Monegraph, a collaborative project between a New York University professor and a technologist offers a radical new way for artists to secure digital property – by logging it in the namecoin block chain.
To use the service, users sign in to Monegraph via Twitter and choose a URL location of a digital asset, such as artwork. Paying a small network fee via the namecoin QT client results in the Twitter account and URL being placed on the block chain.
Kevin McCoy is the NYU professor that worked with Anil Dash to create Monegraph. An artist himself, McCoy said he had considered building Monegraph for some time:
"I was thinking of this idea of authentication around digital media, digital artwork for a while. And there seemed like a real need – a real-world application."
The Monegraph concept was turned into something real by McCoy and Dash as part of an event called Seven on Seven. The purpose of the symposium, held at the New Museum in New York City, is to pair artists with technical professionals to build a project within one day.
"I think the event organizers put us together because they knew that we had been thinking about these ideas. We were able to come up with a working model of it relatively quickly," said McCoy.
Dash is known for being involved early with blogging and social media. The pairing of Twitter for verification with Monegraph is likely a nod towards such experience.
Using existing social media as an identity that appears on the namecoin block chain is certainly a unique approach.
Proof of digital media
The ability to verify digital item via a public general ledger is a concept that could gain traction in the cryptocurrency community. Another project called Proof of Existence is used by developers, for example, to create unique hashes for each version of code that they create.
Monegraph builds on this idea, but is geared towards digital media already posted on the web. One application for users would be to create a hash that combines a Twitter account with a public image of themselves posted on the web as a method of verifying identity.
— Daniel Cawrey (@danielcawrey) May 13, 2014
Block chain as public verification
The ability to use block chain technology to prove ownership of a digital asset could be useful to protect intellectual property. While, legal complexities exist for the time being, courts around the world will eventually need become familiar with the use of cryptographic hashes as a form of verification.
McCoy realizes that mediation of ownership disputes is still a concern with this technology, but he believes that the best way for block chain certification to gain traction is through making projects like Monegraph.
The more that the idea of block chain's power to prove ownership is exposed to the public, the better:
"As an author, as a publisher, as an issuer – the validity of your claim is strengthened the more you are public about it."
Not just bitcoin
The use of namecoin's block chain for Monegraph is a telling signal that it is not just bitcoin that has value. McCoy says that the use of namecoin was a "practical matter" – it's an altcoin that can be used to verify DNS registrations in a decentralized way.
Furthermore, it's not easy for people to obtain namecoin, compared with other cryptocurrencies. Then there is the thorny issue getting the general public to understand how this form of digital asset verification works.
McCoy is aware of these issues, noting Monegraph was built in a day.
It's not the coin that matters, he says – rather, it is public ledger technology that could turn this idea into a new method of proof. He knows, though, that it has to be super-simple for people to use decentralized ownership concepts, saying:
"In the future, I would like to be somewhat block chain agnostic. [But] there’s got to be a platform. At the end of the day, this has to be developed into a platform that makes it easy for people to use."
Digital Art image via Shutterstock