A Blockchain-based Application to Protect Minor Artworks
Clara Bacciu, Angelica Lo Duca and Andrea Marchetti
IIT-CNR - Via G. Moruzzi 1, 56124 Pisa, Italy
Blockchain, Ethereum, Recordkeeping, IPFS, Cultural Heritage, Minor Artwork.
A new emerging trend concerns the implementation of services and distributed applications through the
blockchain technology. A blockchain is an append-only database, which guarantees security, transparency and
immutability of records. Blockchains can be used in the field of Cultural Heritage to protect minor artworks,
i.e. artistic relevant works not as famous as masterpieces. Minor artworks are subjected to counterfeiting,
thefts and natural disasters because they are not well protected as famous artworks. This paper describes a
blockchain-based application, called MApp (Minor Artworks application), which lets authenticated users (pri-
vate people or organizations), store the information about their artworks in a secure way. The use of blockchain
produces three main advantages. Firstly, artworks cannot be deleted from the register thus preventing thieves
to remove records associated stolen objects. Secondly, artworks can be added and updated only by authorized
users, thus preventing counterfeiting in objects descriptions. Finally, records can be used to keep artworks
memory in case of destruction caused by a natural disaster.
Minor artworks are works that are artistically rele-
vant but not as well-known as famous masterpieces,
or belonging to the so-called minor arts, such as books
and manuscripts, pottery, lacquerware, furniture, jew-
ellery, or textiles. Examples of such works could be
those kept in some small libraries or churches, or even
in private households. In general, since it is often not
well protected, a minor artwork may be more sub-
ject to counterfeiting, theft, and natural disaster. In
Italy, trafficking in works of art is the third most lu-
crative illegal activity, and globally the trend is the
same. Minor artworks having a medium/high value
are easy to smuggle and sell for organised crime, since
controls on the origin of the good and on subsequent
transactions are often limited, even in famous muse-
ums (Chiodi and Fedeli, 2018). This is true despite
the existence of International treaties on protection of
cultural heritage, like the UNIDROIT Convention on
Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects (Rome,
1955). As for this treaty, buyers have the obligation
to check if the artwork has been stolen or illegally ex-
ported. Some databases exist that can be used to per-
form those checks, like the Interpol database of stolen
, but are not always up-to-date or easily ac-
Stolen-Works-of-Art-Database Access Date: 2019-07-29
cessible. To complicate things, in the last decades,
Italy (as many other places in the world) has suffered
a series of catastrophic events that largely affected
cultural heritage: earthquakes, landslides, floods, col-
lapses in important archaeological sites such as Pom-
pei. Such events may have affected not only the
works themselves, but even their catalogues. Finally,
often, although minor artworks are registered in lo-
cal databases, they can be easily erased from these
catalogues, thus they can be completely forgotten in
case of theft. These motivations stress the need for
new practices to protect cultural heritage. Blockchain
technology can prove to be effective in keeping digital
archives of works of art secure and up-to-date, provid-
ing an aid for protection against natural and environ-
mental disasters, war damages, organised crime.
In this paper we would like to demonstrate that
the blockchain technology can be used to protect mi-
nor artworks and then we present a practical applica-
tion (MApp) as a proof of the validity of this position.
MApp combines the benefits of the blockchain tech-
nology and the Interplanetary File System (IPFS)
the management of minor artworks archives. MApp
provides users, either private people or organiza-
tions, a public repository for minor artworks storage.
Thanks to some specific advantages of blockchain,
MApp is a secure application, which prevents thieves
https://ipfs.io/ Access Date: 2019-07-29
Bacciu, C., Lo Duca, A. and Marchetti, A.
A Blockchain-based Application to Protect Minor Artworks.
