This week our focus shifts to a topic buzzing about the modern world. We have written on numerous occasions about cryptocurrency, but we have not discussed more pointedly the technological mechanism that yields it – i.e., the blockchain. A complex, decentralized technology with the power, accuracy, and security to replace traditional financial systems, blockchain is the process that gives cryptocurrencies their true mechanism and value. Its international scope can pose jurisdictional questions, its decentralized nature can puzzle tort plaintiffs, and the enforceability of “smart contracts” is an issue of first impression for most courts. Additionally, lines must be drawn with regard to intellectual property.
To provide a brief background, the blockchain is the structure by which value is produced and conserved in cryptocurrencies. Through a complex system of checks and balances, rewarded for solving algorithms, “miners” validate transactions by mathematically verifying them against previous transactional history of the asset in question. A “block” is created when transactions consolidate after nodes in a given network unanimously corroborate their veracity. From the block, the “miners” compete to solve a highly complex algorithm; the winner receives a coin and the block is added to a “chain.” An innovation has thus emerged onto which legal institutions must overlay their concepts.
Firstly, blockchain disputes run up against jurisdictional issues. The ubiquitous and decentralized nature of the blockchain requires careful consideration of the relevant contractual doctrines. Applying the rules of whatever jurisdiction in which each node transacts would pose two problems: (1) the location of the transaction in question would be incredibly difficult to pinpoint; and (2) requiring compliance with every single potential location’s rules would be overwhelmingly unwieldy. Therefore, choosing a governing law for the entire network is essential to ensure certainty.