When Kodak announced on Jan. 9 that it was planning to launch its own cryptocurrency, investors swooned. By the end of the next day, Kodak's share price had nearly quadrupled in the midst of a broader cryptocurrency frenzy that's gripped the public since mid-last year.
Now, a co-creator of KodakCoin says he regrets that the Kodak stock surge ever occurred.
"It ... caught everybody by surprise, internally," said Cameron Chell, the entrepreneur and lead consultant on the KodakCoin project. "It's been a terrible distraction and I really wish it didn't happen."
The market reaction, Chell said, has diverted attention from the underlying fundamentals of the business he and WENN Digital, Kodak's partner in the venture, are trying to build.
Kodak is one of several companies that have leapt into the cryptocurrency space in recent months. In Russia, Burger King announced a customer loyalty program that allows diners to collect tokens that they can trade or spend for free meals. The beverage company Long Island Iced Tea changed its name to Long Blockchain -- in reference to the technology that drives cryptocurrencies -- and said that cryptocurrencies would become its primary business. And IBM and Maersk have announced a joint venture using blockchain to streamline the global shipping industry and track the flow of goods as they move across borders.
Some of these experiments have attracted scorn. Citing the lack of a clear business plan, critics say projects such as Long Blockchain's amount to an opportunistic attempt to pump up stock prices.
"They're trying to capture the hype and mania surrounding blockchain right now and looking for quick paydays," said Aaron Wright, founder of the Blockchain Project at Yeshiva University's Cardozo School of Law.
But others such as Kodak insist that their use of blockchain technology is well-founded -- and experts largely agree. Analysts have acknowledged that KodakCoin's accompanying platform, KodakOne, could prove transformative for photography rights. In the Internet age, professional photographers frequently see their work published without payment or permission online, and chasing after that money can be expensive and legally burdensome.
But, Kodak has said, the blockchain -- a kind of digital public database whose entries can never be faked or forged -- could provide a solution that forever links images with their rightful owners. (In order to participate, photographers would need to provide proof that they created the images they submit.)
That digital platform, which the company is calling KodakOne, will make it easier for photographers to sell their work and keep an eye on who has licensed their photos, and how.
"Having a clear chain of custody of digital rights to an image that includes who took it, who bought it and with which rights, etc., has been a long-standing problem for professional photographers," wrote Stephan Goss, chief executive of the data monetization company Zeeto, in a recent op-ed for Fortune. "And it just happens to be a problem that can be very elegantly solved on the blockchain."
Kodak and WENN Digital have also said the platform will tie those image records with artificial intelligence software that can recognize those same images elsewhere on the Web. The idea is to identify those who have used the registered images online without authorization.
Incoming royalty payments to the KodakOne system for a particular image will result in 60 percent going to the photographer, who can choose either to be paid in traditional fiat money such as U.S. dollars, or in the proprietary KodakCoin. Thirty percent of the payments will end up going to WENN Digital, and up to 10 percent may be distributed as dividends to anyone who holds KodakCoin, said Chell -- an incentive to get people to adopt KodakCoin.
The first KodakCoins will be auctioned off Wednesday in an initial coin offering, Chell said -- though only accredited investors may participate, meaning that average photographers will likely be prevented from buying in for now. Meanwhile, the blockchain register for images is expected to begin rolling out in the second quarter.
And although the project may have begun as a way to track image rights and help photographers get paid, Chell added, other industries have expressed interest.
"There's been an overwhelming response from not just the imaging industry," he said, "but the music industry, the film industry, the virtual reality space, basically almost anything digital that you can think of where, 'Hey wow, rights management can be restored here.' We're certainly going to look at all that stuff -- but we're very much focused on images first."