DOI: 10.5220/0008347903190325
In Proceedings of the 15th International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies (WEBIST 2019), pages 319-325
ISBN: 978-989-758-386-5
2019 by SCITEPRESS Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved
from removing records from the repository, prevents
counterfeiters with tampering with objects descrip-
tions, and helps users preserving artworks memory
in case of destruction of the physical object. Com-
pared to standard databases, the blockchain register
guarantees integrity, transparency and authenticity of
The remainder of the paper is organized as fol-
lows: in Section 2 we give an overview of the
blockchain and IPFS technologies and in Section 3
we illustrate the related work. Section 4 describes the
problem setting and Sections 5 and 6 the MApp ap-
plication and its implementation. Finally, in Section
7 we give conclusions and future work.
In this section we give an overview of the technolo-
gies exploited by MApp: blockchain and IPFS.
2.1 Blockchain
A blockchain is a particular implementation of a Dis-
tributed Ledger (DL) (Zheng et al., 2016). A DL is es-
sentially a database, which is shared among different
nodes of a network. In practice, all the nodes of the
network share the same copy of the database and any
change made on a node is replicated to all the other
nodes in few minutes and, in some cases, even in few
seconds. The updates to the repository (called trans-
actions) are cryptographically signed by the node that
sent them, and are communicated between partici-
pants in a peer-to-peer fashion. DLs can be permis-
sioned (as opposite of permissionless) if a new record
can be added to the ledger only by some trusted actor
(e.g. government, departments and so on), and pri-
vate (as opposite of public) if only trusted nodes can
read the content of the ledger. The protocol for the
first functioning blockchain was introduced in 2008
to support the Bitcoin digital currency (Nakamoto,
2008), and implements the ledger as a chain of blocks.
Each block contains a payload and a header. The pay-
load contains a series of transactions, while the header
contains a timestamp, a cryptographic signature of the
payload (usually a hash of the entire content), and a
link to the previous block of the chain (i. e., the cryp-
tographic hash of the previous block). This way, the
integrity of the information stored in the blockchain
is protected through a security system based on cryp-
tography, since each block becomes dependent from
the content of all the previous blocks, making it im-
possible to modify the data contained in old blocks
without rewriting also the new ones. With respect
to a standard database, a blockchain is an append-
only register. This means that information can only
be added, but it cannot be removed. Modifications to
the stored data can be done by re-uploading a new
version of it. A distributed consensus algorithm is
used to decide which transactions are to be consid-
ered valid. New participants that want to start col-
laborating to the maintenance of the repository must
follow this algorithm. There is no need of a central
authority or trust between nodes; the consensus algo-
rithm and cryptography grant the correctness of data
even in presence of some malicious nodes. Signatures
and timestamping guarantee non-repudiation and are
a valid tool to perform audits. Summarizing, the big
advantages of a blockchain as repository of data are
that it is distributed, with no need of a central author-
ity a no single point of failure, immutable, and secure.
The main issues with blockchain implementation of
distributed ledgers are scalability and efficiency: of-
ten, consensus algorithms that are used to grant con-
sistency are expensive in terms of time and resources.
But in some cases trust assumptions can be relaxed, so
that simpler consensus algorithms can be used. The
most important blockchain protocols are: the above
mentioned Bitcoin, Ethereum (Wood, 2014), Hyper-
ledger (Cachin, 2016).
2.2 IPFS
IPFS is a peer-to-peer distributed filesystem which
permits the storage and the search of files, appli-
cations, websites and data. The substantial differ-
ence between IPFS and the classical HTTP trans-
mission protocol, which regulates the current version
of the Web, consists in the transition from a client-
server architecture to a peer-to-peer architecture. The
client-server architecture is characterized by a loca-
tion based addressing, while the peer-to-peer one is
defined by a content based addressing. This means
that IPFS assigns each content an immutable address,
which does not change even in case of network fail-
ure. Such an immutable address is built by applying
a hash function to every content. All the hash func-
tions are stored into a Distributed Hash Table (DHT),
which is used to access contents in the IPFS.
The use of IPFS produces the following bene-
fits: a) availability, which implies that a resource
(e.g. web site, file and so on) is always available; b)
anti-censorship, which implies that it is difficult for
authorities to censor resources; fast information re-
trieval, which gives the possibility to access resources
even in case of a slow network.
