Using Blockchain to Store Illicit or Copyrighted Content: To Censor or Validate?


Blockchain technology has seen a surge in adoption across the globe, given the censorship and immutable features. But the same perks can also be used to promote store illicit or copyrighted content. What are the ways to tackle such cases?

Blockchains are decentralized networks that use cryptography to secure and verify transactions. Data is stored in a permanent, unalterable form, making it an attractive platform for storing various information. However, any content can be stored, including illegal or copyrighted material, given blockchain’s open nature.


One of the critical advantages of blockchain technology is that it is decentralized and distributed, meaning that no single entity controls the network. This can also make it difficult for authorities to monitor and control the content stored on the blockchain. For instance, if someone were to keep copyrighted material on a blockchain, it would be essentially impossible for copyright holders to remove it as it would be stored across thousands of nodes.


Illicit Content and Copyright Concerns on the Blockchain

The controversial non-fungible token (NFT) concept known as Ordinals is trending on Twitter. It uses the Bitcoin blockchain to has recently been a highly topical subject. The Ordinals protocol witnessed some illicit content surface on the platform (on inscription 668) for around half an hour. 


Although the team later hid the content, the image inscribed was still viewable. BeInCrypto reached out to Ordinals creator Casey Rodarmor to comment on this development. However, hasn’t received a response yet. Nonetheless, the microblogging platform Twitter did see multiple reactions. 


It is possible to store data in smart contracts, and with the recent explosion of NFTs, this is happening a lot. A couple of hundred kilobytes (kB) is more than enough to encode copyrighted material; the text of a novel, a photo, or a short song. Or, in rare cases, a resignation from a workplace. 


A Glimpse Into the Past 

One of the key Ethereum researchers, Justin Drake, shared his narratives with BeInCrypto on Feb. 6. When asked about the consequences of storing illicit content on blockchain, he replied: 

“Nothing much happens (to blockchain); the blockchain moves on.”

Furthermore, Drake highlighted a similar instance that occurred nine years ago in the Bitcoin blockchain. A user by the handle “edc678” reported a virus signature from the “DOS/STONED” virus was uploaded to the Bitcoin blockchain. This caused severe trouble to users of Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE). Nonetheless, technology continues to exist at the time of writing. 

In 2018, RWTH Aachen University researchers found 1,600 files stored in Bitcoin’s blockchain. Of the files, at least eight were of sexual content, including one thought to be an image of child abuse and two that contained 274 links to child abuse content. Another 142 were linked to darknet services.

This, therefore, raises question marks over the technology that cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin use to operate. 


Copyright Infringement Cases

Moving on to another grievance, the copyright of content. Every full node replicates the entire blockchain, including any stored data, and makes it available to its peers. It will become a possessor and distributor of a copyrighted file once a valid transaction is added to the blockchain.

One of the most controversial topics in this cohort is related to Kim Dotcom. He is the controversial internet entrepreneur and founder of the now-defunct file storage platform Megaupload. 


Dotcom locked horns with U.S. regulators over copyright infringement charges relating to the file-sharing giant. He even blamed the current U.S. President for it. In his support, Kim Dotcom, aka Kim Schmitz, asserted: “Hollywood is selling most content online as I suggested they should. Piracy levels keep rising because fewer people can afford $20 per movie or multiple monthly subscriptions.”


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