Bitmark is a digital asset startup from Taiwan that is hoping to change the digital content rights landscape. The company recently announced the latest blockchain industry seed round investment, a US$1.7 million round was led by Cherubic Ventures. The Digital Currency Group and WI Harper Group also participated.
While the startup’s service isn’t available yet, the whitepaper details a process for re-defining property for the digital age and environment. Using a Proof-of-Work (PoW) blockchain, modeled closely after Bitcoin’s, the desktop client-based service will allow anyone to issue and trade digital assets that prove ownership of anything from a tweet to a home.
Each of these digital property tokens, called Bitmarks, can be bought with bitcoins, other digital currencies, and even a credit card between Bitmark software clients. Transferring assets appears to be free, but issuance costs a small fee payable in bitcoin, which goes to the Bitmark miners.
“A bitmark is a unique title issued for each digital asset. It’s akin to a title for your home, car, or any other registered property but for the digital realm. The bitmark is stored on the open source Bitmark blockchain.”
— – Bitmark
Ever since Satoshi Nakamoto published the original bitcoin whitepaper and solved the Byzantine General’s problem with what data scientists now call Nakamoto Consensus, humanity has had a way to represent any property online, be it physical, intellectual, or digital, in a useful way. Not only can we have a representative token that can’t be counterfeited, these digital assets have the ability to be moved between people and traded with absolute certainty.
The technology has been sadly underutilized, according to Bitmark CEO Sean Moss-Pultz, “We still rely on ancient systems of deeds and titles to establish ownership for real property.” Valuable digital assets of all kinds, such as intellectual property, music, films, art, books, and code, are all ineffectively using a retrofitted system of ownership that relies on the nature of physical matter to protect it from duplication.
Using Nakamoto Consensus, we can finally address today’s problems with modern property, and it just so happens that physical property can be accounted for and traded in this new way as well. With a system of bitmarks, the company imagines a world where all property of all kinds are kept in a single registry and every asset can be accessed and traded securely on it.
"Each day millions of us give away what we create and our personal data for free to entities that are profiting from it, and we don’t get a cut because we can’t claim ownership over it. Other times, it loses its context because it is orphaned by the hands inside the internet. These entities would have us think what we create has no value… Bitmark changes that notion by giving each of us property rights to our data."
— – Sean Moss-Pultz, CEO of Bitmark Inc.
People are not accustomed to thinking of the digital information they create as property that can be certified and traded. “The notion of property rights in the digital environment is not yet defined,” Moss-Pultz explains.
To prove you own a Facebook post or your browser’s metadata doesn’t appear at first to be very useful, but the CEO would argue that this is only because we’re judging that data’s value by the old, physical-based system.
“Bitmark is the first opportunity for individuals to affirm ownership of the digital assets they create, post online in blogs and through social networks and platforms,” Moss-Pultz said. It’s a, “Radically new perspective on property, ownership, and the value of creation.”
However, giving assets a digital identity that is inseparable from ownership is still an imperfect science. While there is little difference between a bitmark for your digital photo and a bitmark for the Brooklyn Bridge, the former can be linked exclusively to its’ bitmark while the latter can be claimed again and again by other people, resulting in several real-world grievances that require mediation of some kind. “When legal disputes arise, each provenance will serve as evidence in conflicting ownership claims,” the whitepaper explains.
“Conflicting ownership claims stemming from bitmarks that point to the same asset yet have different issuing signatures must be settled externally by property rights adjudication.”
— – Bitmark whitepaper
The software has been developed and is on display through a series of video tutorials. They cover issuing bitmarks, verifying ownership of any property in the system, trading properties, and even setting up an IFTTT service to automate various types of bitmark issuance.
Using IFTTT to issue bitmarks will make it a snap to automatically bitmark anything that is posted on twitter, facebook, Instagram, or Dropbox accounts, however, each time they do so, a bitcoin fee is charged.
With integrations like these four social accounts through IFTTT, the Bitmark system seems to be far more developed for online data than it is offline property. Still, development is sure to increase after the new seed round funding, although a launch date is still forthcoming.
"What is so exciting about Bitmark is how vastly it can reshape our digital economy. If you could put your stamp of ownership on everything you created and suddenly there was no disputing that it was yours, wouldn’t you?"
- Matt Cheng from Cherubic Ventures
While Bitmark may be the most recent vision for tokenizing digital property and putting it on a blockchain, it is far from being the first, or even the most well-funded. Several different startups focus on digitizing asset ownership in the blockchain space, but typically they feature one specific type of asset, and do not use decentralized desktop platforms.
For instance, Everledger focuses on tracking the ownership and provenance of diamonds, in an effort to stamp out the blood diamond trade. Provenance deals supply chains, from luxury goods to products at the supermarket, ensuring you get what you pay for. Perhaps the closest service to Bitmark is Ascribe, which focuses on digital property such as artwork, it allows users to issue, protect, and trade them on their platform.
Many more such platforms exist, but all have taken the centralized path, which demands users visit their website or app in order to interact with their own data. If the service were to go out of business one day, the whole system could then become useless.
Bitmark has solved that problem by only creating and updating the open source client software, which miners and users can download and run themselves. The Bitmark Inc. team hasn’t said yet how they would be earning ongoing income after launch, but perhaps a model like OpenBazaar’s supporting company OB1 would be ideal, where they can offer some sort of mediation services alongside the platform they upkeep.
"What we see now in the digital space is standardized content which cannot be traced back to the original owner; this impacts value in culture and trade. Property rights in the digital world are missing. Bitmarks provide embedded ownership certificates. This is visionary and will usher in necessary change that millions of people will welcome."
— – Edward Liu, a Partner at WI Harper Group who invested in Bitmark