, registration is required if you want to sue someone for infringement.

Lands said that when interviewing artists around the San Francisco Bay Area, he found that only 10 percent are registering their work with the Library of Congress, but the rest of them are worried that they should. So the goal here is to create proof of creation in a public database (namely, the blockchain) without necessarily dealing with the time and cost of officially registering.

With Blockai, you just drag-and-drop to register your work, and you’ll get a registration certificate. Then if, say, someone’s reproducing your digital art or photo without permission, you can send them a copy of the certificate.

Blockai Certificate

Will that hold legal water? According to Lands, it hasn’t happened yet, but “we believe that a record created on the blockchain using Blockai would serve as sufficient evidence in a court of law.” And hopefully you won’t have to go to court at all, since sending the certificate seems “a lot more serious than sending them an Instagram picture.”

“The blockchain is the perfect solution for providing proof of creation,” Lands said. “It’s a permanent immutable record. Meaning, once the record is there it’s there forever and will never change.”

As I asked about enforcement, Lands also brought up the topic of digital rights management, the often annoying (or worse) systems that can restrict how media gets shared. Apparently his experience in the game industry convinced him that “strict DRM is not the right solution and with images is basically impossible anyways.”

“The ideal future system is one where there is a universal database for claiming ownership of creations and for paying royalties,” Lands added. “Making it as simple as possible for people to do the right thing.”

With Blockai, Lands is at least taking steps in that direction. The startup has raised $547,000 from investors including Scott and Cyan Banister (plus their AngelList syndicate), Social Starts, Sterling VC, Vectr Ventures, Brian Cartmell and Ramen Underground.