A key challenge for authors in the digital age is how to maintain control of their intellectual property and make sure they are properly paid for it.

Although the word “blockchain” may evoke thoughts of industry and rigid systems, the underlying technology could become the champion that creative people need. At least two companies have been attending publishing conferences to explain their strategies for applying blockchain to the free-flowing world of creative work:

  • Po.et promises to create a universal licensing and compensation platform based on blockchain.  
  • Publica aims to build a platform that uses blockchain as a universal, free system for authors to directly manage how their work is distributed and how they’re compensated for it. Co-founder and CEO Josef Marc has likened book projects to startups.

Meanwhile, the Alliance of Independent Authors just launched its Blockchain for Books campaign and has published a white paper assessing the technology’s potential. The association says blockchain and other hypertext software systems “supercede copyright protection” and prevent piracy by providing “indisputable” proof of ownership. By supporting smart contracts, the technology puts intellectual property rights back in the hands of authors, the association adds.

Blockchain is a long way from solving one core problem for authors, which is how to build a loyal following that will pay for their work. From Amazon’s self-publishing services to Ingram Spark, a service of book distribution titan Ingram Content Group, authors have a wide range of services to produce their work. Making readers aware of their work remains the pressing issue.

Payment for creative work is an ongoing source of contention as many individuals and some corporations profit from selling services based on or linked to work, without compensating the creator.

Howard Lovy, managing editor of the Alliance of Independent Authors, tells ThirtyK that artificial intelligence and other “discoverability algorithms” could eventually bridge the author-reader gap more effectively than the current systems of keyword searches and sales figures. “The reader will be the curator, and attention will go to the best marketers,” he says. “This would work very differently from the current internet, where a few ‘super-siren’ servers have control over the data, at the expense of the many.”

Closer at hand, says Lovy, is the potential for allocating payment to each creator who contributed to a work through blockchain documentation. For instance, the illustrator, research assistant, author and editor of a book might each be able to gain a small payment from each reader if everything that went into the book contained “a unique code assigned to that creator,” Lovy explains. “That timestamp follows the work throughout the process, from sales to resales, to downloads. Every time that piece of intellectual property is sold, the author and other creators get a micropayment. If anything, this creates more of an opportunity for authors to get paid for their work and to ensure proper credit is given to them.”

Payment for creative work is an ongoing source of contention as many individuals and some corporations profit from selling services based on or linked to work, without compensating the creator. For instance, the Authors Guild was embroiled in a long-running lawsuit against Google, claiming the search engine profited by copying and providing free access to books without compensating authors.

Meanwhile, creatives are becoming conversant with alternative modes of payment through platforms such as Patreon, a crowdfunding and marketing site that enables creatives to solicit and manage one-time donations and ongoing subscribers.

Joanne Cleaver
Joanne Cleaver is a Chicago-based freelance, business and lifestyles journalist based. Her work has appeared in a number of national and regional publications. Earlier in her career, she was the deputy business editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.