Blockchain and the Law

2 ECTs / 12h / English

This seminar aims to provide an introduction to the legal aspects and normative dimension of blockchain technology. Since the financial crisis of 2008 there’s been sustained enthusiasm – and often unjustified hype – surrounding blockchain. The technology was born in the crypto-anarchist underground of the Internet. In less than a decade, the original Bitcoin white paper was turned into a worldwide technology ecosystem in a bottom-up fashion, by a rapidly growing group of technologists, investors, and entrepreneurs, sporting grand techno-solutionist visions of how to change the world.

The blockchain ecosystem tries to build a decentralized, disintermediated, and distributed technology, which enables decentralized, disintermediated, and distributed modes of social coordination in a mostly decentralized, disintermediated, and distributed manner. This congruence between the design of the technology, its attempted mode of development, and its stated goals is the strongest argument in favor of taking blockchain technology seriously. It explains why, despite all of its shortcomings, the study of its social, economic, political, and legal implications is worthwhile.

The seminar “Blockchain and the Law” will consider the legal aspects and implications of this technology from the perspective of EU law. This legal analysis will consider the broader context of the current institutional, political, economic, social, and cultural frameworks, which both shape and struggle to contain the technology.

The seminar is divided in 3 parts: (I) Technology and Policy; (II) Contracts; (III) Regulation and Enforcement.

- Part I will provide a description of the technology and its core characteristics. This will include a general introduction to blockchains, Bitcoin, Ethereum, and decentralized platforms. The technology will be placed in the context of the broader social, political, and institutional debate on its promise to underpin a novel Internet architecture, often labeled “Web 3.0”, as well as to revolutionize finance through cryptocurrencies. 

- Part II will address the fascinating topic of “smart contracts” and how blockchain-based systems have enabled this new mode of memorializing contractual arrangements. This part will first address the history and technical characteristics of smart contracts, before embarking on the analysis of traditional legal categories of private law, such as validity, execution, and enforceability.


- Part III will build on the learnings of the previous Parts to discuss the regulation and enforcement of blockchain technology by law. At a general level, we will discuss different regulatory approaches or techniques designed to regulate the technology in its early stages, including “wait and see”, narrow or broad “guidance”, “sandboxing”, and legislation proper. We will then dive into specific areas of law as case-studies for the legal regulation and enforcement of blockchains. The focus will be on areas that intersect with the technology’s affordances related the use of information and data: privacy and data protection; (self-sovereign) identity; data protection; intellectual property; competition law


Invited Professor
University of Amsterdam João Pedro Quintais is a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the Institute for Information Law (IViR…