Since Bitcoin appeared in 2009, the digital currency has been hailed as an Internet marvel and decried as the preferred transaction vehicle for all manner of criminals. It has left nearly everyone without a computer science degree confused: Just how do you “mine” money from ones and zeros?
The answer lies in a technology called blockchain, which can be used for much more than Bitcoin. A general-purpose tool for creating secure, decentralized, peer-to-peer applications, blockchain technology has been compared to the Internet itself in both form and impact. Some have said this tool may change society as we know it. Blockchains are being used to create autonomous computer programs known as “smart contracts,” to expedite payments, to create financial instruments, to organize the exchange of data and information, and to facilitate interactions between humans and machines. The technology could affect governance itself, by supporting new organizational structures that promote more democratic and participatory decision-making.
Primavera De Filippi and Aaron Wright acknowledge this potential and urge the law to catch up. That is because disintermediation―a blockchain’s greatest asset―subverts critical regulation. By cutting out middlemen, such as large online operators and multinational corporations, blockchains run the risk of undermining the capacity of governmental authorities to supervise activities in banking, commerce, law, and other vital areas. De Filippi and Wright welcome the new possibilities inherent in blockchains. But as Blockchain and the Law makes clear, the technology cannot be harnessed productively without new rules and new approaches to legal thinking.
About the Authors
Primavera De Filippi
Primavera De Filippi is a Director of Research at the National Center of Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris, Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and Visiting Fellow at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute.
Her research focuses on the legal challenges and opportunities of blockchain technology and artificial intelligence, with a specific focus on governance and trust. She was a founding member of the Global Future Council on Blockchain Technologies at the World Economic Forum and co-founder of the Internet Governance Forum’s dynamic coalitions on Blockchain Technology (COALA).
Primavera is the author of the book “Blockchain and the Law,” published in 2018 by Harvard University Press (co-authored with Aaron Wright) and she was recently awarded a € 2M research grant from the European Research Council (ERC) to investigate how blockchain technology can help improve institutional governance through greater confidence and trust, and how it can contribute to global governance.
In addition to her academic research, Primavera acts as a legal expert for Creative Commons and is part of the stakeholder board of the P2P Foundation. As an artist, she produces mechanical algorithms that instantiate her legal research into the physical world, such as the Plantoid project (http://plantoid.org).
Aaron Wright is an expert in corporate and intellectual property law, with extensive experience in Internet and new technology issues. Before joining Cardozo’s faculty, he sold a company to Wikia, the for-profit sister project of Wikipedia, where he ran Wikia’s New York office, served as General Counsel and Vice President of Product and Business Development, and helped build an open-source search engine.
Wright has clerked for the Honorable William J. Martini of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey and worked as an associate at several prominent New York law firms, including Patterson Belknap and Jenner & Block. He received his J.D. from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, where he served as the editor-in-chief of the Cardozo Law Review.