Kodak announced today that it's launching a new blockchain-based platform to help photographers manage the digital rights for their images and get paid for their work. The platform, called KodakOne, will use blockchain's distributed ledger technology to let photographers upload and register images that they can sell right in the platform and be paid directly and instantaneously. Those payments will come in the form of Kodak's new cryptocurrency, KodakCoin. Kodak is debuting KodakCoin in an initial coin offering (ICO) on January 31. The announcement, made during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), caused Kodak's share price to double in one day

This is a highly logical move for Kodak. Jumping on the ICO bandwagon has boosted stock prices for other flagging companies, so it was a safe bet that it would work for Kodak as well. The company, which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2012, has $845 million in debt and this new platform will help. In addition to the share-price lift, the ICO should raise $20 million. Kodak already has a coin mining operation (in which individuals and companies trade computing time for cryptocurrency) and may benefit from mining KodakCoin as well. Kodak also has a sizable database of photographs of its own that it may sell through the KodakOne platform. 

Although the plan for KodakOne and KodakCoin seems very well thought out, it raises a few questions today's announcement failed to answer:

1. Why should photographers sell their work on KodakOne?

Right now, there are many options for photographers who want to sell their images online, including selling them as stock photos through such services as iStock, Shutterstock, or Getty Images, all of which are widely used by publications and websites looking for images. One drawback, from the photographer's viewpoint, is that these services take a cut somewhere between 30 and 70 percent. KodakOne will likely also take a commission on images sold through its platform, but Kodak isn't saying so far how much that will be.

2. How will KodakOne enforce copyright online?

One of the selling points for photographers is that Kodak says its web crawlers will be constantly at work to find illegal uses of images in its registry. It will then "efficiently manage the post-licensing process," according to its website.

It's not clear from this vague language whether Kodak intends to automatically generate cease-and-desist or takedown letters, or whether it will try to collect funds from those who use images illegally, or whether it will ever actually sue anyone. Photographers may want clearer answers to these questions before they sign on.

3. Will it be enough to save Kodak?

The company infamously didn't invest in digital photography when it should have--so that it's often used as an example of a formerly innovative company that got stuck in its old ways. Whether or not KodakOne and KodakCoin are successes, it's probably a smart idea for Kodak to embrace blockchain technology, whose use is likely to become more widespread over the next few years. 

But it will take a long time for Kodak to outlive its reputation as an old-line company that failed to see the arrival of the digital era. And even longer for the company to pay off its massive debt. Will Kodak ever do either of those things? We'll have to wait to find out.

Published on: Jan 10, 2018