Technology is Not Magic: The Hacker’s Point of View — Bitmark Ambassador “bunnie” Huang
Technology is Not Magic: The Hacker’s Point of View — Bitmark Ambassador “bunnie” Huang
“One of the reasons I am so passionate about open source, is that I worry that, if people believe that technology is magic, then we find ourselves in a dangerous situation. We essentially become slaves to the technology…”
The Bitmark Ambassador series highlights innovators who understand the importance of property rights in the modern digital environment. They are industry pioneers — artists, lawyers, scientists, health researchers, hackers, makers and creators.
Andrew “bunnie” Huang is a renowned hacker, author, researcher, and activist. He is best known for his open hardware designs: the Chumby (app-playing alarm clock), Chibitronics (peel-and-stick electronics for craft), and Novena (DIY laptop). His book on reverse engineering, Hacking the Xbox, is a widely respected tool for hardware hackers. He serves as a Research Affiliate for the MIT Media Lab and a technical advisor for several startups including Bitmark and MAKE magazine. bunnie received his PhD in Electrical Engineering from MIT and currently lives in Singapore where he runs a private product design studio, Kosagi.
Throughout his various projects to empower fellow hackers, journalists, and women, these projects all share one core value: “The Importance of Free Will”.
“I really value free will. A lot of times at the end of the day, part of the idea of seeing the world as a hacker and not seeing the labels on things — that’s kind of the essence of free will.”
In his Bitmark Ambassador video, bunnie raises an interesting question about the people behind large organizations and companies that create rules and define structure. These people are no better than us — we all have the intelligence and capability to question what we are led to believe. We do not need to settle for blind acceptance.
“I really hope in the future we can always find a way to preserve free will. And a lot of the idea behind open source and sharing and sharing the idea of hacking is teaching people how to have that sense of free will and independence, that ability to control their destiny.”
bunnie tells us that if technology makes people feel trapped or lost then there is a path to understand it. That is how a hacker looks at technology, seeing it for what it really is, not what it’s only packaged to be.
“That kind of experience of being able to just kind of touch the hardware and play around with it, break it, fix it, kind of got me over even the notion that technology is magic. Technology is something that you can understand.”
Enjoy “Technology is Not Magic” below and let us know how technology impacts your perspective on the world.
▪ He teamed up with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to develop Introspection Engine, an iPhone case for journalists and human rights activists that detects if their devices are secretly transmitting Wi-Fi, cellular, Bluetooth, or GPS signals when they shouldn’t be.
How musicians are using blockchain to make a profit from their songs
How musicians are using blockchain to make a profit from their songs
Bitmark Ambassador Series: Pochang Wu works to defend property rights for music hosted on streaming platforms
The Bitmark Ambassador series highlights innovators who understand the importance of property rights for data and digital assets. They are industry pioneers — artists, lawyers, scientists, health researchers, hackers, makers and creators.
“We want to develop a complete ecosystem for indie music….We created an infrastructure that we hope allows all the people in this industry to build a decentralized distributed system for managing artist rights.” says Pochang Wu, the first Bitmark Ambassador (see video embedded at end of this story).
Wu is an entrepreneur and the lead singer for 回聲樂團 (Echo). He has been a major player in a movement to correct issues in Asia’s independent music industry. Wu is the founder of iNDIEVOX, which was the first DRM-free music store in Taiwan. iNDIEVOX’s decision to remove DRM was an important one: it recognized and corrected a problem with online MP3 sales, where DRM was restricting the property rights of consumers buying digital music.
Generally, this has been Wu’s approach in his endeavors: to identify the flaws in the music field and then correct them.
“Give the power back to the people, to each individual, the creators, and those who love music.”
Property rights for songs and royalties.
Wu has worked with many music industry institutions, including labels, streaming services, and more. By using the Bitmark digital property blockchain, he has created a digital solution to the complicated management process of song rights and royalty payouts.
Streaming music services have done much to raise the profiles of indie musicians by providing instant distribution to a mass audience. Yet, the process of paying royalties has generally remained a cumbersome, manual process that can take up to twelve months after a song is released. (Typically, royalty rights are recorded in spreadsheet files stuck behind corporate firewalls.) This time-intense and costly process cuts into the profits of both sides and reduces transparency for the artist.
“We created an infrastructure that we hope allows all the people in this industry to build a decentralized distributed system for managing artist rights.”
Now artists, like Wu, can register song rights as property via the Bitmark blockchain. This enables them to track who owns which rights more effectively, without cumbersome databases or paperwork. Rights owners can more easily transfer their holdings. With clear property ownership, royalty payouts will go directly to the artist.
“Blockchain gives us imagination and possibility, allowing each individual to control his or her own things, whether they are rights, assets, documents, or information.”
Wu is leading the music industry toward a much needed collaborative system of transparency for music rights and management. This is a fantastic first step for individual artists, who will be able to make a living from their digital content because they can legally prove the rights to their original works. It is also pioneering a path, for the music industry as a whole, to implement more transparent systems that benefit everyone involved.
