Social media was supposed to be a highly democratic way for all of us to communicate both among friends and with the public. Platforms like Twitter and YouTube promised us free speech, but quickly instituted harsh censorship policies against a myriad of content types and ideas.
As more individuals joined on to become full-time content creators, these people needed a way to fund their existence. Platforms like YouTube offered a means of sharing in the advertisement revenue, but content creators feel they are constantly threatened with the loss of their income due to the opaqueness and instability of the revenue-sharing program.
What if there were a blockchain solution that was fully transparent and promised never to censor content? That’s what the three-year-old tech startup, LBRY, hopes to achieve with their platform.
We had a chat with one of LBRY’s co-founders and current CEO, Jeremy Kauffman, to get his thoughts on censorship, free speech, and the censorship-resistant nature of blockchain technologies like LBRY.
What is LBRY?
LBRY is a decentralized protocol that is designed to allow people to share information with each other, for free or for a price. More specifically, LBRY is part YouTube competitor, part Amazon e-book seller competitor, and part iTunes music sales competitor. The platform allows individuals to upload content and optionally charge a price to unlock it that is paid in cryptocurrency. It also allows for content creators to release material for free and accept tips.
Currently, LBRY works through a program that users need to install on their computer.
Our Interview with Jeremy Kauffman, CEO of LBRY
Speaking with Jeremy Kauffman is a lot like speaking with an energetic teenage whiz kid. It seems as though he can’t stop pouring over all the details of his invention with a hectic enthusiasm. There’s a certain energy in his voice where he seems to get ahead of himself and periodically has to backtrack to make sure he got it right. His speech is littered with um’s and ah’s as his brain seems to be working at a level where his mouth is having trouble keeping up. In spite of this, his words are cogent and lucid. They suggest an obvious awareness of how things really work in the hyper complex blockchain space.
Kauffman is a man full of passion about his work, and he had no hesitations answering our tough or complex questions. Quite the contrary, he faced them head on, never once asking for the question to be forwarded to a legal team or advisory board.
LBRY’s Position on Censorship, Fair Use, and Takedowns
As the censorship and silencing of political opinion has become commonplace on LBRY’s mainstream competitors, we wanted to know how LBRY as an organization felt about this issue and what they planned to do instead. To this, Kauffman told us that LBRY has a no-censorship policy.
As long as the content is legal in the US (where the company is based) then its allowed. We probed a little further, asking if this included pornography specifically. Kauffman said that pornography would not be prohibited, just perhaps not specifically encouraged.
Next, we wanted to know about copyrighted content. What happens if someone uploads something they don’t own and it’s copyrighted? Kauffman said that LBRY is registered as a DMCA compliant company. The DMCA, or Digital Millennium Copyright Act, is an agreement where companies will take down content at the request of the copyright holder.
A similar issue plaguing YouTube is that of what’s known as fair use. Fair use is a legal term that describes situations where portions of copyrighted material can be used without the permission or approval of the copyright holder. Some examples include brief portions or clips of video and audio, criticism, and parody. The law is actually quite complex, but the gist of it is that individuals should be allowed to use small clips of copyrighted material under the right circumstances.
On YouTube, algorithms constantly crawl over all uploaded content to check for copyrighted material. When it’s found, the uploader is often faced with harmful consequences, up to and including having their channel deleted. We asked if LBRY would have similar algorithms, or if the group would support fair use. Kauffman kept it simple, saying that as long as the usage is legal, there would be no takedowns. He also suggested that there would be no automated system performing takedowns as YouTube does.
Social Media’s War on the Right
All the major tech companies that run social media sites today have exhibited moderate to extreme left-wing biases. As can be seen in undercover reports by groups such as Project Veritas, YouTube and Twitter actively silence, censor, or make right-wing political content difficult to find.
We wanted to know what sort of political leanings LBRY has as a group, and what they thought about why YouTube and Twitter were behaving in this way.
First, Kauffman told us that as a company, the only political belief that LBRY has is that freedom of speech is a right and should be protected. Otherwise, the group holds no beliefs, either left or right leaning. Further, Kauffman told us that LBRY does not have a team of moderators or curators that would have the power to promote or bury content based on their own political leanings.