WEBIST 2019 - 15th International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies
The problem of managing records through a
blockchain has been largely investigated during the
last few years. In her paper, Lemieux proposes a
classification of blockchain applications (Lemieux,
2017), based on which information is stored in the
blockchain: a) mirror type, b) digital record type, c)
tokenized type.
In the mirror type, the blockchain serves as a mir-
ror, which stores only records fingerprints. The com-
plete information of a record is stored into an external
repository and the blockchain is used only to verify
records integrity. In (Garc
ıa-Barriocanal et al., 2017)
the authors describe a first implementation of a decen-
tralized metadata database, based on the combination
of the blockchain and IPFS technologies. In their pa-
per Liang et. al. describe ProvChain (Liang et al.,
2017), a system which guarantees data provenance in
cloud environments. Vishwa et. al. (Vishwa and Hus-
sain, 2018) illustrate a blockchain-based framework,
which guarantees copyright compliance of multime-
dia objects by means of smart contracts.
In the digital record type, the blockchain is used
to store all the records in the form of smart con-
tracts. In (Bhowmik and Feng, 2017) the authors
illustrate a distributed and tamper-proof framework
for media. Each media is represented by a water-
mark, which is firstly compressed and then stored into
a blockchain. Approved modifications to media are
stored in the blockchain thus preventing tampering.
In (Galiev et al., 2018) the authors describe Archain, a
blockchain-based archive system, which stores small-
sized records. Multiple roles are defined in the sys-
tem, thus allowing records creation, approval and re-
In the tokenized type, records are stored in the
blockchain and they are linked to a cryptocurrency.
Adding, updating or removing a record has a cost.
This constitutes an innovative case, where the liter-
ature is not consolidated yet. An example of this
type of blockchain is represented by the Ubitquity
, which records land transactions on behalf of
companies and government agencies.
The problem of storing minor artworks’ data into
an archive can be considered as a particular case
of recordkeeping, which consists in creating, man-
aging, preserving, and defining access conditions
http://www.ubitquity.io/brazil ubitquity llc pilot.html Ac-
cess Date: 2019-07-29
about records stored into an archive. ARMA Interna-
s Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Princi-
ples (ARMA International, 2017) define a global stan-
dard that identifies the criticalities and a high-level
framework of good practices for information gover-
nance. They are a common set of principles that de-
scribe the conditions under which business records
and related information should be maintained. They
are: Accountability: there should be a person that
is responsible and accountable for all the process;
Transparency: all the information should be docu-
mented in an open and verifiable manner; Integrity:
the information assets should be as authentic and reli-
able as possible; Protection: no unauthorized parties
should be able to access private information; Com-
pliance: laws and policies should be kept into con-
sideration; Availability: information should be effi-
ciently and accurately retrieved; Retention: informa-
tion should remain accessible for a period of time de-
pending on legal, regulatory, fiscal, operational, and
historical requirements; Disposition: it should be pos-
sible to erase all the information that is no longer
The following functional requirements are es-
sential for recordkeeping (Garc
ıa-Barriocanal et al.,
2017): a) resource discovery/information retrieval; b)
resource management; c) resource use by appropri-
ate audiences; d) security; e) linking with related re-
sources; f) software and hardware needs.
Resource discovery and information retrieval
should include an easy and fast way to search art-
works and their related information. Results of
searches should depend on the type of audiences: ev-
ery artwork’s owner should decide which information
can be accessed by others. An appropriate ontology,
such as the Dublin Core Ontology (Weibel, 1997),
should be defined to represent artworks and permit an
appropriate search by properties.
Resource management should guarantee the ac-
quisition of news about each minor artwork, such as
a temporary movement to an exhibit or a theft. Ev-
ery artwork movement should be traceable and doc-
umented. In addition, only authorized users, such as
the artwork’s owner, should be able to register an art-
work movement.
