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Can Permissionless Blockchains be Regulated and Resolve Some of the Problems of Copyright Law?

I’m delighted to share my latest research on blockchains and copyright!

In October 2018, the European Parliament passed a resolution on distributed ledger technologies that recognised blockchains’ potential to disrupt copyright and creative industries. The aim of ‘Can Permissionless Blockchains be Regulated and Resolve Some of the Problems of Copyright Law?’ – chapter I co-authored with James Stacey – is to examine blockchain technologies and provide an assessment of their disruptive potential upon the legal sphere of intellectual property, and in particular copyright in the music industry.

In order to do so, this chapter will start off by clarifying that the blockchain does not exist, because there are several different types of blockchains and, accordingly, different legal and regulatory issues are involved. After identifying the type of permissionless blockchain that is analysed in this chapter – that is permissionless, Turing complete, open, distributed, peer-to-peer, transparent, tamper-resistant and censorship resistant –, we move on to identify the definitional and non-definitional features of blockchain technologies.

For the blockchain to unleash its disruptive potential, it must be clarified whether it complies with existing laws and whether new regulations are needed. Should existing regulations be found insufficient, only then a serious discussion around new regulations could be started and this should take into account the necessity not to stifle innovation, the level of development of the relevant technologies, the importance of involving all the stakeholders and to place the discussion at a supra-national level.

The focus of the chapter is to critically assess whether public permissionless blockchains can be used to disrupt intellectual property law by resolving some of the problems in copyright law, with particular regard to the issues of copyright registration, infringement, and transactions.

It will be shown how the blockchains can resolve the registration issues by allowing forms of tamper-resistant, censorship-resistant, user-friendly, and privacy-friendly copyright registration.

As to infringement, the blockchains can prevent it by making it easier for copyright owners to track the use of their works and for music consumers and new intermediaries such as Spotify and iTunes to identify the owners, seek a license, and pay the royalties.

Finally, smart contracts could be used to automate licensing and as forms of digital rights management, but this could be criticised from an efficient breach perspective, as well as by pointing out the difficulties of this technology in coping with copyright exceptions or defences.

It is perhaps too soon to conclude that a 10-year-old technology will ultimately disrupt copyright, but there are already some indications that the Ethereum-type blockchains’ features will radically change copyright by fixing some of its most urgent problems.

The full text can be downloaded from the Research Projects section of this website.

Please cite as Guido Noto La Diega and James Stacey, ‘Can Permissionless Blockchains be Regulated and Resolve some of the Problems of Copyright Law?’, in Massimo Ragnedda and Giuseppe Destefanis, Blockchain and Web 3.0: Social, Economic, and Technological Challenges (Routledge 2020) 30-47

Can AI and the IoT be Governed to Achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals? An Intellectual Property Law Perspective

The WTO can play an important role in achieving the UN sustainable development goals. Investments in AI and IoT could go a long way, in that these technologies could lead to economic growth, innovation, good health, and new services. For this to happen, however, they must be adequately governed. This means, practically, that we need laws – and IP laws above all, given their role in incentivising creativity and innovation – that are fit for AI and IoT.

AI could lead to unprecedented research developments with revolutionary impact on healthcare. They would do so not only by changing the way we carry out research – with AI-powered data mining and cancer-predicting deep learning models – but also by making us rethink certain IP laws. The reference is to the patent system that has hitherto been abused by pharmaceutical companies that have developed strategies to retain perpetual and absolute monopolies on medical inventions, thus preventing access to medicines, especially in developing and least-developed countries.

AI could change this. It could, indeed, change the standard currently applied to assess one of the key requirements for patentability, i.e. inventive step. We currently assess if an invention presupposes an inventive step and is hence patentable from the point of view of the ‘person skilled in the art’, a notional worker who lacks ingenuity and has limited knowledge. With AI becoming commonplace and increasingly creative, the new standard to be adopted may and should be the AI-enhanced researcher. Such a person would be more likely to consider new inventions as obvious and this would counter the over-protection of pharmaceutical inventions.

