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Can the blockchain be used as a licensing tool for international copyright rights?

There is no right to international copyright. The international copyright treaties recognize copyright protection in multiple jurisdictions, based on the laws of each jurisdiction.

If the author creates a literary work in, say, Canada or the Netherlands, that work must be protected in accordance with its domestic laws under the copyright laws of all other participating member countries. For example, in one jurisdiction a very short ‘ work ‘ or a creation with functional characteristics may be protected but not in another, on the grounds that it lacks originality.

Therefore, an author obtains as many different national copyright packets as there are member jurisdictions (countries). Currently, there are 176 member countries to the ‘Berne Convention’, as it’s called.

For example, the author of a literary work may only license or transfer the right to translate the work into a specific, different language or market to a third party. In other words, each right (the term ‘ right fragment’ was used to illustrate this’ fragmentation’ of rights) can be owned and exploited separately in the copyright bundle 176 times.

But there is more. Each member country is free to choose how far it will go, because this is not settled internationally. The types of exhaustion are: national, regional and international, but there are a number of grey areas.Therefore, no mandatory registration can be applied at least to foreign authors in any of the 176 countries. The common law notion of ‘title’ is useful to understand this idea. ‘Title’ is the term used at common law to refer to the legal link between a person who owns property and the property itself. The international copyright is actually 176 different bundles of rights, each with its own variations and exceptions.  

The notion of parallel importing is not limited to physical products. Electronic transmissions of copyright works and even services that can involve intellectual property, for example, can be parallel imported. There are conflicting views on whether a copy put on the market in a country under a certain license may be exported to a country using international exhaustion. A country can decide not to apply Berne Convention protection to its own nationals. This is the case in the United States where US authors are subject to a higher level of obligations (in terms of copyright registration) than foreign authors.

A license may be exclusive or nonexclusive. An example of the former would be when the owner of the right of adaptation in a novel (literary work) authorizes a specific film producer to make a film based on the book. An example of the latter would be when the film producer who then makes the movie and becomes the owner of the copyright of the film authorizes 100 film theatres to show the film at the same time. The transfer of a copyright title often requires a written instrument. If courts accept smart contracts as a form of a written instrument, remains to be seen. An author, as an example, that has been given a token that represents a copyright claim, may transfer ownership of the work, but laws in the jurisdiction where the work was created may or may not validate the transfer. 

Is the technology ready to take over? Or is it too soon?

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