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Posts Tagged ‘Blockchain’

Copyright, Blockchain, Technology and the State of Digital Piracy

January 15, 2017 Leave a comment
The next installment of one of my favourite conferences on copyright and technology is right around the corner, on January 24th in NYC, and as usual it promises some interesting: debate, controversy and hot-off-the-press insights into the murky world of copyright business, technology, and legislation. Plus, this year, it also features a panel on the game changing technology of blockchain and its myriad disruptive applications across entire industries, including copyright and the creative industries.

Thankfully, the inclusion of this panel session recognises the never-ending role of new and innovative technologies in shaping the evolution of Copyright. Ever since that first mass copy technology (i.e. the printing press) raised questions of rights ownership, and due recompense for works of the mind, new technologies for replicating and sharing creative content have driven the wheel of evolution in this area. Attendees will doubtless benefit from the insight and expertise of this panel of speakers as well as moderator and Program Chair, Bill Rosenblatt, who questioned (in a recent blog post), the practicality, relevance and usefulness of blockchain in a B2C context for copyright. You are in for a treat.

This is a very exciting period of wholesale digital transformation, and as I mentioned once or twice in previous articles and blog-posts, the game is only just beginning for potential applications of: blockchain, crypto currencies, smart licences and sundry trust mechanisms in the digital domain. In an age of ubiquitous content and digital access, the focus of copyright is rightfully shifting away from copying and moving towards the actual usage of digital content, which brings added complexity to an already complex and subjective topic. It is far too early to tell if blockchain can provide a comprehensive answer to this challenge.

The Copyright and Technology conference series have never failed to provide some thought-provoking insights and debates driven by expert speakers across multiple industries. In fact, I reconnected recently with a couple of previous speakers: Dominic Young and Chris Elkins, who are both still pretty active, informed and involved in the copyright and technology agenda. Dominic, ex-CEO of the UK’s Digital Catapault, is currently working on a hush hush project that will potentially transform the B2C transaction space. Chris is co-founder Muso, a digital anti-piracy organisation which has successfully secured additional funding to expand its global footprint with innovative approaches to anti-piracy. For example, if you ever wondered which countries are most active in media piracy, then look no further than Muso’s big data based state of digital piracy reports. Don’t say I never tell you anything.

In any case, I look forward to hearing attendees impressions on the Copyright and Technology 2017 conference, which I’m unable to attend / participate this timme unfortunately. In the meantime, I’ll continue to spend my spare time, or whatever brain capacity I have left, with pro-bono activities that allow me to: meet, mentor / coach and advise some amazing startups on the dynamic intersection of IP, business and technology. More on that in another post.
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Block Bits and Chain Coins: The Trust Machine Jigsaw

April 1, 2016 3 comments

The topic of Bitcoin, and other cyber currencies, as well as the underlying Blockchain technology is still top of mind for various industries, with frequent: events, blog posts, articles and sundry news items firmly focused on them.  I have also contributed to the deluge with a recently published article in the BCS ITNow magazine, as well as a forthcoming event on the “darker side of Internet technology”, but more on that later.

Last week I attended a BCS London Central event about Bitcoin technology “that could change the world”, featuring Simon Taylor, VP Entrepreneurial Partnerships at Barclays bank. As you might imagine, banks and other financial institutions are at the cross-hairs of any impending / potential disruption by Bitcoin and its Blockchain technology. Given the history of other similar disruptions in other industries, many financial institutions have been quick jump into the ring in order to figure out the best way to take advantage of the new challenge / opportunity rather than just sit back or ignore it.

To this end, Simon did a great job shedding some light on key initiatives by members of the financial services, (including banks and Barclays in particular), on the topic of Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies. My top take-aways from the event include:

  1. Building Blocks – Bitcoin is great, but platforms like Ethereum have really made Blockchain relevant for organisations to build their own applications – i.e. by providing the Lego building blocks for creating useful applications for the banks of tomorrow.
  2. FUD still rules – Opinions differ and people argue as to just what is Blockchain. Is it just the underlying technology used for Bitcoin, or does it include other incarnations and applications of similar mechanisms? A lot of confusion is being caused by misconceptions around Blockchain – e.g. “people keep coming up with Blockchain ‘solutions’ for just about anything”. However, if you do use Bitcoin based solutions, you must beware of implications for data protection, Safe Harbour and industry regulations.
  3. Using a hammer to crack a nut – Simon questioned whether it was really necessary to put up with the immense overhead required for permission-less ‘proof of work’ systems such as Bitcoin, when the faster permissioned versions could be just as effective, albeit with a certain degree less end-to-end security, integrity and non-repudiation capability in comparison to Bitcoin.
  4. Bitcoin keys can also be lost or stolen – Blockchain does not provide a solution for key management, so How can this be mitigated. This could be a potential role for trusted intermediaries, such as banks.
  5. Q&A: How can other organisations (e.g. NHS) successfully leverage such tech? – Simon’s advice to the NHS Director in the audience was to get educated on the topic and then experiment like mad. Barclays does this by first creating an experiment script or hypothesis then outsourcing the work to local / friendly start-ups for rapid turnaround. The resulting outcome is then studied and pulled apart by multi-disciplinary experts from Barclays (e.g. compliance / risk / security teams) before a recommendation is made. Most other industries can follow this model.

Overall, I thought this was a good event which was well attended by a very engaged 100 strong audience. The chosen topic and focus also made a perfect setup for the aforementioned BCS “Darkside” event which is scheduled to take place on 26th April, and features some excellent speakers and their perspectives on the seamier sides and uses of Bitcoin and Blockchain technology. Don’t miss it!

 

More Perils of Reusing Digital Content

February 7, 2016 1 comment
Some time ago I wrote an article and blog post entitled “the perils of reusing digital content” looking at the key challenges facing users of digital content which thanks to the power of computing and the Internet has become more easily available, transferable and modifiable. It says a lot about the age in which we live that this is still not universally perceived to be a good thing. It also explored the Creative Commons model as a complementary alternative to a woefully inadequate and somewhat anachronistic copyright system in the digital age. Since then the situation has got even more complex and challenging thanks to the introduction of newer technologies (e.g. IoT), more content (data, devices and channels), and novel trust / sharing mechanisms such as blockchain. 


I’ve written a soon-to-be-published article about blockchain, from which the following excerpt is taken:  “Blockchains essentially provide a digital trust mechanism for transactions by linking them sequentially into a cryptographically secure ledger. Blockchain applications that execute and store transactions of monetary value are known as cryptocurrencies, (e.g. Bitcoin), and they have the potential to cause significant disruption of most major industries, including finance and the creative arts. For example, in the music industry, blockchain cryptocurrencies can make it economically feasible to execute true micro-transactions, (i.e. to the nth degree of granularity in cost and content). There are already several initiatives using blockchain to demonstrate full transparency for music payments – e.g. British artiste Imogen Heap’s collaboration with UJO Music features a prototype of her song and shows how income from any aspect of the song and music is shared transparently between the various contributors.”


The above scenario makes it glaringly obvious that IP protection in digital environments should be focused more on content usage transparency rather than merely providing evidence or enforcing copying and distribution restrictions. The latter copy and distribute restriction model worked well in a historically analog world, with traditionally higher barriers-to-entry, whereas the former transparent usage capability plays directly to the a strength of digital – i.e. the ability to track and record usage and remuneration transactions to any degree of granularity, (e.g. by using blockchain).


Although it may sound revolutionary and possibly contrary to the goals of today’s content publishing models, in the longer term, this provides a key advantage to any publisher brave enough to consider digitising and automating their publishing business model. Make no mistake, we are drawing ever closer to the dawn of fully autonomous business models and services where a usage / transparency based IP system will better serve the needs of content owners and publishers.


In a recent post, I described a multi-publishing framework which can be used to enable easier setup and automation of the mechanisms for tracking and recording all usage transactions as well as delivering transparent remuneration for creator(s) and publisher(s). This framework could be combined with Creative Commons and blockchains to provide the right level of IP automation needed for more fluid content usage in a future that is filled with autonomous systems, services and business models.


DRM for Things – Managing rights and permissions for IOT

November 24, 2015 Leave a comment

Given the proliferation of interconnected ‘Things’ on the Internet (aka IoT), it was only a matter of time before the pressing need for robust, pervasive governance became imperative. How can we manage the rights and permissions needed to do stuff with and / or by things? The following are some thoughts, based on a previous foray into the topic, and building on my earlier book on the related world of Digital Rights Management (aka DRM).

