A new system to trace provenance of digital works: Ascribe

17 June 2015

Artists and other makers that want to register an image as theirs now have access to a new service: Ascribe. In this system, information about the provenance of images is crowdsourced. Users can upload an image and connect this to information about the rightful owner. Although Ascribe reacts to a missing gap that thus far hasn’t been closed on the Internet, it doesn’t seem to offer a sustainable solution because of the way it is built.

Ascribe responds to a dire need on the Internet

Ascribe is designed to cater the needs of artists who want to share their images online. They can now settle legal ownership over their digital creative content. The system attaches uploaded images to information about the provenance++ProvenanceKennisland’s work focuses on strengthening the public domain. Provenance is an essential aspect of a strong public domain. of that file. Ascribe collects the artist’s name, artwork title, the year in which it is created and the number of editions. It then generates a unique ID (based on a cryptographic hash++Cryptographic hashInterested in the cryptographic hash? This wiki page explains it in more detail.) and registers who added this entry to the system.

Ascribe enables tracing back the maker of online images. On Ascribe, people who found images online can figure out the original owner of an image. This way permission can also be settled; they can either ask the maker for permission to use it when the terms are not clearly defined or if the terms are specified (for example because the maker has made use of Creative Commons licenses)++Creative CommonsKennisland represents Creative Commons in the Netherlands. Read more about the work we do for Creative Commons Nederland , people can easily figure them out.

The system also supports sharing images on third-party platforms, as each image gets attached to a unique public URL. Normally, provenance information tends to get lost when images are shared outside of their original publication context, but because of this URL, users can always trace back the original maker. At first glance, Ascribe seems to be the missing piece on the Internet. However, taking a closer look the system also has some shortcomings. These are related to the technology that is used, the block chain protocol.

The block chain has restricted flexibility

In Ascribe, images and their attached provenance information are stored in a block chain++Block chainThe block chain was originally designed for the digital currency Bitcoin. This article dives into the design, concepts and functioning of the block chain.. This digital registry is not managed by one single centralised party but by all users++Power to all usersThe power is transferred from one central party to all users. In the case of bitcoin for example, the bank is replaced by the network. The design of the network ensures the reliability needed to make transactions of money. on the block chain. Block chain’s peer-to-peer network facilitates the transaction of information, or of money – in the case of Bitcoin. All information that is added to the system is collected in a ledger. All users of the block chain have access to the ledger, so all transactions are by definition public.

The fact that the block chain is not controlled from one centralised unit makes it reliable. A provenance system that is designed to function according to the block chain protocol is not prone to react to monopolies or political tensions. At the same time, an inherent aspect of it is that information, once it has been entered to the system, can never be curated.A provenance system that is designed to function according to the block chain protocol is not prone to react to monopolies or political tensions. At the same time, an inherent aspect of it is that information, once it has been entered to the system, can never be curated. This has been a conscious choice, but whether or not that is the best choice can be argued. What happens when information in the system turns out to be incorrect? The technology of choice is not flexible enough to respond to such issues.

Ascribe tries to offer a solution to a problem that we continue to face on the Internet: the problem of ownership, originality and attribution. The system’s strength is the way in which information is collected. The fact that all information is crowdsourced makes the system stronger. However, instead of going to a decentralised system, which sounds very ideal but has its weaknesses, I would rather design a centrally organised system in which information can be changed, curated and kept up-to-date.

Deze tekst heeft een Creative Commons Naamsvermelding-licentie (CC BY) en is gekopieerd van de Kennisland-website. Ga voor de volledige versie met afbeeldingen, streamers en noten naar https://www.kl.nl/en/opinion/new-system-to-trace-provenance-ascribe/

This text has a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) and has been copied from the Kennisland website. For a full version with images, streamers and notes go to https://www.kl.nl/en/opinion/new-system-to-trace-provenance-ascribe/