“I think to hold rights in our hands, is a core concept and value for blockchain as well as independent music.”
Watch to learn more about what drives Pochang Wu to help musicians all over the world.
A more sustainable business model for artists—register property rights on the blockchain to own…
A more sustainable business model for artists—own your work and get paid via property rights on the blockchain
A TEDx talk by Bitmark advisor: Amy Whitaker
“We live in an age of democratized creativity, but not yet democratized ownership.”
Anyone working in the arts knows the greatest plight of an artist is finding a sustainable business model that simultaneously, (1) generates enough interest from patrons and income to afford materials to continue creating work while also (2) allowing unencumbered time to create. It’s a fine and tricky balance, and one that plagues all types of artists: writers, painters, choreographers, directors, designers, the list is long.
“Two fears I think we all have: the fear of not being able to make a living, and the fear of not being true to yourself creatively.”
Many artists find comfort in creating commissioned work: finding an established partnership where a patron funds the entire project and the artist is freed from the task of raising the money for project or personal expenses. A patron might allow a large budget for a work of art, but oftentimes, the higher the budget, the more particular the parameters of the project. This influence extends into pleasing the patron’s whim or ideas of what the artist should create. Additionally, in a commissioning partnership, the patron owns the artwork, not the artist.
Maybe this structure feels outdated, but it’s not; the same set-up happens all the time for artists who receive grants, which in the arts is the most common way to fund work (and also happens to make up the highest percentage of funding for most projects). Any artist who applies to receive grant money must also report back to the grant organization on their progress. It is often the case that if an artist does not fulfill the grant requests, money is either taken back or not given at all.
Artists who choose the different path of funding their own work can get bogged down by spending time making money (i.e. a “day job”) that leaves them with little time for their art.
A new potential solution: ownership rights
Intertwined with this time versus money conundrum is the concept of ownership. Selling artwork is the most traditional way of making money in this particular field. But, any notion of selling, first requires a clear notion of ownership. Plagiarism in all art forms is rampant. And it’s only become worse because social media platforms are a great tool to engage large audiences and followers, to accumulate views and shares and likes, but the copying and freely sharing have ruined many artists’ ability to claim ownership of their creative works. And clear ownership is a coveted thing.
Blockchain isn’t a panacea for all issues that artists face. However, specific types of blockchains can provide artists with a way to establish ownership of their work, which in turn facilitates clear exchanges with others and leaves them with a more sustainable, efficient way to be paid for the work they create.
Amy Whitaker, an NYU professor, artist and researcher, describes eloquently in the TEDx talk posted below how the blockchain can help amend many woes for artists (in both digital and physical mediums) by providing a tool to register ownership rights of their works.
As Amy describes in a WSJ article, the formulation of blockchain technology came about to organize information and data in a more truthful, secure and efficient way. The decentralized structure of a blockchain means is set up by having “many dispersed but interconnected copies of a shared ledger. The truth could never be typed over if there were too many linked ledgers to alter.”
Blockchain provides the backbone to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum — this immutable, truthful ledger is what solves the double spending problem (the act of spending the same tokens in two places and getting away with it) in those currency systems. A blockchain set up specifically to record property rights employs a set of digital rules (basically a secure transfer system that enables you to share or sell an asset or property without “double spending” that property and tricking the system or your potential buyer) that ensures your property is yours and not anyone else’s — not even the platform where you register the property. The Bitmark blockchain, for example, is public and open source. It is decentralized, with complete transparency for all parties who wish to see its contents (not the secure details of data and personal information, rather just the ownership titles and transfers). It is structured to register property rights at minimal fees, and set up to essentially issue legal (not smart) contracts with any buyer or seller at scale.
Ownership rights are twofold: 1 claiming the artwork as personal property means defining the work as well as the entity who owns it; 2 establishing the rights of that property: fair use of the image in other forms (prints, posters, cards, etc), and payment if and when the work is sold, or used in the case of licensing.
When artists can clearly register their work as personal property, buyers can then request to buy their work. The artist can receive payment upfront before they transfer the title of the work to the buyer.
With ownership rights, artists can benefit in the following ways:
Limit issues around fraud and copying — The blockchain is a digital ledger, with immutable time stamping that is public. When something is registered on the blockchain, it’s permanent, which mitigates questions of who owns what when looking at copies of art work.
Enable faster payments — Because the blockchain can be linked to banks and digital currencies, artists can get paid faster than with traditional models.
In the TEDx talk below, Amy describes how the blockchain can help artists:
Bitmark Enables KKBOX to Pay Music Royalties More Efficiently — Musicians Get the Transparency they Deserve
In an era of global tech monopolies, the implementation of decentralized systems can’t seem to come quick enough; we need more transparency from large companies and more infrastructure that supports individual privacy and control.
Today, Bitmark is pleased to announce a partnership with KKFarm (investment group of KKBOX) and CTBC, to enable KKBOX to more efficiently record, track and transfer the rights of access to musician’s royalties.
