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Programmable IP: Ushering in the Onchain Renaissance back Programmable IP: Ushering in the Onchain Renaissance

From Story Protocol 21 February 2024

Story Protocol transforms IPs into networks that transcend mediums and platforms, unleashing global creativity and liquidity.

Generative AI is exploding the frontiers of creativity. High quality music, art, prose, and video can now be created by anyone with an internet connection. This should have ushered in a golden era of creation, as all previous creative technologies did.

However, creators are struggling to protect and grow their work, despite having worldwide distribution and godlike AI tools.

The culprit: Intellectual Property.

IP is still trapped in the Medieval age — siloed, opaque, and static. Story Protocol is building a programmable IP layer that will allow IPs to compose, remix, and monetize via onchain rules set by their creators. By turning code into law, we will catalyze the Onchain Renaissance.

So what exactly is Programmable IP?

Programmable Money came First

The first wave of crypto revolved around making money programmable. For the first time, new "money legos" could be created with self-enforcing rules and the ability for services to be built on top of those rules. Anyone could attach an API on top of a fungible token, allowing programs to extend the capabilities of that token by interacting with its interface. For the first time, users could compose infinite variations of financial services: you could lend WBTC on Compound to generate cDAI, swap that cDAI on Uniswap for stETH, unstake that stETH to get ETH, and so on — an open programmable economy limited only by the constraints of software. Now, billions of "programmable dollars" are transacted on these protocols every day, powering a parallel financial system with unique network effects.

But (Programmable) Money Can’t Buy Everything

Despite the promise of programmable money, the first wave of crypto has only scratched the surface of what programmable assets can do. DeFi is accessible to a limited group of sophisticated actors — largely whales that engage in advanced financial strategies to generate yield. Unlike finance, content is universally accessible and intuitively appealing — but still static.

The same problems that programmability solved for the financial system continue to afflict the creative world. Just as banks served as lumbering, rent-seeking, gatekeeping intermediaries, licensing IP requires entire teams of lawyers and mountains of paperwork — making it inaccessible to individual creators. And just as financial institutions withheld or obscured data, existing IP registries are localized and opaque, lacking critical information around ownership and rights.

Every major technological paradigm — from the internet, to mobile, to AI — achieves mainstream adoption only when it successfully onboards creative content. Now it is the blockchain's turn. IP needs to be programmable.

From Programmable Money to Programmable IP

If the first wave of crypto was about programmable money, the next wave of crypto will be defined by programmable IP. Programmability means imbuing creative assets with a “built-in API” for rights enforcement, remixing, and monetization onchain. By programming the rules of engagement onchain, any app or program can remix programmable IP frictionlessly while allowing creators to maintain direct control over their work. With Programmable IP, code is law.

Static JPEGs Are Not Enough

There have been promising early attempts at bringing IP onchain. NFTs represent one critical advancement, offering the ability to claim provable ownership over a digital media file. By injecting scarcity into the world of digital assets that could otherwise be replicated at zero marginal cost, NFTs serve as the foundation for digital provenance. However, NFTs alone are not enough — the current generation of static JPEGs have hit a natural ceiling in their development.

The essential feature of onchain assets is their programmability, but static JPEGs are not programmable at all. Most NFTs are still static pointers to a media file — metadata that's rigid, isolated, and trapped. Even when licenses are attached, they're typically entirely offchain and opaque. Beyond basic trading, the capabilities for the current paradigm of NFTs are limited. There is simply no way to create derivatives or remixes without reverting back to the high friction process of offchain licensing — the world of lawyers, paperwork, and bespoke negotiations.

Enter The Programmable IP Layer: Story Protocol

Story Protocol is building the Programmable IP layer to bring programmability to IP. Story Protocol transforms IPs into networks that transcend mediums and platforms, unleashing global creativity and liquidity. Instead of static JPEGs that lack interactivity and composability with other assets, programmable IPs are dynamic and extensible. Creators and applications can register their IP with Story Protocol, converting their static IP into programmable IP by declaring a set of onchain rights that any program can read and write on.

How It Works

Our Programmable IP Layer consists of two elements: data structures and modules. The data structures are the “nouns” of the protocol, storing relevant IP metadata into “IP legos.” The modules are the “verbs,” enabling a diverse array of functionality for the IP Assets registered on the protocol. Story Protocol’s data structures capture the core components of IP, and its modules represent the operations that can be performed on the data structures.

The data structures (“nouns”) provide an onchain, extensible, and composable standard for programmable IP. Just as the creation of protocols like HTTP, HTML, and CSS accelerated internet adoption by enabling reliable and structured information sharing, IP on Story Protocol is designed to be similarly streamlined and networked. We leverage an implementation of ERC-6551 to enable any existing or new NFT to access our protocol via a Story Protocol Bound Account. This standardization makes it simple for any application to read and write on top of programmable IP, maximizing the surface area for remixing.