As to why YouTube and Twitter are waging war on political conservatism, Kauffman told us that in his opinion, perhaps this is done because of a profit motive. YouTube and Twitter live or die on advertising revenue. Kauffman’s idea suggests that perhaps YouTube and Twitter are lashing out against the right as a way to protect their revenue streams.
Kauffman also considered that another possible reason could be simply that enough of a majority of employees at these companies have left-leaning biases that it’s coming out in this way. Kauffman later reiterated that this was just his own suggestion, and that he had no official position or evidence on the issue.
Digging Into the Tech
We wanted to know more about LBRY in terms of its technology, its blockchain and its cryptocurrency.
LBRY uses a proof-of-work algorithm to secure its cryptocurrency, LBRY Credits or LBC. LBC is used to process tips and payments for premium content. We asked why the decision was made to go with proof-of-work as opposed to another consensus model like proof-of-stake.
Kauffman said that they believe proof-of-work is the most tested and secure method of maintaining a blockchain today. The company is, however, open to other consensus models if at some point in the future, it becomes apparent that there is a need to switch.
Currently, LBRY credits can be mined using GPUs or FPGAs. We asked Kauffman if the company had any position on ASIC mining or had any concerns about centralization if ASIC miners appear. Kauffman’s opinion on this was not quite as solid as his answers to our other questions.
He told us that if centralization became a serious problem, the company would consider acting against it. If, however, ASICs appeared and they were generally available for purchase, that the company would likely make no moves against them.
Conversely, if an ASIC maker created an army of such machines and refused to make them available to the public, action may potentially be warranted. It would not be a decision he would make a lightly, though.
In recent months, there have been a flurry of accusations against companies like LBRY. Specifically, if a blockchain and its associated cryptocurrency rely on a single company to be relevant or retain value, then that currency could become worthless if the company fails or is shut down.
First we asked Kauffman, who has the power to shut you down? In other words, if the US government decided that they wanted to shut down his company with legal maneuvers, could they do it?
Without hesitating, Kauffman told us that he believed the US government could potentially shut down any company they wished. However, even if his company were to shut down, he stated that the technology itself could not be shut down. Not only that, but as his team is distributed around the world, a new company could just as easily be set up in another part of the world outside of US jurisdiction and continue.
What’s the Future LBRY?
Wrapping up our interview, we asked what’s coming up next for LBRY. Currently, in order to access LBRY, one needs to download and install software on their computer. This, according to Kauffman, makes LBRY easy to use, “but not easy enough.”
As such, the company is gearing up to release a web client that would allow anyone to interact with LBRY through a web browser much like they would use YouTube or Amazon. This, Kauffman believes, will make the experience of interacting the LBRY far simpler and could attract a bigger audience.
On top of that, the company is currently finalizing its mobile app that would allow for content consumers to browse and access content while on the go. It could also open a new demographic of those that don’t have a desktop or laptop computer.
While these two updates aren’t ready just yet, Kauffman believes that they will be on the market sooner rather than later.
Speaking with someone as passionate and excited about the technology as Kauffman can certainly be infectious. After ending our phone call, we quickly dove into the LBRY deeper to see what all the buzz was about. Already, some serious YouTubers that have millions of followers and billions of views are already releasing their content on LBRY. Two of those include academic sensation Jordan Peterson, and the always popular philosopher Stefan Molyneux.
LBRY still has a long way to go before it can catch up with the likes of YouTube, though. Kauffman told us that currently, the dAPP is seeing about 40,000 unique users per week. For a dAPP, that’s quite a lot. But comparing it to mainstream sites, it’s still just a drop in the bucket.
But it’s important to remember that LBRY, just like blockchain, is still in its infancy. Perhaps with the release of the web client and the always increasing profile of cryptocurrency, LBRY could stand a real chance of being a censorship-free alternative to YouTube. It could also mature into a popular marketplace to buy music, e-books, and other digital content – but that doesn’t suffer from the crippling margins charged by Amazon and the like.
We’ll be keeping an eye on LBRY as it continues to grow and develop.