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Trusted timestamping: OriginStamp uses blockchain to protect content

Timestamping content is an excellent blockchain use case. You can use it to prove that an exact copy of a file existed at a particular point in time. And due to the decentralized nature of blockchain, you don't need a third party to provide evidence. In this article, we will clarify the practical use of trusted timestamping, and we will explain the basics of timestamping and share the main features of OriginStamp's service.

Practical use of blockchain-based timestamping

Let's take a look at the following domains where timestamping adds real-life value:

  • Copyright protection
  • Version tracking
  • Fighting fake news
  • Next-generation SEO

We will look at each one of them and see how blockchain-enabled timestamping adds value. At this point, you do not need to understand how timestamping works. You only need to understand that evidence is available that an original file exists as from a specific moment in time.

Timestamping as a means to protect copyright

Professionals such as scientists and artists have a business need to protect their intellectual property. You want to be able to prove that you own an invention or particular research results. Likewise, a musician wants to demonstrate that he or she was the first to come up with a song. Timestamping can be used to protect intellectual property in both cases. The musician needs to record his music as a media file and timestamp it. The scientist needs to document his research findings in a final document and timestamp that version. In case of a legal dispute, both professionals are always able to prove that they created the file at a specific point in time.

Timestamping to avoid buyer/seller disputes on Terms & Conditions

E-commerce continues to grow, and new online stores are popping up every day. The Covid19-pandemic has even accelerated that pace. Every time you make a purchase, you must check a field that says you agree with the seller's Terms & Conditions (T&Cs). Before you click that field, you may even read them. These T&Cs are typically posted and updated online while removing the previous version. As such, sellers have an unfair advantage towards buyers in case of disputes about changed T&Cs. Timestamping is a means to tie a specific version of the T&C's to a particular transaction. As such, timestamping provides a level equal playing field between online buyer and sellers.

Using timestamping to fight fake news

Google on fake viral videos or fake viral photos, and you will find plenty of examples. Technical innovations such as deepfake videos or tools to manipulate existing videos are potent instruments in the wrong people's hands. Timestamping can be used to capture the identity of the owner of the original data. You can also use it to demonstrate whether somebody changed even a single pixel in a photo. Publishing companies such as newspapers are also looking into this technology. Showing readers who wrote an article by when and what updates were applied is vital to remain trustworthy. And staying trustworthy is crucial to retain customers and stay in business.

Why are SEO and timestamping content related?

People care about the integrity and quality of content. And so do Search Engines because they want to serve their customers with the high-quality integer content these people are requesting. But search engines rely on metadata as published via the database of the website itself. So as long as website owners can manipulate content revisions and publication dates, they can influence their ranking. Adding timestamps to the mix makes SEO ranking more honest. In due course, Google will consider timestamped content more trustworthy than non-timestamped content. As a website owner, you better prepare for that.

Timestamping provides the internet with a layer of trust

All the practical examples we presented are about trust. Or maybe we should state the absence of trust. On the internet, it's sometimes hard to distinguish between truth and fiction. And that's where blockchain comes in. Blockchain-based solutions provide immutability, data integrity, timestamps, and transparency. Features that contribute to regaining the trust that is missing on the internet. So, each use case has its practical benefits. On a more generic level, timestamp-based blockchain solutions provide the internet with a layer of trust.  

Blockchain-based timestamping: the basics

The basic process is quite simple and consists of three steps:

  • Step 1: Convert what you want to protect into digital content
  • Step 2: Create a digital fingerprint for that file
  • Step 3: Anchor that fingerprint to a blockchain

Creating digital content to be protected  

We want to secure digital content. In many cases, the content we want to protect is already digital by nature, for example, contract documents, smartphone pictures, and online terms & conditions. In specific cases, you have to create the digital file first. You can't store a song on the blockchain, but you can do so with a recording of that song. Once you have that digital version, you can proceed with the next step.   

Hashing: A key component of timestamping

Like a fingerprint provides a unique way to identify a person, a digital fingerprint serves as a document's unique identifier. There is a technology that provides a fingerprint of a file. That technology is called cryptographic hashing and ensures the following features of a digital fingerprint:

  • A digital fingerprint belongs to only one file
  • A file has only one fingerprint
  • If you change only a comma in an article, you change the fingerprint of that file
  • If you have the file, you can create the fingerprint
  • If you have the fingerprint, you can't create the file

The best way to use these features is as follows. Make sure to add your personal details to the intellectual property you want to timestamp. By doing so, you can demonstrate you knew about the file's exact content, and you are the person that created that timestamp.

