So we’ve touched upon this new and strange idea about digital scarcity in the past with a company called Neonmob. It turns out another company, a recently funded start-up called Ascribe allows writers and artists to make unique copies of their work that can be bought and sold. The concept is it cannot be duplicated because of blockchain technology. Bruce Pon, Trent McConaghy, and Masha McConaghy have a history in banking, hardware, and curation and have founded this company which has recently raised $2 million in seed from Earlybird Venture Capital, Freelands Ventures, Digital Currency Group, and various angels. Given the importance of IP and digital permanence Ascribe seems like a fascinating idea.
The company stakes itself as a “notary and timestamp for intellectual property and creative works.” Which basically means if you claim it as an original and upload into the software, then it is. You can even download a certificate of authenticity, with it you can track where on the internet that image is traveling. You can loan it out to people or even transfer it to another user. You could even make another copy yourself and send it about, but Ascribe would know about it. Using blockchain to allow artists to create digital scarcity germinated in mid-2013 when Trent and Masha asked ‘Can you own digital art, like you own bitcoin?’ In 2014 they decided to leave their jobs to develop Ascribe full-time, since they’ve been improving the technology with early users.
The system uses the blockchain (jobs for blockchain) to store and sign each image, creating an immutable record of its existence. Pon says “We are working on securing copyright, giving creators a means to easily license and transfer their work and we’re swallowing the Internet to give creators visibility on what happens to their work”. The most interesting aspect of the technology is the company’s web crawler. They can search the internet for any duplicates of your images and can let you know where they appear, allowing you to take action. “We’ve set our development team to build the tools to crawl and index all digital artifacts on the internet and then perform a similarity search using web-scale machine learning. This means that within a reasonable amount of accuracy, we can tell you where your stuff has ended up,” he said.
It’s still hard to tell if artists want this, but knowing that it’s an available option can give some real comfort. For those of you interesting in working with blockchain and digital scarcity ideologies, consider Ascribe as a potential place for employment.