Resource use by appropriate audiences should de-
fine access control policies on artworks. Access con-
trol on information about artworks should guarantee
the following aspects: 1) only its owner should add
an artwork, 2) the artwork’s owner should be aware
of who can access and update his/her artwork, 3) only
ARMA International is a not-for-profit professional asso-
ciation and a global authority on governing information as
a strategic asset
A Blockchain-based Application to Protect Minor Artworks
authorized users could access an artwork, 4) a group
of supervisor users should manage artworks in terms
of approvals/rejects.
Security of minor artworks should concern the fol-
lowing aspects: privacy, authenticity and integrity.
Privacy is a security property which allows only au-
thorized users to access data. Authenticity is the prop-
erty of attributing records to their legitimate authors.
Integrity refers to the property of guaranteeing that
a record has not been modified by anyone. Integrity
should be provided through a tamper-proof environ-
ment, where every artwork is not modified by unau-
thorized users.
Linking is one of the most interesting aspects that
a system for recordkeeping should provide. Linking
should concern both relations among artworks of the
same archive (internal linking) and among artworks of
different archives (external linking). In general, link-
ing is not a simple task, because it cannot be made
completely automatic. Human operators, in fact, must
check that links among resources are correct, in order
to guarantee the quality of links.
Software and hardware needs refer to digital
preservation of artworks thus making them available
over time. Recordkeeping should take care of storage
media instability and deterioration, which could lead
to data loss, and technology obsolescence and incom-
patibility, which may happen both at the hardware and
software level.
Moreover, we took into consideration the the ISO
Standard 15489-1:2016 Information and documenta-
tion Records management(ISO, 2016), that defines
concepts and principles for the creation, acquisition
and management of records. Section 7.2 Character-
istics of a record lists the following: Authenticity:
records must be created and maintained in such a way
that creators are authorized and identified, and that
records are protected against unauthorized addition,
deletion, alteration, use and concealment; Reliability:
the content of a record should be accurate, and its
creator should be worth of trust; Integrity: a record
should be complete and protected against unautho-
rized alteration. Every alteration should be docu-
mented and traceable; Usability: a usable record is
one that can be located, retrieved, presented and in-
All the described functional requirements are con-
sidered in this paper, but linking, which is deferred as
future work and investigation.
In order to satisfy almost all the requirements of
recordkeeping, we propose MApp, a system which
combines and exploits the benefits of blockchain and
IPFS. The use of blockchain for recordkeeping is able
to satisfy some of the requirements described in Sec-
tion 4. In particular, a blockchain satisfies resource
management and resource use by appropriate audi-
ences indirectly, resource discovery/information re-
trieval, security directly (Garc
ıa-Barriocanal et al.,
2017). The use of IPFS for recordkeeping can guar-
antee digital preservation of minor artworks. Linking
with related resources cannot be guaranteed neither
by a blockchain nor by an IPFS, because it requires
an additional logic, based for example on mechanisms
defined by Semantic Web (Berners-Lee et al., 2001)
and Linked Data (Bizer et al., 2011). Currently, this
aspect is out the scope of this paper. We defer this
kind of research to future work.
5.1 Users
Users of the system may play one of the following
roles: generic user, publisher, verifier. A generic user
can search for an approved artwork in the system. The
search can be done by artwork author or title. A pub-
lisher user can publish or update an artwork in the
system. When a new artwork is published, its status
is set to pending. This means that the artwork is not
approved yet thus cannot be accessed by third par-
ties neither can be updated by its author. A verifier
is an expert in the field to which the artwork belongs,
and can vote for the approval of the artwork descrip-
tion. If an artwork reaches a certain number of votes
(a parameter that can be set in the system), its status
becomes approved, thus it can be searched by generic
users and updated by its publisher. This mechanism
based on votes constitutes a basic algorithm for com-
pliance with the principle of reliability of a record.
More complex strategies can be defined and we defer
this kind of study to future work.
5.2 Artwork Description
Every minor artwork is described through some prop-
erties defined through vocabularies. Although there
are many more or less formal standards for the de-
scription of artworks, in our system we exploit two
vocabularies: Dublin Core
and extended Dublin
dces/ Access Date: 2019-07-29
WEBIST 2019 - 15th International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies
Table 1: Properties defined in Dublin Core and the Ex-
tended Dublin Core.