Does anyone remember DRM – that much maligned tool of real / perceived oppression, (somewhat ineptly deployed by a napsterized music industry)? It has all but disappeared from the spotlight of public opinion as the content industry continues to evolve and embrace the complex digital realities of today. But what has that got to do with the IoT, and what triggered the thought in the first place, you might ask…

Well, I recently had opportunity to chat with friend and mentor, Andy Mulholland (ex global CTO at Capgemini), and as usual, I got a slight headache just trying to get a grip on some of the more esoteric concepts about the future of digital technology. Naturally we touched on the future of IoT, and how some current thinking may be missing the point entirely, for example:

What is the future of IoT?

Contrary to simplistic scenarios, often demonstrated with connected sensors and actuators, IoT ultimately enables the creation and realisation of a true digital services economy. This is based on 3 key aspects of: ‘Things’, ‘Events’ and ‘Connectivity’ which will work together to deliver value via autonomous agents, systems and interactions. The real players, when it comes to IoT, actually belong outside the traditional world of IT. They include organisations in industries such as manufacturing, automotive, logistics etc., and when combined with the novel uses that people conceive for connected things, the traditional IT industry is and will continue to play catch up in this fast evolving and dynamic space.

What are key components of the IoT enabled digital services?

An autonomous or semi-autonomous IoT enabled digital service will include: an event hub (consisting of graph database and complex event processing capability) in the context of ‘fog computing‘ architectures (aka cloud edge computing) – as I said, this is headache territory (read Andy’s latest post if you dare). Together, event handling and fog computing can be used to create and deliver contextually meaningful value / services for end users. The Common Industrial Protocol (CIP) and API engines will also play key roles in the deployment of autonomous services between things and / or people. Finally, businesses looking to compete in this game need to start focusing on identifying / creating / offering such resulting services to their customers.

Why is Graph Database an important piece of the puzzle? 

Graph databases provide a way to store relationships in an unstructured manner, and IoT enabled services will need five separate stores for scaled up IoT environments, as follows:

  1. Device Info – e.g. type, form and function, data (provided/consumed), owner etc.
  2. Customer/Users – e.g. Relationship of device to the user / customer
  3. Location – e.g. Where is device located (also relative to other things / points of reference)
  4. Network – e.g. network type, protocols, bandwidth, transport, data rate, connectivity constraints etc.
  5. Permission – e.g. who can do: what, when, where, how and with whom/what, and under what circumstances (in connection with the above 4 four graphs) – According to Andy, “it is the combination of all five sets of graph details that matter – think of it as a sort of combination lock!”

So how does this relate to the notion of “DRM for Things”? 

Well, it is ultimately all about trust, as observed in another previous post. There must be real trust in: things (components and devices), agents, events, interactions and connections that make up an IoT enabled autonomous service (and its ecosystem). Secondly, the trust model and enforcement mechanisms must themselves be well implemented and trustworthy, or else the whole thing could disintegrate much like the aforementioned music industry attempts at DRM. Also, there are some key similarities in the surrounding contexts of both DRM and IoT:

  • The development and introduction of DRM took place during a period of Internet enabled disruptive change for the content industry (i.e. with file sharing tools such as: Napster, Pirate Bay and Cyberlockers). This bears startling resemblance to the current era of Internet enabled disruptive change, albeit for the IT industry (i.e. via IoT, Blockchain, AI and Social, Mobile, Big Data, Cloud etc.)
  • The power of DRM exists in the ability to control / manage access to content in the wild, i.e. outside of a security perimeter or business boundary. The ‘Things’ in IoT exist as everyday objects, typically with low computing overheads / footprints, which can be even more wide ranging than mere digital content.
  • Central to DRM is the need for irrefutable identity and clear relationships between: device, user (intent), payload (content) and their respective permissions. This is very much similar to autonomous IoT enabled services which must rely on the 5 graphs mentioned previously.