Many publications are predicting 2018 will see large companies and institutions implementing digital currency, blockchain technology or property rights for digital assets; this initiative weaves all three together.
The issue at hand
KKBOX is the largest music streaming service in Asia, with over 80% market share and 10M+ paid users. (Think Spotify of Asia — yet KKBOX actually started before Spotify.) One of their biggest pain points is knowing who owns what rights for a given song.
Currently, this ownership information is stuck in excel files behind corporate firewalls and is thus opaque. Both the streaming platform and the artists (rights-holders) are aligned in wanting to clarify lines of ownership and streamline this process. Even though in the news streaming companies (eg: Spotify) are being constantly sued by rights holders, they also want more transparent accounting. Bitmark makes this possible.
Musicians who license their work to KKBOX will now be able to have their song rights recorded in the Bitmark blockchain. Initially there will be 50 artists who participate, but we intend it to be in the thousands by year end.
The main goal of recording music rights is to enable automation of the payout for royalties. Artists can then get their money faster and more efficiency. Subsequently, and in our second phase of the project, we will establish ways the rights can be traded and transferred, creating liquidity of the royalties associated with rights.
How it works…
Music rights will get recorded in the Bitmark blockchain. When royalties need to get paid out, CTBC will verify the digital signatures of both KKBOX and the rights holders before distributing payments. Royalties will be paid out based on whoever holds rights to the music.
A system of transparency and efficiency
Problems associated with IP rights and digital property have been around since the dawn of the internet. Bitmark’s public protocol, paves a way to solve these issues, by creating clear and verifiable ownership of rights.
Because rights are recorded in Bitmark’s public blockchain, it will be possible for artists to always see who owns what rights (or for anyone to see who is holding rights to what music). It’s possible that artists will begin to get a larger share of their royalty revenue because this system is cheaper, more efficient and automated.
“Bitmark provides tools and services that make rights more clear in the digital environment. Making music rights transparent and transferable is central to both KKBOX and Bitmark. Pochang and I have been in conversation for quite some time and I know these long standing issues he has been working to solve in digital music. Together we are building a solution that will enable the music ecosystem to grow and thrive”
— Sean Moss Pultz, CEO Bitmark
What the future holds
Every digital medium is going to have problems verifying and authenticating digital property and clear lines of ownership. This partnership creates a clear path to a solution.
This project is a cheaper, more predictable, and much more efficient way for streaming service platforms to pay artists their royalties — introducing more options for revenue streams from these royalties in the future.
Bitmark’s mission is to record rights to the world’s assets and make them universally accessible for sharing and trading. Being able to do this with music rights is exciting to us because everyone knows the current royalty model is badly broken. We read articles about artists suing digital music companies all the time; Bitmark really sees a solution to this and we’re thrilled to be making it happen with such a strong partner as KKBOX.
We at Bitmark believe securing property rights can trigger a multiplying effect of opportunity: it creates social inclusion, economic stability, and even environmental stewardship. In the coming months you will see more announcements from us as we roll out even more tools that enable transparency and clarification of rights for many types of assets, and subsequently liquidity for the revenue associated with these rights.
Bitmark + Chibitronics: Protecting against hardware warranty fraud.
Today Bitmark is pleased to announce a partnership with Chibitronics — together we are launching an anti-fraud protection system for hardware companies, built on the Bitmark blockchain.
Chibitronics will assign their Love to Code kits with labels which are linked to digital property titles, known as “bitmarks” recorded in the Bitmark blockchain. This application offers Chibitronics an automated warranty tracking system for their products, ultimately restoring security and trust to both Chibitronics and their customers.
Warranty fraud is a rampant and costly epidemic for hardware and consumer electronics companies, large and small. It has been estimated that companies lose 5–10% of their product revenue to fraudulent product repairs and renewals, and even more to operational costs for customer support.
Chibitronics co-founder, bunnie huang came to Bitmark with the idea: In the same way that the Bitcoin blockchain can prevent double-spending digital currency, hardware products that are linked and viewable via the Bitmark blockchain will have a trackable provenance, thus cloning and warranty fraud are more easily detected and averted.
“Bitmark has provided us with a turn-key solution for serialization and front-line warranty support, thus streamlining our operational costs. Furthermore, the anti-fraud protection inherent in Bitmark serialization ensures that our operating margins are not eroded by external costs incurred by supporting hardware clones and fraudulent returns.”
— bunnie, Co-founder Chibitronics
How it works
Chibitronics kits will each come with a coded product label (a randomized set of words, similar to a secure passcode) which is then linked to a bitmark, recorded in the Bitmark blockchain. Each kit’s bitmark is a unique digital fingerprint that retains verified product information, and a viewable chain of ownership should the kit be passed or sold to other individuals. Ultimately, each kit has both a physical and a digital mark of authentication verifying it as a Chibitronics product.
How bitmarks are assigned
How bitmarks are used for customer support
This kind of digital warranty gives Chibitronics the following advantages for managing their products and customer support:
Bitmarks are permanently viewable on the Bitmark blockchain: Chibitronics’ customer support team, manufacturers, distributors, and the entire supply chain, will be able to view product information of any product codes they have issued.
