Incoherence, multiplied: Sony announces nebulous "blockchain for DRM"

Sony — whose most notorious DRM foray infected millions of computers with malware — has announced an incoherent plan to use blockchain to make DRM work, somehow.

Despite Engadget's inexplicable assurance that blockchain as "a DRM tool makes sense and may also help creators keep tabs on their content," there's no detail about how this will actually work, and it's hard to imagine a circumstance in which DRM helps blockchain or vice versa (indeed, given the recent bloodbath in cryptocurrency and blockchain, and the widespread public hostility to DRM, this feels more like tossing an anchor to a drowning victim).

Sony's proposal seems to involve tracking creative works' provenance using a distributed ledger — presumably you could upload signed hashes of your work at different stages and later prove that you created them. This has nothing to do with DRM and addresses the most rare copyfraud circumstance, in which a plagiarist claims to have made a work that someone else actually created (the commonest copyfrauds are to claim that copyright endures in works that are in the public domain, or to falsely assert copyright infringement, including by ignoring fair use).

Sony also implies that every transaction in which someone buys a creative work will end up in the ledger. This has extremely grave privacy implications, but it also has nothing to do with preventing copyright infringement. People who lawfully acquire copyrighted works have the right to sell them, lend them, and give them away — and they are not liable if (for example) their data (including copyrighted works) is stolen and released online.

The fact that Sony publishes a list of the reading, viewing and listening habits of every one of its customers does not give it any basis for seeking damages from those customers if works they purchased show up in someone else's hands.

Engadget gets one thing right: Sony is participating in the age-old, time-honored tech practice of using hot buzzwords to reinvigorate shitty ideas. Having lived through "mobile," "P2P," "as a service," "Uber for," "sharing," "open source," and, of course, "AI" as stock-juicing labels for yesterday's worn-out fruit, Sony's "blockchain DRM" is predictable and also a timely reminder that 60% of all conversations about blockchain are nonconsensual.

The way blockchain works allows Sony to track its content from creation through sharing. This means that users of the blockchain DRM tool will be able to see –and verify– who created a piece of work and when. Sony Global Education is the current focus of the DRM tool, but going forward, the company hints that the rest of its media –including entertainment like music, movies, and virtual reality content– may be protected the same way.

Sony tries using blockchain tech for next-gen DRM [Kristen Bobst/Engadget]