photo: Kane Reinholdtsen
Last week, Prescient and Access Copyright presented a Blockchain 101 seminar to the Toronto Association of Law Libraries. The association’s goal is to provide a forum for legal information professionals to “exchange ideas and promote professional development.” As someone with a librarian background, I was looking forward to discussing what blockchain technology means for the profession.
Blockchain technology doesn’t always seem tangible but the disruption is real.
Here’s what coming:
Cryptographer Nick Szabo developed the smart contract concept more than 20 years ago. Technology is now catching up to Szabo’s thinking. With smart contracts on a blockchain, both parties can observe the contract’s terms, compliance and fulfillment.
Smart contracts are already changing the legal profession. Today, agreements can be enforced through code instead of arbitrating third parties. Take this example from Kevin Werbach, a professor of legal studies and business ethics at Wharton
“A smart contract is an agreement in digital form that is self-executing and self-enforcing. Let’s say that I want to bet Nico about who is going to win the Super Bowl. I think the Eagles are going to win the Super Bowl, and so we bet $100. Now let’s just assume for a moment that it is a legal transaction — we are in Las Vegas or someplace where you can make a sports bet. So, the end of the season comes along, the Eagles do not win the Super Bowl because, of course, they never do, and Nico comes to me and says, “Okay, where is my hundred dollars?” If it’s a normal contract, I might say, “Well, I was just kidding,” or “Well, I actually don’t have the money.” He might have to go into court to sue me to enforce the contract.”
With a smart contract, Nico and Kevin could link their contract to a source for football scores, such as NFL.com, as well as their bank accounts. The moment the Super Bowl ends and the winner is clear, this smart contract would take the result from NFL.com and automatically transfer $100 from Kevin to Nico.
The RFP process can be challenging in any industry. Smart contracts and blockchain will make the process more efficient for librarians by including parameters like mandatory requirements, pre-clearance levels, submission deadlines, auto notifications for vendors and capturing a record of all related communications.
After the bidding and review process, when the contract is awarded, all terms and conditions can be coded into a smart contract. The librarian can deposit funds into an escrow account and when both parties agree the work is complete, the vendor is automatically paid.
I share these examples because they’re the ones that seemed to resonate at the session last week, however, the automation of rights management and the potential for micro-licensing content will also have incredible potential for legal librarians.
When Google developed its search algorithms, librarians weren’t involved. I often wonder if our community and expertise had been leveraged, if the source material’s credibility might have held a greater weight with results. It’s also one of the reasons I encourage information professionals to be a part of Blockchain’s development in these early days.