“The platforms with the biggest audience and reach—Facebook and YouTube spring to mind—are the ones that put rights and ownership at the greatest risk.”
Ray Young started RightsLedger.com to give creators control of their content and opportunities for IP monetization, using blockchain technology to authenticate ownership. His latest venture, Milio.io, is the first social media platform to fairly share advertising revenue with users, and already has over a million users. Young spent over two years, since Dec 2019, in Manila working on the company’s launch and is focused on rewarding small and independent content creators with the ability to both protect and monetize their IP.
I spoke with Young to better understand how he is helping creators to safeguard and profit from their content online.
When did your journey start with respect to protecting content creators’ intellectual property (IP)?
As a serial entrepreneur and film producer, I’ve spent decades in licensing, starting with WebConcepts back in 1998. Even back then, creating solutions for physical video distribution required that studios were able to securely share content, minimizing the risk of piracy while understanding you can never completely eliminate IP theft, particularly overseas.
We had a similar aim in mind when I co-founded RightsIn six years ago; we wanted to help content creators navigate the digital distribution market internationally while ensuring they could both protect their rights and make money. A year later, we launched RightsLedger to empower these small independent content creators in both domestic and international markets by using blockchain technology to protect their rights —hence the name!
What were the IP challenges faced by the independent content creators then?
The biggest problem that creators faced then—and still contend with now—was maintaining the rights to their work while trying to monetize their content. The platforms with the biggest audience and reach—Facebook and YouTube spring to mind—are the ones that put rights and ownership at the greatest risk. It’s nothing for someone on any of those sites to copy something someone else has created and post it elsewhere; worse still, those platforms only share a fraction of the ad revenue they bring in with the creators. It’s a lot of risk for little reward, and for a long time it was the only option for most content creators. And internationally, most creators do not stand a chance to protect their work.
From a licensing point of view, independent filmmakers, videographers, photographers, and musicians have found the entire system to be difficult to navigate, and fees plus any foreign exchange reduce their yield even further. Creators started sharing their content on social platforms as a last resort to generate any amount of revenue as there are very few options to make money in today’s digital distribution environment.
How did the early version of RightsLedger help content creators?
We were able to give users access to distributors and markets that they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to reach and gave them the confidence to make deals knowing that their rights to their content would be protected. RightsLedger acquired distribution rights from content creators and distributed them on our social and entertainment platform Milio, which is available on Google PlayStore and Apple AppStore.
One of our earliest partners, ITN Films, was able to facilitate licensing deals using RightsLedger’s smart contracts to ensure all the terms are upheld and the payment is made in full.
What IP rights are helped by blockchain in general?
One of the biggest issues with IP rights is determining ownership. With most content, it can be hard to tell where it came from and who created it if it’s been shared and reposted multiple times across different platforms. With the blockchain, there’s an immutable record of ownership that can be referenced in the event of any disputes.
Why did you introduce blockchain into RightsLedger? How does blockchain impact content creators?
Blockchain is another tool for creators looking to protect ownership of their work. It was a logical step to introduce blockchain to RightsLedger to provide even greater security and transparency when it comes to ownership of IP and payments so they can focus on trying to market their work rather than having to protect it.
How does a social media platform work with respect to content creators’ IP?
When you post to social media, you’re giving up much of the rights to the content that you’ve created. Not only do social media companies assert some degree of ownership over what you post in their terms of service, you’re running up against the problem of content theft that is rife on any of those platforms. In essence, you’re ceding any control over your work the moment you post.
How do you explain the IP protection and usage concepts to the users of the social media platform?
It can be a hard message to get through to people who are used to thinking of content on social media as disposable. Part of that might be because it’s easier than ever to create content, but just because it’s easy doesn’t make it less valuable, or less yours. What we try to communicate to social media users is that you should own the rights to your content, and that companies should pay you something for the right to use it and for the value it offers to a platform. Millions of users are using these social platforms posting and viewing content that brings an enormous amount of advertising revenue to the platforms but they’re not being compensated by those platforms.
What do you say to people who are concerned about cryptocurrency in terms of being safe for their IP?
The creators of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) can use them to authenticate their content and therefore ensure that only they can claim ownership of that content; more importantly, it’s backed by that actual content. Owners of these NFTs can now sell their creative work and get paid in the cryptocurrency of their choice, with near immediate visibility of payments from the buyers and total security backed by blockchain technology.
What is your vision for social media and blockchain with respect to IP?
I would like to see a future in which it is standard practice for content creators to register their work to the blockchain in order to ensure their ownership. I think the first step is educating creators and social media users about IP and ownership, as well as the blockchain. For example, the statement, “Creators should own and make money off of their work rather than platforms,” should be the norm. It’s just a matter of connecting those dots and filling in the gaps for them in terms of how to retain ownership while monetizing. If you’re spending time on the platform, you should be rewarded through blockchain, with total transparency for users and platforms alike, showing who is contributing to the success of the platform and how they’re being compensated.