Property DC Extended DC
Abstract 7 3
Access Rights 7 3
Accrual Periodicity
7 3
Alternative Title 7 3
Contributor 3 3
Coverage 3 3
Creator 3 3
Date 3 7
Date Available 7 3
Date Created 7 3
Date Modified 7 3
Description 3 3
Format 3 3
Identifier 3 3
Language 3 3
License 7 3
Member Of 7 3
Publisher 3 3
Relation 3 3
Rights 3 3
Spatial Coverage 7 3
Source 3 3
Subject 3 3
Temporal Coverage 7 3
Title 3 3
Type 3 3
Version 7 3
. Dublin Core provides 15 basic properties to
describe artworks. Extended Dublin Core allows a
more detailed description of an artwork, through the
use of qualifiers (or subclasses) that allow a refine-
ment of the scheme with the addition of more precise
meanings on the basic terms. Each Dublin Core ele-
ment is optional and may be repeated. Table 1 shows
which properties are present in the two sets.
The choice of these metadata elements was made
by taking into account two factors. First of all, we
tried to choose vocabularies able to represent the vast
set of typologies of minor artworks. Secondly, we
chose a compromise between the complexity of the
description, the ease of use for a non-expert user and
the degree of precision of the system used. For this
reason, a user can choose one of the two sets to rep-
resent their artworks. Dublin Core provides a meta
information scheme designed to assign reasonably
broad properties to any digital material. It is a flex-
ible, simple and extensible scheme that is suitable for
most of the foreseen use cases.
dcmi-terms/ Access Date: 2019-07-29
5.3 Operations
As already said, a publisher can perform two opera-
tions: publish and update an artwork.
Algorithm 1: Publish(artwork).
f artwork. f acsimiles
m artwork.metadata
s subset(m)
binary1 trans f orm( f )
if binary1 then
hash1 upload to ip f s(binary1)
if hash1 then
m artwork.metadata + hash1
binary2 trans f orm(m)
if binary2 then
hash2 upload to ip f s(binary2)
if hash2 then
result add to blockchain(hash2, s)
return result
end if
end if
end if
end if
return FALSE
Algorithm 1 shows the pseudocode of the publish
operation. Every artwork is composed of one or more
facsimiles and some metadata, done through one of
the previously described vocabularies. The facsimiles
are converted in binary data (through the transform
function) and then uploaded to the IPFS (through the
upload to ipfs function). The upload returns an hash
for each facsimile, and the hashes are included in the
artwork metadata. The metadata undergoe the pre-
vious two steps (transform and upload to ipfs). The
returned hash of the metadata is then saved in the
blockchain, together with a small subset of the art-
work metadata, used for the search operation.
The function for update is similar to that for publi-
cation: it receives the artwork and its new metadata as
input; if the status is approved, the new metadata are
transformed to binary and then updated in the IPFS.
If this last operation is successful, the new metadata
are added to the blockchain.
Algorithm 2 shows the search function, which re-
ceives a metadata as input. The metadata can be
either an author or an artwork name. The function
searches for the metadata in the blockchain and re-
turns the list of matching artworks pointers. For each
retrieved artwork pointer, the complete artwork infor-
mation (metadata and facsimiles) is taken from IPFS
and added to the result.
A Blockchain-based Application to Protect Minor Artworks
Algorithm 2: Search(metadata).
artwork list get by tag blockchain(metadata)
result 0
if artwork list then
for artwork pointer in artwork list do
hash artwork pointer.hash
artwork get ip f s(hash)
end for
end if
return result
Figure 1: The system architecture.