Customer support is automated: the efficiency of reading a blockchain to verify a customer’s product code is greater than any other warranty system yet available.
Bitmarks are incorruptible: The tamper-evident label on each kit is linked to one, and only one bitmark. Any changes or alterations to the label or bitmark can be detected easily, and then dealt with appropriately.
Companies can reap the benefit of higher revenue: With this faster, more traceable, automated, secure and authenticated hardware warranty system, companies can invest in better products.
An automated system is better all around: Bitmarks make product ownership easily authenticated and trackable for both the company and customers (no need to keep proof-of-purchase files around!).
What this means
By enabling the Bitmark system, hardware companies large and small will be able to streamline and stabilize their customer support systems, thus opening up the possibility to invest in better products and provide greater value to their customers.
“This launch shows that our technology is getting mature enough that people outside of our company are coming to us to use it to solve their problems and pain points. This partnership reveals the multitude of ways Bitmark can help pave the way to a more trustable and free digital environment. ”
—Sean Moss-Pultz, Bitmark CEO
In the same way that we have rules about physical property, Bitmark establishes a framework of rules that authenticates digital property, by using a blockchain. Property titles lend clarity and freedom to the rules of our possessions. When clear property rules are established, you can rent, license, loan, resell, and share your belongings because your things are now part of a system of trust and reliability. Linking your hardware property to the Bitmark blockchain with an unforgeable digital title, re-establishes trust in a sector fraught with fear, misuse, and dishonesty.
More about Chibitronics
Chibitronics is a company that makes electronic stickers, which let you create, craft and code technology through arts and crafts. Co-founder, bunnie huang approached Bitmark with the idea to launch this anti-fraud protection for their products.
This article describes some of the new methods we’re using to make data sharing safe. The Bitmark app uses blockchain technology to keep the ownership of your data secure. The provenance of your data is recorded in the blockchain and then your data is transferred to the recipient using end-to-end encryption. This records clear consent via an authenticated “chain-of-title” — meaning you always know who has rights to access your data.
Most importantly the Bitmark blockchain provides a framework of standardized property rights, rules and infrastructure for your personal data — now you can own your digital data in the same ways you can own physical property.
How the Data Donation App works.
Individuals can browse public health studies and learn about how their data will be used (Women’s reproductive health; Diabetes remission and prevention; etc). A research study has a shareable URL that links directly into the Data Donation app:
Individuals that meet the eligibility requirements can tap a button to participate in the study. The App will then request permission from the participant to access their data. Each time data is shared the participant will be required to sign the transfer.
Taking a step back.
It’s worth pausing for a moment and comparing how different this process is from the other mobile apps. After the initial request to access your data, most apps don’t inform users what personal data is being collected. Accessing user data is like the Wild West. Big companies make money by tapping into the enormous amount of “free” information created by individual mobile users, bundling it together and selling it to the highest bidder.
When apps gain access in perpetuity to personal data individuals lose their freedom. Yes, it’s possible to revoke access. But that requires significant effort the user’s side. Even then, the choice is binary: grant or deny access to all requested data.
Here’s how we can do better.
The Bitmark app makes consent to transfer data an explicit action. When you join a study, you agree to donate data in regular intervals. Yet each time before your data is transferred, you will be asked to sign.
Why do we require your signature each and every time your personal data is transferred? Because we want you to be in control and know what is going on. When you donate data you are issuing a new digital property title, or “bitmark” for your data that will be recorded in the Bitmark blockchain. When you transfer that bitmark to the researcher they can access that specific data set. Your signature is your consent.
A signed transfer is recorded into the blockchain and linked to your signed issuance. This “chain of title” protects both parties, without relying on a central intermediary. (The Bitmark server cannot decrypt donor data or use it for any purpose.) Both sides get clarity as to where the data came from and who gets to use it.
Here’s a diagram of this process:
Note: At anytime during the course of a study, participants can simply choose not to donate data or withdraw from the study entirely. No further data will be collected after that point.
A new model for data consent.
We believe explicit consent through chain-of-title is how the exchange of data should happen. Not just for research, but for all personal data transfers.
In the academic world, when a study is considered to evaluate “human subjects research” it must have approval by the Institution to be conducted. This approval process protects the institution administering the studies and the participants of the research. (UC Berkeley has a great article on this http://cphs.berkeley.edu/review.html).
Bitmark believes similarly that individual internet users should be be able to safely and privately share their digital data. The Bitmark blockchain can enable a new model of consent for transferring personal data:
Public keys are used to identity participants, instead of real names or even usernames.
End-to-end encryption protects the data during storage and transport.
No third parties can access personal data, even Bitmark.
Participants consent is signed and recorded in the Bitmark blockchain every time their data is share to a researcher of their choosing.
Participants can always opt-out and no further data transfers happen.
