Will blockchain technology protect photographers?

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Will blockchain change how we view and sell images? (Image credit Davidstankiewicz, made available for reuse on Wikimedia Commons.)

Blockchain is a digital ledger that tracks data. It is the basis for Bitcoin, Dogecoin and other cryptocurrencies. Organizations look at this code for uses ranging from new media distribution platforms to enforcing copyright. It’s a complicated topic. By it’s very nature we can’t get hard data on it. Created in 2008, blockchain often makes big headlines. Here is brief overview to give you a starting point on seeing how it affects the photography world.

Kodak seeks comeback

Digital photograph of the author as a young girl. Sometime in 90s a digital camera the size of several copy machines took this picture of me on the ground floor of the New York World Trade Center. This is what early digital photography looked like.

The new big thing in photography and blockchain is KODAKcoin. For several decades, Kodak was the biggest name in photography. The company fell far from that lofty place in the age of digital photography. They didn’t cling to film as more future focused companies steamrollered their market share. Kodak actually created the first digital camera and planned to hit the market before the technology was a viable commercial product. Yet, they went from a near monopoly on film and printing into what some would consider obscurity.

Here they are again, taking bold first steps into what might be the new shape of both photography and the internet. The KODAKone digital rights platform is their plan for digital rights management. They use blockchain to track image usage and check for licensing. KODAKcoin is their own cryptocurrency for paying photographers. You can even rent a Kodak branded KashMiner to mine Bitcoin currency yourself.

They are planning to once again become the 900 pound gorilla in the world of photography, taking over distribution and payment for professional photographers. Will they succeed or become a historical footnote?

Brave new world

In addition to KODAKcoin, there are a lot of new platforms trying to catch on. One is Brave, a maker-centric browser using blockchain. Brave has partnered with Dow Jones Media Group to test the platform for distribution. They have accumulated One Million dollars in Basic Attention Tokens to reward people for not using ad blockers. Basic Attention Tokens, or BAT, is a currency meant to be exchanged between advertisers, publishers and the people viewing online content.

There are many other aps and platforms hoping to use blockchain to become the next big things. Steemit, SocialX, Nexus, Obsidian and dozens more at least. Viuly is one of the video sharing platforms using blockchain. Brave seems to be yards ahead of the rest with their resources and professional connections.

Blockchain and privacy

For years, most of the chatter I’ve seen around blockchain as a media platform involved a return to the privacy we used to enjoy on the early days of the internet. Privacy is one of Brave’s big selling points. However, a platform being based on blockchain doesn’t inherently mean privacy. Blockchain is essentially a tracking system. Forbes talks about how using Etherium chains might lead to far more data tracking of people than today. Kodak uses the technology to better track images and their usage across the internet. At the end of the day blockchain is no different from other innovations. It’s not inherently anything; it’s all in how we use it.

Shaping the landscapes of photography

Melting ice at Glacier National Park
The sheer energy demand by blockchain affects carbon production, which endangers the snow-capped mountains and glaciers in Glacier National Park, dubbed the Crown of the Continent.

And finally, let’s look at the impacts on the world. How much power does blockchain use? It’s hard to pin down because it’s decentralized. Forbes puts the energy use of Bitcoin alone to 1.5% of what the energy use of the United States totals. Bitcoin is only one use of blockchain. Widespread adoption of any blockchain platform could spike that much higher. However, the economic impacts on the energy market and the need for new energy infrastructure to meet demand will be a check on growth.

Right now Washington and Oregon are centers for blockchain mining due to cheap energy and occasional energy surpluses. It’s caused a lot of friction as sleepy towns suddenly have massive spikes in energy demand and new infrastructure needs to be built to provide it. While the mines themselves often use hydroelectric or solar power, that energy is not sold to other markets. Still, it may be better to have the mines here rather than in countries with less energy regulation.

This free walk-in campsite is on the shores of Lake Timothy is on land Portland General Electric owns. Mt. Hood National Forest surrounds it. The lake’s dam doesn’t produce energy directly, but instead manages water flow.

The Pacific Northwest creates a lot of cheap green energy. If regulations changed to allow it to be sold in to more energy markets within the US, then America would be less reliant on coal and other, more polluting energy sources. Iceland is facing a similar problem, where it’s cheap green energy is making it a hub of energy hungry bit coin mines. Mine are run all over the world and there is a severe lack of information about them. It is not possible to get a handle on it’s true impact.

Anyone planning on rolling the dice and renting a KashMiner with a Kodak logo on it? Are you newer to photography and not fully aware of the massive hold Kodak used to have on many steps of the image taking process for pros and consumers alike? Will you embrace blockchain, or are environmental, privacy and stability concerns holding you back?

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