Finally, the IoT is set to disrupt all the fields and all the laws that have been built on the good-product and hardware-software dichotomy. Patent laws are likely to be profoundly impacted – and may need a significant revision – because their exclusion from patentability of software may be factually circumvented by the ubiquitous presence of software in any mundane device and at any step of the supply chain.

To conclude, IP laws are likely to play a limited role in governing AI and the IoT. It seems more probable that these technologies will ‘govern’ current IP laws in the sense of leading to new interpretation and policies that will make them more ‘sustainability-friendly’.

Click here for the full paper

Blockchain-enabled smart contracts, copyright licensing, and the right to change one’s mind

The concept of smart contract predates the blockchain and was first presented in 1994 by Nick Szabo who defined it as ‘a computerized transaction protocol that executes the terms of a contract.’ The promise of automated execution has become even more alluring with the new generation of smart contracts, that are a collection of code and data (…) that is deployed using cryptographically signed transactions on the blockchain network.’ Indeed, these new smart contracts inherit all the features of the underlying blockchain infrastructure, including ‘the tamperproof nature (…) that anchors their automated execution.’ In a music copyright context, smart contracts could be used for several purposes, such as to automate the execution of a licence or as a form of digital rights management (DRM).

Whilst the use of blockchain-based smart contracts in copyright can be praised or criticised for a number of reasons, this article will assess their compatibility with a principle that we deem inherent to our legal system, i.e. the right to change one’s mind. Contract law is designed to recognise such a right. This can be inferred by the compensatory nature of damages pursuant to the theory of efficient breach, and the prevalence of damages over specific performance. Since smart contracts ‘prohibit or make more costly efficient breach,’ should their adoption be encouraged?

Please find the full text of the blog post at

Who owns AI creations?

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has received more than 250 responses to its call for public comment on a Draft Issues Paper on Intellectual Property Policy and Artificial Intelligence, with submissions collected from a wide array of stakeholders from across the globe.

I am one of the experts who submitted their comments. My main recommendations are as follow:

A. The scope of WIPO’s policies and documents regarding AI should be better defined by both defining AI and, given that AI is a controversial and fuzzy umbrella term, the focus should be on the main AI technologies, starting with machine learning.

B. The law should exclude from the availability of patent protection any invention that has been generated autonomously by an AI application.

C. As for AI-aided inventions, their examination should be stricter and the main means to achieve this end would a shift from the ‘person skilled in the art’ to the AI-enhanced researcher.

D. Prior art should not be limited to the field of technology of the product or service that emerges from the invention; it should include also the fields that are related to it and may be affected by it. AI-generated content should quality as prior art.

E. A condition of the renewal of a patent should be the renewed disclosure of the machine learning algorithm as is at the date of the request of renewal. A system of deposit for algorithms, similar to the deposit of microorganisms, would be useful. The data used to train the algorithm should be included in the disclosure.

F. A sui generis right should be considered as an option both for AI inventions and AI works (collectively ‘big machine data’). Such sui generis right should be accompanied by binding and mandatory fair use provisions; contracts and technological protection measures should not be allowed to sidestep or run counter the sui generis fair use. WIPO should commission legal and economic studies to assess the viability and impact of such a proposal.

G. AI works fall outside the scope of copyright law. They are not their author’s own intellectual creation, they do not carry their personal touch, nor are they the result of free and creative choices.

H. AI should not be given legal personality. Such a personality would not cope well with copyright rules and principles and could be used by human infringers to attempt to escape liability.

Please download the full text here

Cite as Guido Noto La Diega, ‘Comments on WIPO’s Draft Issues Paper on Intellectual Property and Artificial Intelligence’ (WIPO/IP/AI/2/GE/20/1) (, 21 December 2019). WIPO Public Consultation on AI and IP Policy. Available at SSRN: