It has been almost impossible to prove, beyond all reasonable doubt, when something was created. This is difficult enough for physical objects, such as paintings or sculptures, where detecting poor forgeries can rely on demonstrating the inclusion of pigments or materials which could not have been used if the work was real.
But proving the date of origin of anything electronic – for patent or copyright purposes, perhaps – is well nigh impossible. Yes, our computers timestamp all files, but it is incredibly simple to forge that type of timestamp.
There are so-called Time Stamping Authorities, which under RFC 3161 and the ANSI ASC X9.95 standard (2005) can provide ‘trusted’ timestamps to prove the time of creation. But such services are vulnerable, messy, and usually cost quite a bit.
Thanks to the work of Bela Gipp, André Gernandt and others, in a paper presented at iConference 2015, you can now obtain a highly robust timestamp at no cost, and minimal inconvenience.
The basic idea is not complex, and uses Bitcoin virtual currency transactions to provide the trusted timestamp. The only cost involved is of performing a small number of these transactions daily; provided that the transactions involve the smallest unit of a Bitcoin possible, Gipp reckons this comes to less than $10 per year in overhead.
Gipp’s OriginStamp website now provides this service for free. You submit a file, such as a digital image of a painting, the specification of a design you intend patenting, a document over which you claim copyright, or others. OriginStamp then generates a hash code from the document, and includes that in its crypto currency transaction. The document hash and timestamp are then embedded in the Bitcoin block chain, and can easily be verified.
Thus OriginStamp places its unforgeable and immutable record of your document (through its hash code) and its timestamp (through the Bitcoin transaction) in the distributed block chain records of Bitcoin. You or anyone else can then verify that your document was timestamped at that instant.
So if you create an electronic document which you need to have timestamped using a robust method which cannot be forged, you can now use this free facility to do so. Thanks to Bela Gipp, this is a big step forward for many creatives of all types, and plenty of others too.
In the sequel to this article, to follow later this weekend, I will explore OriginStamp’s API using Paw.
B. Gipp, N. Meuschke, and A. Gernandt. Decentralized Trusted Timestamping using the Crypto Currency Bitcoin. In Proceedings of the iConference 2015 (to appear), Newport Beach, CA, USA, Mar. 24 – 27, 2015. URL.