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Blockchain in media: The AP explores a blockchain use case

The use of blockchain in media gathered steam with the AP's announcement that it is exploring distributed ledger technology to track content and enforce licensing contracts.

Blockchain use cases continue to expand, with the technology now making inroads in the media industry as The Associated Press announced a collaboration with the blockchain startup Civil Media Co.

The AP is working with Civil to explore a blockchain use case for tracking the news agency's content as it is distributed to and used by the AP's numerous members, according to officials from both the AP and Civil.

In announcing the partnership, the AP said it also could use blockchain to help ensure enforcement of content licensing agreements, as well as possibly enable automated smart contracts with companies that access and use AP content.

AP's collaboration with Civil has implications beyond the media industry.

Blockchain experts said they see this work as a clear example of the expanding use of the technology beyond cryptocurrency and financial services (where blockchain first proved its worth) and even past the area of supply chain (another early proving ground).

"The reality is that blockchain will have applications in a lot of different industries. CIOs need to realize that there's a lot of potential with blockchain; there's also a lot of hype. They need to try to at least learn and understand what blockchain is capable of and what it's not a good solution for so they leverage it properly," said Jared Dorminey, principal of BlockSquared, an Atlanta-based firm that consults on blockchain technology and strategy.

AP's foray into blockchain in media

As senior vice president for strategy and enterprise development at the AP, Jim Kennedy manages an investment portfolio featuring startups developing products or services that could bring strategic value back to the news agency. He said he has been monitoring blockchain news for a while.

Jared Dorminey is principal of BlockSquared, an Atlanta-based firm that consults on blockchain technology and strategyJared Dorminey

"I started to hear about blockchain before the hype and was interested in it from a point of view of registration and verification and syndication," Kennedy said. He said that as a supplier of content, the AP has struggled with how to control use of its content and measure its usage "on the free and open internet."

He added: "We've always been concerned about that, but there was never a really good way to tackle it."

I started to hear about blockchain before the hype and was interested in it from a point of view of registration and verification and syndication.
Jim Kennedysenior vice president of strategy and enterprise development, The Associated Press

Organizations that only distribute content on their own websites can track usage and count clicks and the like, Kennedy noted. But the AP, which was founded in 1846, is a not-for-profit news agency that operates as a cooperative, unincorporated association owned by its contributing newspapers and radio and television stations. Those media outlets contribute content to the AP, content that the AP then distributes along with additional content created by AP staff members and other entities.

Kennedy said the AP has tried to tackle unauthorized use of content retroactively by searching for such inappropriate uses, and the news agency continues to do that. He also said that the AP has considered applying tags to content to try to track it.

"That idea was promising, but we couldn't pull it off. We tried to do it a couple of years ago, but the customers weren't into doing it. So we've been just stuck [with the reality that] once the content is out there, it's free to be stolen or misappropriated," Kennedy said.

Jim Kennedy is senior vice president of strategy and enterprise development, The Associated PressJim Kennedy

Using blockchain, the AP could "register content and then track it in some way and then through smart contracts automate reuse of it and the payment for reuse of it," he said.

He acknowledged that using blockchain in media won't stop cases where users simply copy and paste content without authorized use, but it could possibly be extremely valuable in better tracking other types of misuses.

Blockchain in media ecosystem

Civil Media Co., based in Brooklyn, N.Y., was founded in 2017 and has three divisions: Civil Labs, a for-profit branch developing software apps, tools and widgets for the Civil ecosystem; Civil Studios, a for-profit entity to pilot and fund marquee works of journalism; and Civil Foundation, an independent, nonprofit division focused on the supporting the Civil Constitution. The latter, in beta, promotes and upholds ethics and standards for media companies within the Civil ecosystem.

Civil's work includes a broader mission to create new, sustainable business models for journalism. Much of its work is centered around how utilizing blockchain in media can help fulfill that mission, support governance standards and help media organizations such as the AP solve some of its business challenges.

Michael Young, general manager of Civil Labs, said that in addition to the blockchain use cases Civil is exploring with the AP, blockchain could be used to store articles along with metadata (such as the author and its title) to create permanent records that could remain even if a media company closes and its web presence shuts down.

"Blockchain will allow content to be tracked through its life," he said.

Civil is building its blockchain technology on Ethereum, an open source, public blockchain-based distributed computing platform. Civil's blockchain product will interact with the AP via application programming interfaces (APIs).

Both Kennedy and Young said AP's collaboration with Civil will help both explore the best uses for blockchain in media companies.

"It's really about understanding the technology, what it enables and what we can build on top of it. With its distributed nature and with the fact that it's immutable and builds trust in a trustless network, blockchain has capabilities that unlock some interesting use cases," Young said.

Kennedy said the AP is in the early stages of this project and has yet to fully implement Civil's technology but agrees this is a collaboration to figure out how blockchain's properties can be applied to solve longstanding problems. (Kennedy said that the AP also saw its work with Civil as a way to expand into new markets and reach the startup media companies that make up the Civil ecosystem.) As Young said, "It sets the stage for things we can build down the road."

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