The Core Flaw of Blockchain

The truth about blockchain is that at its core, it requires its regime to be enforced on rights owners in order to scale–and that is its essential flaw.

Call me a blockchain skeptic.  I agree with many of the conclusions reached by Alan Graham in his MusicTechPolicy interview, but I also think that at its core, blockchain as currently contemplated fails as an industry-wide rights registry.  Since I understand that its essential purpose is to be a reliable rights registry, it seems obvious to me that blockchain has limited application at best.

I spent a good deal of time helping some very smart people build an independent rights registry around 2005 and have thought about these issues for a long time.  (All the major labels and many indies participated in that registry.)

Based on that experience, I believe that the core value proposition of a rights registry is that it be easy to use; that the information in it be objectively verified and only changed with a proper showing of authority; that it be capable of making or directing the making of royalty payments (which means holding necessary tax information); and that it can be easily and timely updated with information for new releases.  I believe all these elements are essential and that blockchain accomplishes none of them well and some of them not at all.

A quote from Benji Rogers in MusicAlly lays out the core problem very effectively.  (Benji Rogers is a promoter of the blockchain technology and his own company Dot Blockchain–I think I have all the capitalizations in the right place, but forgive me if it’s actually dOt bLK.ch..n or something like that.)  Here’s his quotation (which I doubt that he viewed as a criticism of his product):

“Blockchains force action… If I were to make a statement about a work that I own in a blockchain, and I were to send it to you…you have three choices: yes it’s correct and I agree, no it’s not correct, or ignore it, which means it’s correct.”

What blockchain may bring to the table is something you cannot ignore, because ignoring it is the same as accepting what’s there in the table is truth… A blockchain-based system at scale could force people to work with it, in a way that exposes them to decentralisation and transparency, arguably whether they like it or not.” (emphasis in original)

In other words, organizing the world’s information whether the world likes it or not.  Sound familiar?

It is one thing if blockchain is a voluntary regime that artists and users can decide to participate in–and submit themselves to forced “decentralization and transparency” as Mr. Rogers articulates so well.  But it is entirely another thing altogether if blockchain is enforced by law.

I would not rule out that it is ultimately the goal of the blockchain investors to force songwriters and artists to submit to the blockchain as a matter of law.  This is certainly a familiar refrain if you have followed the various meltdowns over the desire of online retailers and search companies to force songwriters and artists to submit to their exploitation.  We have heard these ideas frequently over the years whether it is even safer harbors, orphan works or massive numbers of unauditable address unknown NOIs under the US compulsory mechanical license.

If you doubt that could happen, realize that two unmovable government agencies are currently allowing millions of songs to be exploited with unverified and dubious authority–the U.S. Copyright Office with mass NOIs and the Department of Justice with 100% licensing.  What’s to stop them taking the next step?

One person’s forced “decentralization and transparency” is another’s eminent domain.  So when you hear about blockchain, imagine if the blockchain bubble had the awesome power of the sovereign forcing someone else’s interpretation of truth on creators.

Especially when the time it takes to correct someone else’s interpretation of the truth as Mr. Rogers suggests their job would become will be even more uncompensated time for another free ride that will probably end the same way that DMCA notices do for the vast majority of independent artists.

They just give up because resistance really is futile.

#IRespectMusic: It’s Time for the New Congress to get Serious About the Performance Right for Artists

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Friends don’t let friends get LRFA’d.

Once again we’ve started a new session of Congress with really old news–the National Association of Broadcasters is yet again circulating the reactionary Local Radio Freedom Act (or the grammatically challenged “LRFA”) that’s been warmed over and served up again from the last Congress.

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LRFA’s purpose is twofold.  Get unsuspecting Members to support a policy to deny recording artists their fair share for the performance of their recordings on terrestrial radio.  How?   By aligning America with the practice of Iran and North Korea that is out of step with the business of every other major world economy.  And because America denies the world’s recording artists the same treatment that American artists would enjoy overseas, America’s trading partners justifiably refuse Americans reciprocal treatment in foreign countries.  Which is more embarrassing?

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It’s not that American artists don’t earn the foreign performance royalties–it’s that the royalties earned overseas by hardworking Americans are denied to them because Congress is misled by the NAB into thinking that fair compensation is somehow bad policy and the US denies equal treatment to foreign artists.  Why should those countries–who actually care about their creative class–grant reciprocal treatment to Americans?

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It goes like this:  When you hear Aretha Franklin sing “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” written by Otis Redding on the radio in your car, that economic transaction results in Otis Redding (the songwriter) getting paid as a songwriter under the government’s 75 year consent decrees (another sad story).  Aretha Franklin, however, gets ZERO.

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When that same recording is played in the UK, Otis Redding still gets paid as the songwriter, but the artist does, too.  Except that because Aretha is an American, her money is never paid to her.

This obvious inequity is what motivated over 14,000 musicians and music fans to sign the I Respect Music petition in the last Congress and created the largest grass roots movement in the history of the music business with a positive message.  Because friends don’t let friends get LRFA’d.

It’s one of the few issues left that is truly bipartisan.

When Blake Morgan and the IRM team took the 14,000 signatures on the IRM petition to Congress, they had to carry two huge books of signatures.  And yet, we once again are presented with getting LRFA’d.

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LRFA is the Alinsky-style straw man–demonize your opponent as something you want people to believe your opponent to be (a “tax” for example), then perpetuate that mischaracterization no matter what.  (In the current parlance, something pretty close to gaslighting fake news.)

This LRFA legacy “nonbinding resolution” has become an evergreen in the arsenal of the NAB’s gaslighting efforts to perpetuate exploitation of recording artists for one reason and one reason only–because they can.  The NAB gets a bunch of Members to sign up, don’t tell them the truth about what they signed, and hope that nobody tells them otherwise until it’s too late.  But when Blake teaches the I Respect Music story on college campuses across America, it requires little explanation.

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What the NAB’s vast army of lobbyists will do with the LRFA after they largely dupe Members into signing on to it (and dupe Members staffs into allowing their bosses to sign on without doing the real staff work to know how they are being duped) is to perpetuate the greatest inequity in the Copyright Act by convincing members that any performance right legislation is doomed to fail so why support it?

How do we know this?  Because the NAB did the same thing in the last session.  When artists met with Members in their offices to discuss what happened, it turned out that many Members had no idea what the real story was behind LRFA.

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It’s important that your Member of Congress understand what the NAB is up to with this gaslighting campaign.  The truth behind this great inequity needs to be told along with the hard economic facts–because of faux legislation like LRFA, America is leaving hundreds of millions in real revenue from foreign countries that could easily be repatriated by American artists.

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Not to mention supporting future American artists.

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We cannot let another session of Congress pass by without fixing this great inequity.  Don’t let your Member of Congress be fooled again–because friends don’t let friends get LRFA’d.

Call your representatives and sign the I Respect Music petition by clicking here.

And vote.

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