Analysis

Blockchain startup Jaak unveils MΞTA and plans pilots


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Blockchain-focused startup Jaak has revealed more on its plans for a series of pilots involving music and media companies in the months ahead.

CEO Vaughn McKenzie has also outlined Jaak’s ambition to create MΞTA, a decentralised, open network for media and entertainment organisations to “capture, store, verify and communicate commercial metadata”.

The company will be tapping distributed-storage service Swarm and blockchain-based smart contracts platform Ethereum for its pilots. McKenzie made the announcement at the European Ethereum Development Conference (EDCON) in Paris this weekend.

Jaak’s pilots will take place under the banner of the ‘Guardian Initiative’. McKenzie explained more to Music Ally in an interview from EDCON.

“The Guardian Initiative is a group of media and entertainment organisations committed to work alongside JAAK to test, experiment and explore blockchain and decentralised technology,” he said.

“Working alongside members we aim to deliver three pilots. We’ll be announcing more details over the next few months.”

Jaak has already been working with two music-industry bodies – UK collecting societies PRS for Music and PPL – as well as MTV’s parent company Viacom, as part of the recent EY Startup Challenge run by EY, the company formerly known as Ernst & Young.

“As part of the EY Startup Challenge we were given an opportunity to work alongside PRS, PPL and Viacom, all three of which provided a number of clear, developed use cases and problem statements around using blockchain technology to manage rights in their own businesses,” said McKenzie.

We now know what Jaak’s technology is called – MΞTA – but what is it? Music Ally asked McKenzie how it compares to existing experiments around blockchain technology and music. For example, Mycelia, the prototype created by musician Imogen Heap and startup Ujo, which also drew on Ethereum.

“Right now our focus is on reducing the friction involved in the capture, provenance, and authenticity of data and rights information in the supply chain,” said McKenzie.

“The Ujo/Mycelia prototype was an excellent example of the potential of smart-contract based rights management and royalty payments. With MΞTA, we’re working to build out the infrastructure layer, which means we could very well underpin many of the concepts and prototypes that are currently in development.”

McKenzie also addressed one of the views expressed by blockchain sceptics in the music industry: that the biggest (and in some people’s opinions, insurmountable) barriers to this technology are cultural rather than technical.

The argument is that while creating a decentralised database of music rights and applying smart contracts is eminently possible, but it’s the industry politics and an entrenched fear of transparency that will prevent it from happening.

“It’s something we’ve definitely heard and we agree. Blockchain technology is just that – technology. It provides a new framework through which to analyse the way we do business and assess whether there truly may be a better way but, as always, this comes down to people,” said McKenzie.

“Many of the breakthroughs made under the banner of ‘Blockchain’ are technical solutions to people/social/cultural problems around co-ordinating the economic behaviour of individuals. However, blockchain has become a catalyst for many industries, of which music is one, to reflect on supply chain infrastructure.”

McKenzie said he was optimistic that startups like Jaak and their partners can make progress, despite the barriers.

“Transparency is always a concept that encounters resistance but this isn’t just a blockchain or decentralisation issue, it’s part of a much wider conversation about ethics,” he said.

“Blockchain is just technology. Given the response we’re receiving from the industry we’re very optimistic, but this isn’t going to be an overnight thing. We need collaboration, we need a shared vision, and we need time.”

Stuart Dredge

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