Blockchain, Advantages For The Research Community

Oct 29, 2021 Ver este post en Español

Updated June 6th, 2022

Knowledge is a necessity for human development and societal advancement. Therefore, access to knowledge should be open and free for all. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case because of paywall and reuse restrictions, among other issues such as digital piracy and copyright. However, there are solutions to these problems. Enter blockchain.

This article explains blockchain technology, some open issues and future trends concerning blockchain, and the challenges of implementing it. To conclude, we’ll present Orvium’s blockchain solution.

What is Blockchain Technology?

Blockchain is a decentralized transaction and data management technology that registers transactions between parties while eliminating the need for third-party authentication. In simpler terms, a blockchain is a digital data store (a database) that collects information (like transactions) together in groups or blocks. Every transaction is then stored in a block which is added to a chain of already existing records.

Initially used interchangeably with Bitcoin, blockchain is crucial for multiple areas of research, including healthcare, the financial sector, education, and publishing. It provides transparency, security, anonymity, and data integrity for transactions, without third-party involvement. One cannot modify or tamper with a blockchain, so once you record a transaction, it’s there forever. It can’t be changed, deleted, or hacked, either.

Open Access refers to free and unrestricted access to knowledge, while Open Data builds on that and also takes into account the reuse and distribution of published scientific data. You already know that research results should be reusable to encourage collaboration amongst researchers, replicability of results, and prevent the waste of resources. However, research publications often hide behind a paywall with continuously increasing costs, hindering researchers and the general public from reading and citing works.

Additionally, institutions and governments often fund research, and publishers usually hold the rights, so the scientific community is limited in what resources they can use. You know from our How to Get Funding For Your Research article that funding can influence the research sector’s size, efficacy, and productivity and that better funding can result in higher scientific performance. That’s where blockchain can help immensely. Blockchain enables the secure and free exchange of digital content, while readers can own and share digital content as they please, with blockchain keeping a record of every transfer.

Blockchain Can Revolutionize Publishing in Two Main Directions

Blockchain isn’t very popular in publishing yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s useless. As more authors, academic publications, and publishing houses move towards digital, blockchain can provide enormous benefits. It can improve payment systems and copyright protection (and not only).

1. Better payment systems - blockchain technology reduces the need for the middleman in a payment process. For example, in the case of publications, the need to give more money to editors is no longer necessary, making the payment processing time shorter and account creation easier. Thanks to blockchain, smart wallets can carry out clauses according to predefined rules to help with automatically releasing payment once the publisher approves the content.

Blockchain continues to improve and facilitate the payment process in the following scenarios:

  • Paywall/subscription models - the publisher or author can charge only for individual pieces of content, perfect for the readers who only want to read a short fragment of an article instead of paying for the whole issue
  • Use-based payment system -  connecting digital wallets to publishing platforms to pass along revenues as soon as you like or share a fellow researcher’s article can improve and speed up the payment process. It’s enough to appreciate an author’s work to ensure they receive a payment
  • Book initial coin offering (ICO) - you can organize a crowdfunding event for writing and launching a literary work. The prospective author can issue tokens to readers. Once the work is complete, readers can use the tokens they bought to get a copy.

2. Digital property management - blockchain helps with intellectual property rights, and readers cannot share or sell the publication with someone else. This helps prevent people from sharing content without the author’s consent and prevents authors from earning monetary compensation from secondary sales. Publishers can timestamp (and person stamp) all digital content with blockchain.

To further prevent content piracy, blockchain uses four main strategies:

  • Content distribution platforms - when linked to blockchain, they can prevent piracy and unauthorized sharing. They’re especially useful for beginner authors because they get to keep a more significant cut of their sales
  • Decentralized publishing and usage rights for self-published authors - their licensing of work can be clear through customizable licenses, which are entirely under the author’s control
  • Decentralized publishing and usage rights for publishers - blockchain helps publishers retain a particular set of rights and adjust them accordingly to maximize potential revenue from any existing deals. Publishers also may attract a better segment of self-published authors and reduce the illegal resale of their works through blockchain
  • Better collaboration for scholarly articles/journals - blockchain may help lower costs for everyone involved by providing immediate attribution for each contributor, secure collaboration and the ability to oversee their work in real-time, and streamlining the peer review process.  

Since the blockchain system records every move, it’s one of the most secure ways of storing data and content electronically since no one can duplicate or steal your work to grab profits from it. Instead, it allows the author to receive credit where credit is due, while other researchers and readers can use the work to replicate it, collaborate amongst each other, or simply learn from it. Blockchain doesn’t entirely solve the problems associated with digital piracy and copyright, but it certainly is a step in the right direction.

Challenges With Implementing Blockchain

Although blockchain is an extremely exciting technology jam-packed with many benefits, its uses are still experimental, and it hasn’t entered mainstream use. Why? Because it comes with its own set of challenges:

  • people must first understand how to effectively put blockchain in use in publishing
  • its implementation is challenging
  • it’s expensive to implement and requires quite a great deal of storage

To combat the challenges, read more about blockchain in our 7 Benefits of Blockchain in Publishing article.

Don’t Feel Blocked by Blockchain

The problem of digital piracy and copyright infringement has plagued the scientific community for far too long. To add to this, you also see a reproducibility crisis and various paywall restrictions. With blockchain, you’re able to ensure that the copyright belongs to you and that the content trail leads back to the original owner, and not only. The potential benefits of blockchain for publishers and the publishing industry point to a bright future.

Orvium wants to see blockchain become an integral part of the publishing industry. In fact, we protect your work with our built-in blockchain integration, whether you’re a researcher, publisher, or reviewer. We believe in a more open world. Check out more of what we do and how we get involved on our platform.


Antonio Romero

Led several big-data and ML projects for the R&D between CERN and multiple ICT market-leaders. His work accelerating predictive-maintenance and machine-learning solutions at CERN