If you are interested in how blockchain technology can be used as titles (the Bitmark blockchain) versus the ever-popular use as tokens (Bitcoin and/or Ethereum blockchains), look for a blog post coming soon that explains the difference. Follow us on Twitter, @BitmarkInc, to see what else we’re thinking about.
We are thrilled to have UC Berkeley as our first partner for this blockchain application. If you are interested in participating in the Bitmark Data Donation App, either by listing your study, or incorporating this new technology into your project, please email email@example.com.
Hardware companies can use Bitmark to solve warranty fraud.
The bitmark can contain relevant data and metadata to authenticate the physical item. It’s also unforgeable, and can be authenticated without relying on a third-party.
Online fraud takes many forms, but one of the more insidious is warranty fraud. A warranty is a promise from the seller of a product that the product will meet certain expectations. When this promise is exploited it becomes a major pain point for hardware manufacturers and this affects consumers in non-obvious ways.
Products, sold globally, must be supported locally by an ecosystem of staff, distributors, and developers. The supply chain complexity of modern hardware devices, like your phone or computer, is staggering. As the complexity grows the need for trust increases. Small startups struggle to deal with this complexity, and often fail before they can reach scale. Large companies are willing to accept a certain percentage of fraud as an unavoidable cost to doing business. To make matters worse, companies are reluctant to share their experiences and best practices. They fear being more transparent about the problem will lead to even more exploitation. What is needed is a different approach. The Bitmark blockchain can help restore trust in the hardware industry. This post explains how.
Digital titles, or “bitmarks” that secure physical products. Bitmarks are digital property titles that prove the origin, authenticity, and history of ownership for digital property. (Learn more about what’s in a bitmark). A bitmark works well as a serial number or warranty code. One possible method to fight warranty fraud is to give each product a warranty code and then have customers “claim” the corresponding bitmark. Only one customer can hold a bitmark at a time. (The blockchain enforces this scarcity.) Once the manufacturer transfers ownership of the bitmark to their customer they can rest assured that it cannot be forged, swapped, or cloned.
The warranty code can be a simple label. For higher-value items, it can be etched onto the hardware directly. It should have enough length to represent a bitmark which is 32 bytes. A QR code works well for this. In the few markets, like North America, where people still don’t use QR codes, we suggest using a passphrase — dictionary words not commonly found together in literature. Here’s a good one.
Here’s a claim as a QR code:
Here is that same claim as a passphrase:
middle atom wife rigid pyramid garlic fine badge hour exotic ordinary change display artwork hand exile verb size nest mirror wrong ankle float appear
That code represents the rights to claim a bitmark that was issued by the manufacturer.
The bitmark can contain relevant data and metadata to authenticate the physical item. It’s also unforgeable, and can be authenticated without relying on a third-party. This makes it possible to radically lower costs for common after-sales support issues like customer support, warranty, RMA, and much more.
Hardware startups, here’s your fraud-proof serialization solution. Bitmarks provide the foundation for a robust hardware serialization. To really flush out the value of this fraud-proof serialization, imagine a hardware startup that recently pushed a Kickstarter project into mass production and has begun shipping. If each board is fraud-proof serialized, when a customer has a problem the startup knows exactly which production run the board came from, what firmware was installed, and when it was received, without even having to ask the customer a single question!
But it gets better. Not only can the startup have this information but any distributor can authenticate customers, as well. This means lower distribution costs (with higher margins). And it also means more local, higher-quality support for customers.
“Trust” is automated, basic annoyances like asking for proof-of-purchase can be skipped, and more time can be spent making the customer happy.
Large consumer electronics companies can benefit with Bitmark as well. Fraud problems are definitely not exclusive to small business. For example, Apple, Cisco, and Fitbit have been known to suffer massive warranty fraud (don’t quote us on this, but it’s likely in the billions of dollars per year!). To make matters worse it hits their most expensive product lineup. Large companies that bitmark their physical products can automate customer support checks across their distributor network, just like the startups. Being able to track conversion rates is valuable data for inventory management and future product planning. In addition, they would be able to offer rewards and discounts on future sales, which is good for their customers and their bottom line.
Enabling hardware business models of the future. When a product has an unforgeable serial number linked to the cloud, you can do remarkable things, and with great ease. Here’s a list of our top 5 favorites:
Solve the open hardware support conundrum. When you ship open-source hardware anyone can also make clones. Yes, it’s great to have a vibrant community contributing bugs fixes and feature ideas. But it’s also expensive to support clones from other manufacturers. A new model could be to sell a bitmark as “rights for support.” This could transform a cost-sink into an additional revenue stream.
Manage “closed betas.” Special (serialized) hardware could run beta software and the entire distribution of that software could be automated and authenticated and tracked within the confines of a specific group of users.
Make warranties transferable. Being able to transfer a warranty with full transparency and security, would hugely benefit customers and could substantiate secondary markets. . That grows the pie for everyone. Combined with conversation tracking, it’s a great way to bring new customers into the market.
