Are blockchain and copyright and privacy law on a collision course?

Blockchains are decentralized public ledgers that can be used to track and store information about cryptocurrencies, digital assets, items in a supply chain, real estate and lots of other things.  They are generally viewed as being “immutable,” meaning that once data is written to the ledger, it can’t be modified or changed.  Most of the time, immutability is a good thing.  But sometimes the law gives people the right to have data on the internet changed or removed.  U.S. law, for example, gives copyright holders the right to have infringing instances of their copyrighted material taken down from the internet. The E.U.’s new General Data Protection Regulation includes a “right to be forgotten” that allows people to have some information about them removed from websites.  What happens when someone has a legal right to remove or change data that is stored in an immutable blockchain?  Bloomberg News explores that question with Steve Middlebrook, one of Womble Bond Dickinson’s fintech attorneys, in this recent article.

Middlebrook notes that at this point in time the problem is mostly theoretical because storage capacity limits make keeping large amounts of data in a blockchain impractical.  But with improvements and innovation in blockchain technology, it is only a matter of time before that changes.  “Developers of third generation blockchain technology, including some Womble clients, are working on solutions for this issue,” he said.  “Providers who solve this problem will be very attractive platforms for businesses seeking technology that meets both business and compliance needs.”