CategoryMusic and digital currencies

View the contract code for Imogen Heaps pioneering self-executing royalty contract

In October 2015 British singer Imogen Heap made headlines by publishing her song “Tiny human” with help of the Ethereum blockchain. A new website makes it now very easy to take a peak behind the scenes and see the contract code that governs the royalty contract. The website is called and you can view the contract here.

This excerpt of the code for instance shows how the money from the sale of “Tiny human” mp3s is divided between Imogen Heap and her seven colaborators:

shares[“Imogen Heap”][‘DOWNLOAD’] = 912500; //91.2500
shares[“Stephanie Appelhans”][‘DOWNLOAD’] = 12500; //1.2500
shares[“Diego Romano”][‘DOWNLOAD’] = 12500; //1.2500
shares[“Yasin Gundisch”][‘DOWNLOAD’] = 12500; //1.2500
shares[“Hoang Nguyen”][‘DOWNLOAD’] = 12500; //1.2500
shares[“Simon Minshall”][‘DOWNLOAD’] = 12500; //1.2500
shares[“David Horwich”][‘DOWNLOAD’] = 12500; //1.2500
shares[“Simon Heyworth”][‘DOWNLOAD’] = 12500; //1.2500

The revolutionary thing about this contract is it’s self-executing nature. This means that the payouts to the musicians are automatically and immediately executed in the instant that a download is sold. Ever heard of musicians being ripped off by the evil music industry? Well, if this sort of music publishing would take over, being ripped off would be a thing of the past. If you look closely at the contract details, you will see that the big music companies like Sony, Warner and Universal have no part in it.

The process of buying the mp3 in my opinion could still be improved though. The website Ujo, which hosts the song, asks you to create a wallet on their site for which you then choose a password. In the next step you have to charge your Ujo-wallet with the necessary funds (the ether amount that corresponds to 0.60 USD) and then pay the song from your Ujo-wallet. This was not how I expected this to work and I would prefer to pay directly from my wallet. However we can hope that this might be further improved, if this way of publishing music gains traction.

The Permanent Web for music and other media content

Since the internet has emerged accessability of music and other media content has vastly improved. iTunes, amazon and simliar vendors offer millions of songs, books and movies instantly for relatively cheap prices. Sites like these pretty much guarantee that artistic and cultural content produced in our day and age will remain easily available and conserved for the future. However what about digital content that is not easily marketable and therefore not available on the big commercial platforms?

For instance what about free songs by lesser known bands, self-published mixtapes by no-name djs, live recordings from concerts or particular radio shows? Content like this might appear on some website, online forum or file-sharing site and then might be soon lost for various reasons. Maybe the creator of the content removes his account, maybe the website ceases to exist or a simple change in the url renders the old links to the content in question invalid.

I ran into this kind of problem a lot, especially after that one time I lost a bunch of mp3s due to my own stupidity and a lack of proper backups. My attempts to get a hold of particular dj-mixes I once possessed often ended in a 404.

A new piece of technology called the Interplanetary File System or IPFS tries to solve this problem and deliver the vision of a Permanent Web. The permanence is achieved, because every user that has a particular file in its IPFS-directory is sharing it with all other users (similar to bittorrent). Therefore as long as only one user has a file, the file is available to everybody.

Another advantage is that this design doesn’t have a central server as bandwidth bottleneck. The decentralized nature allows for potentially much higher download speeds. Over bittorrent the IPFS has the advantage that files are versioned similar to files in a GIT repository. This should make it easy to get new improved versions of a particular content.

The creators have set their aims high: “IPFS is becoming a new major subsystem of the internet. If built right, it could complement or replace HTTP. It could complement or replace even more. It sounds crazy. It is crazy.” (quoted from project description on github)

I am really looking forward to this distributed vision of the internet, among other reasons because it might help me rediscover lost recordings of obscure dj-sets.

Louis CK content available for bitcoin

The comedian Louis CK is one of the first content creators to utilize digital currencies in his online shop. For me personally this is actually a big deal, because he is my favourite comedian and I used to buy at his online shop prior to him adding bitcoin as a payment option. Now the bitcoin implementation makes purchasing his downloadable audio and video shows even easier.

The actor / comedian is known for trying out new and experimental distribution strategies for the content he produces. In December 2011 he decided to self-produce a one-hour comedy special and distribute it exclusively on his website .

The move was very successfull. The Rolling Stone reported that downloads exceeded the 1 million dollar mark. In an act of “cutting out the middle-man” he removed distribution companies from the interaction with his fanbase. That is why he might have taken a liking to bitcoin, because the digital currency might enable him to do the same with the payment processors. For the moment though, he chose to use the service of Bitpay to process his bitcoin payments.

There is room for improvement though. The website still requires users to provide an email-address before they can purchase his content. This somewhat diminishes the main benefits of bitcoin payments in purchases of digital content. These are increased protection of data privacy and a better user experience by eliminating the need to divulge any personal data. However it is a good start!

Edit March 2016: There is a new show called “Horace And Pete” available now, with new episodes weekly.

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