Authorized playback. Bitmarks can protect data in the way that access control software such as Digital rights management (DRM) promised data protection, without the nasty side-effects for end-users. Software can verify ownership by checking the blockchain itself to make sure the current holder is the recorded owner. This can happen behind the scenes, and it doesn’t require a third-party to enforce.
Firmware upgrades. IoT has terrible security. Device manufacturers could transfer bitmarks for security updates to device IDs. This way each device could authenticate the software without having to worry about malware. The blockchain is distributed so that if any one specific server is compromised the overall security can still be maintained.
The important differences between copyright, licensing agreements, and property titles.
Bitmark allows property titles to be assigned to digital content and data. The ownership and history of these titles, which we call “bitmarks” are recorded in the blockchain. We aim to extend traditional property rights into the digital environment.
The Bitmark property system will provide a foundational legal and economic framework to allow digital works to be bought, sold, borrowed, passed down, rented, loaned, and more. Before we can do all of these things with our digital assets, we first must make property titles clean. Empowering individuals to own their digital lives will help transform the digital environment into an even more valuable economy for both companies and individuals.
A few important definitions:
Copyright — Exclusive rights granting the owner of an original literary, musical, or artistic work to distribute and use.
License Agreement — Authorization, for a specified time or territory, from the owner to use their asset. Often to grant use of copyright.
Property Title — Legal instrument claiming ownership of an asset. The title functions as bundle of property rights that can be transferred.
In the physical world, individuals have freedom because property rights are clear.
The ways we use things in the physical realm, whether we have ownership of them or not, are usually quite clear. For example, when you buy a book you can write in its margins, give it to your friend, take 10 years to read it, or even throw it away. When you borrow a book from the library, because you do not own it, you’re expected to return it within the library’s conditions (on time, no writing in it, not damaged, etc). What we can and cannot do with things in the physical world is clear because there is a framework of standardized property rights, rules, and infrastructure that make it clear.
Another way to look at this is that property rights enable freedom. Titles make property rights transferrable from one owner to another. (That has economic and social value which we will explain later in this post.) Even though you don’t have a property title for that book you bought, it is still considered property and you are legally acknowledge as the owner of that book. Specifically your book is a form of personal property. Possession of personal property is the most simple indication of title. If there is suspicion about someone’s ownership of the item, a proof of legal acquisition, such as a bill of sale or purchase receipt, could be necessary for an ownership transfer. But in nearly all cases of personal property, transfer of possession to a good faith purchaser will convey title, no document is required.
Environments without ownership rules and rights for individuals are chaos, an anarchistic state in which there is no protection, no longevity, no security or sustainability for one’s assets and belongings. There is no better example of this than the digital world.
In our digital lives, copyright has taken away our freedom.
Software first became valuable about 40 years ago. Those in power instituted a system of licensing instead of property titles.
Why did licensing become the standard? That requires a brief history lesson.
Originally, computer programs were not protected by copyrights because they were not considered fixed, tangible works. Object code was distinguished from source code. (Object code is instructions for machines — source codes are for humans.) Object code was viewed as a utilitarian good, produced from source code rather than as a creative work in and of itself.
The U.S. Copyright Office attempted to classify computer programs by drawing an analogy: the blueprints of a bridge and the resulting bridge, compared to the source code of a program and the resulting executable object code:
It was this very analogy that caused the Copyright Office to issue copyright certificates for object code under its Rule of Doubt.
In 1974, the newly established U.S. Commission on New Technological Uses of Copyrighted Works (CONTU) decided that computer programs, to the extent that they embody an author’s original creation, are proper subject matter of copyright.
Then in 1980, the U.S. Congress added the definition of computer program to existing copyright laws in order to allow the owner of the program to make another copy or adaptation for use on a computer. This legislation, plus court decisions such as Apple v. Franklin, clarified that the Copyright Act gave computer programs the copyright status of literary works. To simplify: Congress said compiling code is like writing War and Peace.
As a result, software companies began to claim that they did not sell their products but rather “licensed” them to customers. Why? Because this enabled them to avoid the transfer of property rights to the end-user via the first-sale doctrine. These software license agreements are now called end-user license agreements (EULAs).
The stuff you think you own in the digital world, isn’t actually yours.
It’s hard to overstate just how bad individuals have it.
For example, when you “buy” digital goods from the App Store, or when you “buy” books via Kindle, you’re not a owner. Apple and Kindle granted you a license to use their asset. This license is non-transferrable and revocable. This means that you can’t sell it on secondary markets or even give it away. And you’re beholden to their terms in using these assets, which they reserve the rights to change at anytime. In short, you thought you were buying but in fact you are renting. Licensing digital assets for use is as different from establishing digital property rights, as renting real estate is from owning buildings.
How can there be property rights on the internet for businesses but not individuals?
Individual humans create a lot of value by living their lives online — taking photos, sharing ideas and opinions, uploading personal financial and health information, and buying and storing things like music and movies.
In theory, individuals should capture at least some of the value they create. This afterall is the point of property systems, to reward those that create value with proper legal protection and ownership over their creations and inventions. Yet on the internet, property rights are actively discouraged.
