Blockchain for Books?

I’d never thought about this before, but I can see where using a blockchain system might make some copyright and credit claims easier to sort out.

“What Is Blockchain For Books?

So far, blockchain has attracted most interest as the system that underwrites digital currencies like Bitcoin but it is also likely to underwrite the next disruption in publishing, and likely in a way that will be even more disruptive than the digital revolution.

– Copyright

Blockchain and other hypertext (software systems that allow extensive cross-referencing between related sections of text and associated graphics) supercede copyright protection. Piracy becomes more difficult as the blockchain cryptographically time- and person-stamps the act of publication (and, indeed, of creation through all the stages of the process, if we want). Ownership becomes indisputable.”


However, pirates will still find ways around it. I’m also a little sceptical that it will make IP contracts less onerous. Yes, tracing ownership might be easier, but where there is a will—and lots of money and resources—there will be a way around it.

Still, the idea in interesting, and probably something that direct-to-reader sellers such as Diane Duane and others might be interested in. For those of us who use third-party distribution, it might not be as useful, yet.


  1. Seems like it might make it possible to have digital books that don’t automatically make free distribution possible in a similar manner to paper making it impractical to copy paper books. I have thought about that possiblity as well. when you are dealing with the third world, rules and ‘fair play’ somehow fall through (primarily because of poverty but …)

  2. As long as you can see the text, you can copy the text without the signature.

    as long as the signature is optional (and it has to be, otherwise, how can you have original work?) it does nothing to block the bad guys.

    Computer Security is my day job, blockchain or similar stuff only works if you WANT to claim that you are derived from something.

    1. I agree. And if all you want is to prove ownership, I think sending a cryptographic hash of the original text to a repository or two should be more than adequate. Blockchain seems either awfully heavy weight or else not adequate, depending on what problem you think is being solved.

  3. A blockchain could certainly be used to prove authorship and creation date, but I don’t think it would do anything effective to prevent piracy.

    The reason a blockchain is useful to prevent duplication (“double-spending”) of digital cash is that the duplicated cash would have to be spent on the same blockchain, and this is easy to detect.

    In other words, if you make a copy of a digital cash token and try to spend it again (which can only be done by entering the transaction on the blockchain), the blockchain will say “Nah, bra. That’s already been spent.”

    A pirated book, by contrast, doesn’t have to be “double-spent” (or “spent” at all, for that matter). It’s just as useful without ever coming into contact with the blockchain again. If there’s no contact with the blockchain, how could the blockchain possibly detect it?

    You make a copy of a digital book and hand it off to your friend. The blockchain says… nothing. Because the transaction never touched the blockchain.

    I do agree with them that there’s a lot of potential here. I’m just skeptical it will do anything to prevent piracy.

  4. Block-chain technology might have utility in auditing authorized transfers/copies, or authenticating changes at various stages in the publishing process. It may even help keep honest people honest as part of a copy protection mechanism or DRM scheme. However, it ultimately has a major drawback in that role: something displays the plain text. I am reminded of that scene in Bujold’s “The Vor Game” where Miles and Ivan defeat the the much-vaunted security of the new computer system by simply pointing the camera at the screen of the secure terminal that was displaying the data.

    1. Back… 25 years ago, maybe, a game company issued a new game that depended on a sheet of codes to go from level to level. The sheet was “uncopyable” by ordinary xerography and scanning, using some kind of color combinations and reflecting inks.

      The reviewer looked at the sheet for a few minutes, took a picture of it with his digital camera, then printed a copy on his color printer…

      1. I remember the copy protection on a game I had (SimCity, maybe?) was like that. A dark maroon paper with blank ink on it, and when it prompted you had to enter some combination from one of the indicated lines.

  5. I’m not up on digital anti-copying technology, but I do have an extensive background in loss prevention, and there are always trade-offs. If you make it too difficult for legitimate users who are not tech-savvy to access their content you’ll lose more in customer satisfaction than you’ll gain in protection from piracy.

    I personally can recall games that I gave up on because I just got sick of having to stop, find the manual, and type in the seventh word on page twelve just to keep playing.

    There will always be people who will find a way to crack your security, not because they particularly want the content, but because cracking security is what they do for fun.

    Most folks, though, are willing to pay a reasonable price for decent content. I wrote my opinions on the subject a while back:

    1. The flip side of that, Misha, is the users have a tendency to say: I paid good money for this and it won’t work, and go seek out the security crackers.

      Sims 2 would be an excellent example of this. St some point EA decided to put securom on the discs, and it was a particularly nasty sort. People who had perfectly good reason (say, burning Baen’s free cds) to have cd copying software on their computers found their cd drives spinning until they were destroyed.

      Now everyone uses a nocd crack. Even people who bought the game through the online option and own no cds at all. Because the game is also old and doesn’t use more than one processor, and the number one key to performance is kill all other processes except the OS. Since not having a nocd means having to have the online portal running in the background . . . But the first solution simmers looked at was going around the security measure (open portal) to solve the problem, because we’d learned. Well, actually, any number of us never tried running the download version without the nocd, so the discussion was more like “my performance is bad!” “Huh, what? Wait, you’re not using the nocd? Why not?”

      Yeah, EA trained their customers really well that the first thing to try with a game problem is circumventing security. It would be a heck of an interesting case for an attorney with deep pockets to argue. My customer is just trying to make the software they paid for functional.

      1. I think what you’re saying is what I was trying to say. The security protocols put in place by the manufacturer to prevent piracy were sufficiently draconian to force legitimate consumers to use cracking techniques just to get the functionality they paid for, right?

        That’s the hidden cost of anti-theft technology, lost sales due to added inconvenience to the customer. One example I like to use is diners who skip out on the check in restaurants. Every restaurant in the world gets them.

        Now, it would be possible to put an armed guard at the exits who would stop anyone from leaving without producing a paid receipt. However, the loss of customer confidence due to imposing such a policy would far outway avoiding the occasional skip. (I mean, how it would it make you feel to eat at a place that treated you like that?)

        The goal of loss prevention is not to make theft impossible, it is to maximize profitability. Shrinkage is inevitable, the key is realizing what level of shrinkage is acceptable given a particular volume of legitimate sales.

      2. Jerry Pournelle devoted many columns in Byte to addressing this issue, and he understood where the publishers were coming from…. but in the end, it always ended up at “If your lawyer has become your head marketer, you’re doing it wrong.”

  6. I agree that blockchain wouldn’t prevent pirating. It might however serve to demonstrate proper ownership of something. ie, any copy of a particular books that isn’t verified as owned by the appropriate blockchain would be obviously pirated. then you only need sufficient policing to deter would be thieves.

      1. Understood. You could identify whose book was copied and who paid for the last valid copy. But existence of 2 similarly validated copies would demonstrate pirating. I/m not sure of the value, but it would be a step.

        1. you can do it far more easily and less intrusively with watermarking.

          And before people start complaining that watermarks could be removed, so could the blockchain

          1. question would be: Could watermarks be duplicated as easily as blockchains. Both would serve the purpose of validating the material.

            1. a good watermark will not be obvious to anyone copying things. (things like a comma where a period should beor the reverse in some pattern), while blockchain data is a large chunk of obviously non-text data.

              while both can easily be copied, which do you think is easier to detect and strip out?

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