Although I would not propose using current DRM tools to govern autonomous IoT enabled services (that would be akin to using yesterday’s technology to solve the problems of today / tomorrow), however because it requires similar deperimeterised and distributed trust / control models there is scope for a more up-to-date DRM-like mechanism or extension that can deliver this capability. Fortunately, the most likely option may already exist in the form of Blockchain and its applications. As Ahluwalia, IBM’s CTO for Cloud, so eloquently put it: “Blockchain provides a scalable, trustworthy, highly distributed, redundant and peer-to-peer verification process for processing, coordinating device interactions and sharing access to assets in an IoT network.” Enough said.

In light of the above, it is perhaps easier to glimpse how an additional Blockchain component, for irrefutable trust and ID management, might provide equivalent DRM-like governance for IoT, and I see this as a natural evolution of DRM (or whatever you want to call it) for both ‘things’ and content. However, any such development would do well to take on board lessons learnt from the original Content DRM implementations, and to understand that it is not cool to treat people as things.

Governing the Internet of Things.

February 28, 2015 Leave a comment
In light of increasing coverage about the so called “Internet of Things” (IoT), it is not surprising that sovereign governments are paying attention and introducing initiatives to try understand and take advantage of / benefit from the immense promise of the IoT. Despite the hype, it is probably too early to worry about how to govern such a potential game changer, or is it?


According to Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, the Internet of Things is hovering at the peak of inflated expectations, with a horizon of some 5 – 10 years before reaching the “plateau of productivity” as an established technology, so still fairly early days as yet, it would seem. However, that is not sufficient reason to avoid discussing governance options and implications for what is arguably the most significant technology development since the dawn of the Internet itself. To this end, I attended a recent keynote seminar on policy and technology priorities for IoT (see agenda here), and below are some of the key points I took away from the event:


1. No trillion IoT devices anytime soon –  According to Ovum’s Chief Analyst the popular vision of ‘a Trillion IoT devices’ will not appear overnight, for the simple reason that it is difficult, and will take some time, to deploy all those devices in all manner of places that they need to be.


2. What data avalanche? – Although a lot of data will be generated by the IoT, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the proportion of meaningful information will depend on the cost to generate, store and extract useful information from the petabytes of noise – there is a lot of scope for data compression. For example, the vast majority of data from say environment sensing IoT devices will likely be highly repetitive and suitable for optimisation.


3. Regulatory implications – OFCOM, the UK’s Data regulator, identified the four themes as most relevant for the future development of  IoT, i.e.: 1. Data privacy (including authorisation schemes); 2. Network security & resilience (suitable for low end devices); 3. Spectrum (e.g. opening up 700Mhz band and other high / low frequency bands for IoT); and 4. Numbering & Addressing (need to ensure there is enough numbers & addresses in the future for IoT).


4. Standards and interoperability – these remain key to a workable, global Internet of Everything (IoE) particularly because of need for data availability, interoperability (at device and data level), and support for dynamic networks and business models.


5. Legal implications – again the key concern is data privacy. According to Philip James (Law Firm Partner at Sheridans), in describing the chatter between IoT devices: “hyper-connected collection and usage of data is a bit like passive smoking – not everyone is aware of it”.


In context of the above observations, it may be easy to ignore the elephant in the room, i.e. how to manage unintended consequences from something as intangible as the future promise of IoT? What will happen if and when the IoT becomes semi-autonomous and self reliant, or is that science fiction?


Well, I wouldn’t be so sure, because it all boils down to trust: trust between devices; trust in data integrity; and trust in underlying networks and connectivity. However, this is not something the Internet of today can provide easily, therefore some interesting ideas have started percolating around scalable trust and integrity. For example, Gurvinder Ahluwalia (IBM’s CTO for IoT and Cloud Computing) described a scenario using hitherto disruptive and notorious technologies (i.e. Blockchain and BitTorrent, of Bitcoin and Pirate Bay fame respectively), to create a self trusting environment for what he calls “democratic devices”.


The implications are astounding and much closer to the science fiction I mentioned previously. However, it is real enough when you consider that it requires a scalable, trustworthy, distributed system to verify, coordinate, and share access to the ‘Things’ on the IoT, and that key components and prototypes of such a system already exist today. This, in my opinion, is why sovereign governments are sitting up and taking notice, as should all private individuals around the world.