Copyright law cannot empower individuals in their digital lives because the foundation of the internet was built on licensing. There are two distinct problems caused by adopting copyright as the dominant property type structure on the internet. First, most personal data cannot be copyrighted for the simple fact that it’s not a creative work; applying the rules that we use for creative works wouldn’t easily apply to (say) search history. Second, if you create digital work or information within these digital platforms, by their terms of service, they reserve the rights to make or sell future copies and even create derivative works from your asset. The ability to make derivative works is an immensely valuable exclusive right reserved for the copyright owner! (This is why, for example, Disney lobbies so hard to extend copyright terms.)
Within the current digital environment individuals are renters — seldom owners — regulated to renting rules. Big companies aim to build network growth for themselves by locking down your personal data and assets. They do everything in their legal power to reserve as many rights and control points as possible over your data. Big companies make money by tapping into the enormous amount of “free” information created by individual internet users, bundling it together and selling it to the highest bidder.
Most governments are not helping, either. Rules around how data can be owned, shared, and used are rare to nonexistent. And because of this, individuals are losing out.
When individuals own property, immense value is unlocked for everyone.
Data is the “oil” powering the digital economy. Data is the next major asset class. How much value can be unlocked for the world at large if individuals had property rights over data? That is unknown. But history can give us an idea:
The ability to privately own land gave birth to the agricultural revolution. This, we call real property. We know well how the rules of real property work: we can buy a home, rent it out, and bestow our valuable property to our heirs when the time comes.
When individuals forced the democratization of the ownership of ideas and inventions, after a brief period of time, the industrial revolution emerged. The legal framework of Intellectual property unlocked immense value for individuals and businesses alike by creating an entirely new economy.
Now, with data, we are in a dark age; individuals have no property rights. We have lost our freedom to benefit from the most important economy the world has ever seen. The Bitmark system was created to provide a legal and economic framework for digital property.
Digital property will level the playing field for who can achieve success online — creating new avenues for wealth, prosperity, and achievement on the Internet that are not currently possible for the vast majority of people.
The movement to restore freedom in our digital lives has already begun. Last month, we partnered with IFTTT to release a simple tool for digital estate planning. Subscribe to our newsletter and we will keep you updated about our progress transforming the internet into a new system built on individual freedom and empowerment.
Bitmark + IFTTT: How to take ownership of your digital life and plan your estate.
What would happen to your personal data and digital assets if something happened to you?
The process of preparing for the transfer of assets after death is known as estate planning. Estate, a common law term, means an individual’s property, entitlements, and obligations. In modern society, legal systems have elegant solutions for handling the assets that we accumulate and create in the physical world. But increasingly the stuff we create and value most exists only in our digital lives, where there’s no system for individual ownership. In the digital environment estate planning is a minefield.
Individual humans create value by living their lives online — producing works of art, sharing ideas and opinions, uploading personal financial and health information, or buying and storing things like music and movies.
But we don’t own our stuff on the internet. We give it away for free, and, in the process, we’re losing our ability to plan for our future.
The Bitmark mission is to empower universal digital ownership, and we’re making simple tools that help you gain freedom and control of your most valuable data within the digital environment. If we could own our digital lives just like we own everything we buy and build in the physical world, wouldn’t this add to our wealth and freedom? We think so. To make digital estate planning more accessible and automated for everyone, Bitmark has partnered with IFTTT, an IoT service that gives users greater control of their personal data across a wide variety of apps and online services.
“We’re excited to have Bitmark as a partner. They’re a unique service, and doing something incredibly ambitious. Applets will help reach a broader audience that’s just beginning to think about digital data ownership and attribution.” —Linden Tibbets, CEO of IFTTT
Start your digital estate in 5 minutes.
To get you going, we have an initial set of IFTTT Applets that interface with the digital environments where you create and share things: social media, fitness and health apps, productivity and financial software, and much more:
These Applets apply a mark of accepted ownership to your data and embed it into Bitmark’s standardized, universal digital property system. It’s an automated process that transforms your data into an asset that you own and pass down to loved ones.
We recommend you experiment with a few of these Applets first, and then decide which data and assets are most valuable to you. (If you’re lacking ideas, we published a blog post earlier this summer about what two of our Bitmark team members would choose.)
Here is how this process will look:
Once IFTTT is authorized, it automatically bitmarks your new property via the connected Applets. You can view your property in Bitmark’s app, where you can also issue new bitmarks for any other document type on your computer or phone:
Next steps: Grant access to your estate (coming soon).
When property ownership is clear, the access and management rights to your estate, (known as fiduciary duty) is more easily worked out. These details will depend on local regulation, in the same manner as the things we own in the physical world.
Usually it requires a long, expensive, legal process for your loved ones to access your accounts — your emails, cloud storage, and digital data that’s in your name. Not to mention that, in many cases (read Twitter’s deceased user article, or Wiki article about Death and the Internet), your loved ones will never be allowed access to your accounts, and if they try, it will be a criminal offense. Ouch.
