From old to new: From internet to smart contracts and from people to smart contracts

From old to new: From internet to smart contracts and from people to smart contracts
TJ de Graaf
9/24/19 12:44
Computer Law & Security Review
Discussing legal issues related to smart contracts on the blockchain is very topical. This article will discuss primarily smart contracts on the blockchain the conclusion and execution of which does not interact with the physical world, as well as briefly touch upon smart contracts on the blockchain which do interact with the physical world. For these smart contracts, it will be determined to what extent existing EU internet laws can help support their development and if not, what is needed to support this. In order to answer this question, the following will be discussed: the rise of e-commerce and in particular the EU internet laws supporting and regulating e-commerce, how smart contracts work and how smart contracts compare with existing technological developments and comparable legal constructs (internet, bank accounts and bank guarantees). Subsequently, it will be explained how the use of smart contracts leads to a shift of confidence, from trust in people to trust in code. On the basis of The DAO hack and the problems that arose, it will be illustrated that this shift to trust in code is not as absolute as is often thought. The article concludes that applying specific EU laws on supporting and regulating e-commerce to smart contracts is difficult for two reasons. First of all, the starting points differ: trust in people versus trust in code. Secondly, technical and practical obstacles often inhibit applying internet laws in a meaningful manner. When using smart contracts, it makes more sense to prevent problems from arising than to correct them afterwards. For this reason, it is advocated that programmers work together with lawyers to create better smart contracts and that the legislator focuses on laws dealing with auditing smart contracts code by trusted third parties and automatically equating smart contracts with written contracts with wet ink signatures. This will hopefully facilitate the rise of smart contracts on the blockchain.

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