Figure 1 illustrates the MApp architecture, which is
composed of three elements: a) the front-end (Web
User Interface), b) the back-end (blockchain), c) the
data lake (IPFS). The front-end provides the users
with all the operations to manage artworks. The back-
end contains the transactions concerning every art-
work. The data lake contains all the artworks (fac-
similes and metadata), which can be accessed through
the description hash contained in the blockchain. As
back-end the Ethereum blockchain
was used. For the
Data Lake, MApp exploits IPFS. In order to establish
the connection between the back-end and the front-
end, javascript and web3.js
were used, while for the
connection between the back-end and the data lake,
was exploited. The source code of MApp can
be downloaded from GitHub
. There is also a live
version of MApp
(available only in Italian).
https://www.ethereum.org/ Access Date: 2019-07-29
https://web3js.readthedocs.io/en/v1.2.0/ Access Date:
https://infura.io/ Access Date: 2019-07-29
Access Date: 2019-07-29
artworks.html Access Date: 2019-07-29
6.1 The Web User Interface
On the left side of the Web Interface (Footnote 11)
it is possible to activate the module for inserting an
object and to consult the main information relating to
the active user (the user address, the token balance
and the permissions). The central section contains the
list of all the artworks recorded on the blockchain and
the main information about each object. It also allows
you to filter objects based on their approval status and
search by title. The part on the right shows the com-
plete description and the facsimiles of a selected art-
work, extracted from the Data Lake.
6.2 The Blockchain
As already said, MApp exploits the Ethereum
blockchain to manage artworks. All the artworks are
stored into an Archive, which is represented by the
following smart contract, written in Solidity
contract Archive{
mapping (uint => Artwork) public artworks;
uint artworkCounter;
function publishArtwork(...){...}
function updateArtwork(...){...}
function searchArtwork(...){...}
function approveArtwork(...){...}
The artworks variable contains all the artworks, both
approved and not approved yet, artworkCounter
contains the current number of artworks contained in
the archive. The functions define all the operations
that can be done on the archive: publish, update,
search and approve an artwork.
Every artwork is defined by a structure contain-
ing: the Artwork ID, the address of the author of the
description, the artwork name or title, the hash of the
complete description of the artwork on IPFS, the hash
of the representative image associated to the artwork
on IPFS, the approval status (true if approved or false
if not approved yet), the number of positive votes for
Users management is implemented through three
well-known contracts (Whitelist.sol, RBAC.sol
and Roles.sol), taken from the OpenZeppelin li-
. These contracts are used to add users to the
list of advanced users, which can vote for artworks
https://solidity.readthedocs.io/en/v0.5.5/ Access Date:
https://openzeppelin.org/ Access Date: 2019-07-29
WEBIST 2019 - 15th International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies
6.3 The Data Lake
As already said, the Data Lake is implemented
through IPFS. When a user publishes a new artwork,
this is added to the Data Lake, where it is identified
through a unique description hash that guarantees that
information is not changed without a corresponding
update transaction. The same description hash is also
stored in the blockchain, together with some basic in-
formation (such as the artwork author) and its status.
In this paper we have described MApp, a blockchain-
based application, aimed to be an aid for the protec-
tion of minor artworks. We have described numerous
advantages of the use of blockchain to protect Cul-
tural Heritage. First of all, a blockchain is intrinsi-
cally distributed, in the sense that data are not hosted
by a single central authority, thus all the information
it stores is replicated on all the nodes of the network.
This means that there is no single point of failure, so
the archive is protected against accidental data loss or
malicious attempts to erase information during a theft.
In addition, in case of artworks destruction, caused
for example by a natural disaster, the blockchain may
contribute to keep the artworks memory for an indef-
inite period of time. Secondly, only authorized users
can add/update artworks, thus preventing counterfeit-
ing of the descriptions, and all the changes to the art-
work description are documented and remain trace-
able in case of audits. It is worth mentioning, though,
that identity authentication is performed by checking
if a transaction is signed with a correct private key.
That is, identity is associated with key ownership,
with no guarantees over the real identity of the owner
of that key. As future work, we would like to vali-
date the implemented solution through experiments,
and test it in a real use-case, i.e. to store objects con-
tained in local and small museums. In addition, we
would like to test the benefits of implementing the
system using another type of blockchain, such as Hy-
We would like to thank Lukasz Szczygiel for his the-
sis work in the implementation of MApp.
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