Bitmark for digital estate planning has two goals: 1) provide individuals with a structured, secure system for assigning ownership to your digital assets and data; 2) pave the way to a more free and fair legal framework for our digital lives and valuables.
Think of what we are providing today as a basic first step. Bitmark’s tools provide a framework and infrastructure to begin organizing and protecting your digital property. In the future we will add more options that make it easier to assign access to your digital estate with your lawyer, spouse, and loved ones.
“Bitmark’s work with IFTTT confirms and tracks ownership of online data, which is a significant step towards intentional management of any digital estate and future planning for incapacity and death.” — Megan L. Yip, Attorney, Estate planning and digital assets
Bitmark is empowering the individual to take back ownership.
Bitmark is the property system for the digital environment. As a system to manage digital property, Bitmark makes it possible to own and transfer title to anyone. For individuals, ownership is power. By establishing ownership to your data, you can in turn derive value from your digital property just as you do from the things you own in the physical world: selling, buying, transferring, donating, licensing, passing down, protecting, and much more.
This tool for digital estate planning is just one piece of our larger mission to empower universal digital ownership so we can live free online. Digital property will level the playing field for who can achieve success online — creating new avenues for wealth, prosperity, and achievement on the Internet that are not currently possible for the vast majority of people.
Read our “Defining Property in the Digital Realm: parts one, two, and three for a more in-depth context to this post.
If you would like to stay posted on future applications of Bitmark and how we are transforming the Internet into a new system built on individual freedom and empowerment, subscribe to our newsletter.
Best practices for safely bitmarking your data & organizing your digital assets.
When I talk to people about Bitmark there is confusion about digital property. I think most of this confusion boils down to what exactly is in a property title (or in the digital realm, a “bitmark”), and what is in the asset itself.
A title is a public ownership claim over an asset. The asset itself can be made public or kept private — that’s totally up to the owner. Titles are always public. One function of the title is to uniquely identify that asset. (You can think of that like the address to your home on its deed or the vehicle ID number on your car title). But titles do more. Titles make property rights transferrable from one owner to another. That has massive value which we will explain later. In this article, I want to focus on clarifying what should and should not be in a digital title, thus how you should and shouldn’t bitmark your stuff. Let’s use an example to get started.
The Applet automatically created the following digital property:
The property bitmark (title) represents rights to access my location data. This record is visible from the Registry. Thus, if I wanted to give or sell my location data (asset), I would not want that data embedded in the title itself. Yet that is what this Applet did. Inside the public metadata of the bitmark contains a link to my actual location:
Location is a data set that most people would think of as sensitive. I know I do. Putting sensitive data into the title is not what we want.
What should go in a title?
It is important that the title describes the asset, usually from an economic value perspective, without revealing potentially sensitive information about the asset itself.
Here are three examples to help clarify:
Fitbit daily activity — Put things like date and device type, maybe a defining characteristic like age or gender (your preference) in the title. Everything else (step count, calories burned, food ate, sleep cycle, and heart information, …) should go in the asset itself. Folks who want the metadata for their research purposes, can ask your permission, you give consent and they get the full asset.
Instagram photos — Similar to health data, you’ll want to name your photo title something that defines the asset like a caption. You can include the time, location, date or the bare minimum of information that makes it memorable and valuable. If the Bitmark property system becomes a sort of marketplace one day, a gallery buyer can potentially search relevant titles for something they want to highlight in their next show. The asset is the photo itself.
Medium stories — Include sparse but important information about the piece, date, author, or title perhaps. The metadata is the story itself. By being bitmarked, we hope someday these titles will be checked or authenticated, so that when content is shared over messaging apps, the reader knows they are reading a verified source. Think similarly to the blue check box next to certain handles on Twitter.
Bitmark is the universal property ownership system for digital environment.
One of the most important functions a formal property system does is to transform assets from a less accessible state to a more accessible state, so that ownership can be easily communicated and assembled within a broader network. When an individual asserts ownership over their data control points change: networks become economies.
Converting an asset such as a house into an abstract concept such as a property right requires a complex system to record and organize the socially and economically useful attributes of ownership. The act of embodying an asset in a property title and recording it in a public ledger facilitates a consensus among actors as to how assets can be held, used, and exchanged.
Bitmark is about imagining a future where individual internet users will take back ownership of their digital lives — a new internet built on individual freedom and empowerment where everyone has a chance at success. This freedom stems from ownership of digital property just as we own everything we buy and build in the physical world.
If you’re interested in going deeper, one of the best features of the IFTTT platform is that you can create your own Applets, extending core functionality that the service provides. For anyone looking to extend our service here is a list of metadata options to consider:
These options come from our web app and they work well for most personal data and digital assets. We recommend using them, but you can also create your own metadata. Just be clear on what will always be public (titles) and what can be kept private (assets). A good analogy to keep in mind is that the deed (title) to your home doesn’t reveal what’s inside your home, but it does explain where to find your home.