How Bitcoin is Revolutionizing IP Protection

Thursday, March 23, 2017 3:04 pm

States and security firms are engaged in a digital war against content pirates. Historically, advances in file-sharing technology have created new mechanisms for content piracy, allowing 141 billion users to frequent pirate sites every year. However, IP enforcement technology may be catching up with that of pirates. Some cybersecurity firms are using Bitcoin’s blockchain technology to monitor and reduce digital piracy.

Bitcoin’s blockchain is a shared public ledger that tracks every transaction made using the digital currency. Bitcoin wallets use this ledger to calculate the balance of each user’s account, making the integrity of the blockchain valuable. Currently, one bitcoin is worth over $1,000 precisely because hackers remain unable to manipulate the blockchain.

One South African firm, Custos, is using this same technology to track the spread of digital content, embedding small amounts of bitcoins in files that contain valuable intellectual property. If a recipient illegally shares the file, Custos can use blockchain to pinpoint the breech. In this way, content creators can identify which recipients and networks are insecure, and can mitigate future digital piracy.

Of course, this technology is not without its drawbacks. Custos can only monitor one side of the transaction in the blockchain; they can track who shares protected files, but not who accepts them. As Tom Jackson of Gizmodo explains, “Essentially, the system can be thought of as placing a virtual bounty on each film that is pirated – and this bounty can be claimed, anonymously, while still revealing to the film industry who is leaking all of the films.”

Custos’s current clients include small independent film studios and an eBook service provider. If this technology remains successful in the long-term, it could expand to combat digital piracy of music, movies, books, CAD files, and other intellectual property. Feasibly, this technology could solve the issue of leaked screeners emerging ahead of Oscar season – a problem that is currently jeopardizing the film industry.

Other companies, too, are realizing Bitcoin’s potential for protecting intellectual property. Using copyright law as a basis, Ascribe employs blockchain technology to register a piece of artwork to a particular artist, allowing them to sell and distribute and distribute that piece with confidence. Creating a type of digital watermark, Ascribe enables the artist to monitor the legal distribution of their piece across the web and to easily identify counterfeits.


Technology is often seen as the enemy of intellectual property rights, but Custos and Ascribe are here to change that perception. The blockchain technology that is revolutionizing the financial industry also means a new future for IP. As cybersecurity becomes more sophisticated, these new technology will allow artists to protect their intellectual property rights, and inspire them with confidence to continue creating, innovating, and sharing their ideas.