Blockchain based timestamping creates a digital fingerprint for a file

Blockchain provides a timestamp for the digital fingerprint

Blockchain records transactions in public decentralized distributed ledgers. Transactions are not only about exchanging cryptocurrencies. You can also store data on the blockchain through a transaction. As blockchains provide a timestamp for each transaction, it means that they will also give a timestamp when you submit a digital fingerprint

The origin of timestamping

Timestamping is not a new phenomenon. Scientists like Isaac Newton in the 17th century already looked for means to show that they owned specific innovations without revealing the exact content. They wrote about their inventions utilizing anagrams. In more recent days, timestamping became a business service. The steps are somewhat similar. The main difference with blockchain-based timestamping is that you submit your digital content to a third party and rely on that 3rd party to provide you with legal evidence in case you need it.

OriginStamp: Create blockchain-based timestamps in minutes!

OriginStamp provides you with digital certificates that the digital fingerprint of your content was included on the blockchain. In essence, they've simplified and automated two basic steps: 1) create a digital fingerprint and 2) timestamp a digital fingerprint. Let's look at how these basic steps work in practice, how they support you with providing evidence, and their service characteristics.

How OriginStamp creates digital fingerprints

Timestamping your content only requires you to drag & drop a file on their website. For more advanced (high volume) customers, an API is available. Documents you submit to their portal are not transferred to OriginStamp's servers.  Instead, they are processed locally on your machine and in your browser. A digital fingerprint (called a Hash) is created as a result of that operation. OriginStamp uses a SHA-256 algorithm to generate the Hash of your digital content.

How OriginStamp timestamps your digital fingerprint

Several times a day, all created hashes are bundled and anchored in multiple public blockchains (Bitcoin, Ethereum, and AION). The timestamp of your content links directly to the timing of anchoring your Hash on a particular blockchain. Afterward, you'll be able to prove that your document existed at that specific point in time and hasn't been manipulated since. Bundling these hashes is an essential element and makes their service more cost-efficient. It's also more environmentally friendly due to the energy consumption of most blockchains. OriginStamp applies the Merkle Tree concept to bundle hashes. If you want to read more about that or take a deeper dive into their technology, please check this link.

OriginStamp submits bundled transactions to multiple blockchains to timestamp them

Verifying a document with the OriginStamp service

You can verify a timestamp with or without the OriginStamp service. To verify a timestamp using OriginStamp, you only need the original file. You go to their verification page, and drag & drop it over there. If your file is original and timestamped, you will see the tamper-proof timestamp, as shown below.

OriginStam eases verification of your timestamped document

You can test this yourself. Click on the following link to download the document =>  originstampusecasetest.docxGo to https://OriginStamp.com/verify and check whether this was a timestamped document. Now, make a minor change to the document by adding a comma or space, save the document and try it again. Is the document still tamper-proof?

Verifying a document without the OriginStamp service

To verify a timestamp without using OriginStamp, you need the original file and the corresponding certificate released by OriginStamp. You can do the validation yourself in three steps:

  1. Generate the hash value of the original file
  2. Check that the hash value of the original file matches the hash value in the certificate
  3. Check that the root hash value mentioned in the certificate is stored on the blockchain

Download the original file and the certificate for that purpose:

originstampusecasetest.docx

ethereumcertificateusecasetest.pdf

To guide you in verifying a document without OriginStamp:

  • Drag & drop the original file to an online hash calculator such as MD5.com. It should give you the SHA-256 value of d21b8d960eb86c6f03bc6898e42c44cace85aa0d402853a05e83bed9d0125131

MD5generated SHA-256 hash from your use case test document

  • Do a visual check to conclude that this step produces the same hash value mentioned in the certificate.

Originstamp certificate of Ethereum's timestamp of test document 

  • Open the certificate and click on the link under Transaction (or click here). It will open up Etherscan.io for that specific transaction. If you scroll down and expand the details section of that transaction, you will be able to see the root hash of your certificate in the "Input Data"-Field. Remember we said OriginStamp bundles digital fingerprints before they submit them to a blockchain? Hence they submit the Root Hash rather than the individual hash.

Root hash value from Ethereum certificate publicly available via Etherscan.io

OriginStamp service characteristics

OriginStamp is much more than just a blockchain-based timestamp service. Their service design is comprehensive. We already mentioned its ease of use and cost-efficient and sustainable character because they bundle digital fingerprints before timestamping them. Their service is also very sustainable from another point of view:

  • They timestamp your content using multiple blockchains. If one of them ever goes down, your timestamp information is still available via other public blockchains.
  • If OriginStamp would cease to deliver its services, all the timestamps they helped generate are still valid. All you need to prove that you own certain content is the original file, the certificate, and the transaction information on a public blockchain. None of these depend on OriginStamp.

 

 

 

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