William Shatner, best known for his role as Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek, has announced a partnership with Mattereum to tokenize an autographed Capt. James Kirk in Casual Attire action figure.
“I’m announcing that I’m partnering with Mattereum and other technology creators to establish an authentication system. With it, we can know where an item has been, who has owned it, and if it is genuine. It can mean the difference between a priceless, future heirloom, and worthless fake,” Shatner said.
In a video an asset passport is shown that has a contract address, a hash, a certifier and an authenticator.
The smart contract has not yet launched on the mainnet or testnet. Vinay Gupta, the CEO of Mattereum, says “it’s on our testnet – not Rinkby etc.”
Its aim is to connect the physical world to the digital world through a three tier system: “what is the object (asset passporting, insured oracles), the automated title holders, and the smart property register (the sum of the contracts which are tied to the assets in automated title holders),” Gupta says.
In far more familiar language, there’s basically a certificate of the item, a registrar, and a registry that tracks how the ownership has changed.
If we’re selling an action figure, there would be a legal contract between the seller and the registrar. What happens between the registrar and the buyer isn’t very clear.
Asked whether there would be a legal contract between the registrar and the buyer as well, Rob Knight of Mattereum says:
“It depends on what’s being done in the specific circumstances. Sorry to be vague about it but it really does vary depending on the actions that need to happen. We’ll publish a detailed breakdown of this soon though.”
A senior British judge recently implied that smart contracts themselves can be legal entities or can have ownership. That’s currently not yet the case in law.
“In general, smart contracts can’t own physical things,” Knight says before adding:
“They don’t have legal personhood, so they just can’t own things in a way that the legal system would understand (in most of the world, anyhow).
Creating something that gives you that experience is what we’re working on – being able to write code that transfers ownership rights between different participants, so that control of the token (or smart contract generally) entitles you to control of the underlying thing in an enforceable way.”
Regardless of whether the smart contract can or can’t have legal ownership, the registrar would still be needed to create the certificate.
They were unable to provide much detail at this stage, but the certificate is presumably linked to a token of sorts that passes on the the buyer with the register keeping track of who owns what.
The way this could conceptually work is the contract of ownership is uploaded on the blockchain by the registrar. Everyone can then see the registrar does own the item, with the register ensuring he doesn’t “sell” or pass on the same item twice.
The summary paper says this solves the double spending problem, but we’re not very sure how it solves a far more fundamental problem: lying.
The registrar can claim he owns anything he wants and can put up a legal contract which might well be fake. The usual solution to that is being physically present and checking the item, but not always.
The Land Registry is the prime example of situations where you can’t check ownership by just possession or some receipt. There you have a chain of ownership that goes back to, in some cases, the Doomsday book.
It is that chain of ownership that solves the double spending problem where land is concerned. Mattereum is kind of trying to do the same, but starting at ground zero and thus while facing some bootstrapping problems.
That is, while in a decade or two the smart contract registry can potentially by itself be sufficient proof of ownership through a chain of titles, getting there does require some trust in the registrar.
Not always however. Shatner is a very public figure, so here there would be very little trust required. Yet the blockchain in this case doesn’t add much either.
So someone else buys the action figure from the first buyer and here too we can have a decent degree of assurance were we not to use the blockchain. The more it changes hands, however, the less can we be sure of title.
While on the blockchain, it’s the opposite. The more it changes hands, the more one can be sure of the title holder because you have a chain of titles.
That can have its own benefits, especially where work of art or other valuable items are concerned as this would basically create a database of ownership for any item.
As it is on the blockchain, such database would not have the added problem of trusting the admin has not changed ownership details after they have been verified and entered on the blockchain.
Making it an interesting project with potential uses cases where a chain of titles is desirable to establish ownership with a greater degree of assurance either to combat fraud, forgery, or because it would make selling and buying the item more convenient.