Our modules (“verbs”) constitute the functional layer of Programmable IP. Once IP is captured in our IP legos, it can be composed and expanded frictionlessly through our modules. Modules are functions that unlock an array of abilities like licensing, revenue streams from derivative works, and access to global capital. For example, our licensing module enables Programmable License NFTs to be generated with the same flexibility and expressivity as code, like a programmable Getty Images that works for all forms of IP. Instead of relying on one-to-one legal negotiations, creators can set their remixing conditions transparently for others to seamlessly extend their work.

By making IP programmable, Story Protocol turns code into law, adding legibility and liquidity to IP.

Increased Legibility:

A Universal Programmable IP Ledger The rights and ownership status of static IPs — onchain or otherwise — are scattered and opaque. The current copyright.gov website has a Craiglist style UI with only the tiniest clues of information. Instead, Story Protocol is setting a simple, composable, and fully onchain standard for IP information and rights. We are aggregating the world’s IP onchain. As more IPs register on Story Protocol, we become the Universal IP Ledger where developers and creators can explore, remix, and monetize creative works with simple API calls, eliminating unecessary intermediaries.

Access Liquidity: Frictionless Remixing

Building a Universal Programmable IP Ledger is just the first step. Beyond aggregating the world’s IP under a single composable standard, Story Protocol allows creators to attach onchain, legally binding, automatically enforced rights onto their IP. This means that anyone in the world can access and license the world’s IP. We’ve created the Programmable IP License (PIL), which has the simplicity of Creative Commons but with value capture and commercialization options built-in. Creators choose from a set of parameters (or they can select one of our pre-set “flavors for simplicity) in the license, which is reflected both in the legal text as well as enforced via onchain terms. By abstracting all friction away from remixing, Story Protocol harnesses global creativity and generates IP liquidity.

Incubating the Next Marvel

The process of growing IP today is both opaque and costly. For example, in order for Marvel to license Spiderman from Sony, both companies need to engage in expensive and complex negotiations around terms. If another large company wanted to use Spiderman, they'd have to initiate a new negotiation from scratch. For an individual, even this latter avenue would be closed, because they wouldn’t have any legibility into the rights available to them. Because the current static model of IP growth is expensive and unscalable, only large corporations can participate in licensing, resulting in the creativity of most artists and their fans remaining untapped.

Enter Story Protocol: any creator from around the world can register their IP onchain and seamlessly declare pricing and permissions for their creation. On the other side, anyone can discover and match those terms to use that IP automatically. Spiderman could be registered by its creator as an IP Asset, allowing it to access Story Protocol’s permissionless licensing module. The creator can set onchain terms for the IP Asset that define the upfront payment, royalty structure, as well as other details of how the Spiderman IP Asset can be used. Anyone interested in using Spiderman can discover the IP, accept the terms, and license Spiderman in a single click — all handled by Story Protocol, with no intermediaries necessary.

The next generation of programmable IP will allow creators to build together, not alone.

Igniting the Programmable IP Ecosystem

Just like programmable money, programmable IP allows creativity to flow across protocols, apps, and platforms. Story Protocol’s programmable IP layer is the foundation powering a vibrant ecosystem of decentralized applications.

Within our ecosystem, applications gain immediate access to a rich repository of programmable IPs. Imagine a comics app building on top of our programmable IP layer. The app allows users to create and register unique narrative elements—characters, settings, and plots—directly onto our protocol. Once registered, these narrative elements can transcend the boundaries of their original application, becoming portable and composable assets within our ecosystem. For example, a character from the comics app can be frictionlessly remixed and expanded into an autonomous chatbot on a Character.AI-style platform.

This level of fluidity and interoperability not only enriches user experiences but also fosters a virtuous cycle that amplifies the value all of IPs on our ecosystem. If DeFi had financial liquidity, Story Protocol fosters IP liquidity. New applications no longer face a cold start problem: they’ll always have access to all of the programmable IPs registered on the protocol, which are readily portable and extensible.

Welcome to the Onchain Renaissance

We find ourselves at an inflection point in the history of IP.

Everyone on the internet has both a built-in global distribution network and the most powerful creative tools ever created. Yet creators still struggle to protect, distribute, and monetize their IP. Paper binders of legalese and armies of lawyers cannot operate at the speed and scale of the internet. Programable IP, with rights enshrined and enforced onchain, can.

New media technologies have always required new IP layers. During the last Renaissance, the Gutenberg press made mass replication possible and necessitated the creation of the first IP laws to incentivize creators. The combination of new technology and new IP laws led to an explosion of culture, art, and literature. Now generative AI has made mass creativity possible and necessitates the Programmable IP paradigm.

We are at the precipice of a new wave of crypto and creativity. Only time will tell what new cultural creations are waiting to be invented. Welcome to the Onchain Renaissance.

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