The blockchain could disrupt legal institutions….here’s how!

Conor Maloney

June 9, 2018

Blockchain is changing the world. We get it.

Wait, we do get it, right?

I’m not just talking about cryptocurrencies here. Cryptocurrencies are great and all, and blockchain was invented by Satoshi Nakomoto as the public ledger for the Bitcoin network, but it can do and is doing so much more than that. It’s being used as a financial instrument, but also being tested for voting, academic and medical record-keeping, tax auditing, and more.

These are all well-established systems that have been around for a while, and essentially pretty big things to be meddling with, but meddle we must if we want to move forward and find more efficient and innovative ways of doing things.

However, as people to seek new ways to improve all these systems it becomes clear that blockchain is miles ahead of world governments desperately scrabbling to keep up.

Smart contracts

What about smart-contracts – are they legally binding? A contract involves one party making an offer and another party accepting that offer based on the agreed conditions, but a smart-contract is actually a little different. It’s technically a set of conditions in a computer program, and both parties are consenting to that program operating as outlined. It’s a minor difference, but legal experts believe that many smart contracts are operating in a legal grey area and may not hold up in a court of law.

However, like everything I’m about to get into in this article, those experts are working on it. Once smart-contracts either find their way into the legal framework that already exists or prompt lawmakers to make new rules around them, think of the consequences there. Highly expensive legal fees could be done away with in situations where people just want to make a binding agreement without paying a middleman thousands of dollars to hold their hand while they do it.

Chain of Custody

Criminal records – on the blockchain! Sorry, I didn’t mean to make that sound fun, it’s not. At all.

It is, however, incredibly useful for legal proceedings. It’s not at all uncommon for legal cases to collapse on silly technicalities – in a criminal case it’s usually necessary that the paper trail for each document is meticulously kept. Lost, damaged, or even temporarily misplaced documents can mean the difference between life and death in some cases, literally.

At the moment most legal systems use paper records as well as computer records.

Practically this.

Using warehouses full of paper files and wifi-hackeable systems to store criminal records isn’t just inefficient, it’s vulnerable to crafty defense/prosecution teams poking holes in an otherwise iron-clad case. Imagine if someone stole your crypto portfolio only for the evidence to get lost before the trial? Will someone please think of the crypto?!

Intellectual Property

Content creators fight a constant battle against their work getting stolen. The game ‘Monopoly’ was actually invented by left-wing economics advocate Elizabeth Magie to demonstrate the negative aspects of late-stage capitalism and industrial monopolies on society, as evidenced by the many crises caused by banks and other businesses having free reign due to lack of competition, and also by every family argument resulting in a rage-quit board-flip in every Monopoly game ever played, ever.

The game was then stolen, however, by a man named Charles Darrow who sold the rights and became the first ever board game millionaire, enriched by a stolen game now owned and globally distributed by Hasbro corporation. Case in point, eh?

The issue stems from record keeping – how do you prove that something you made is yours? Blockchain is being investigated as a solution to intellectual property theft by projects like NKOR which proof technology called ‘anchoring’ linking data to a transaction on a blockchain, Anyone with the proof can verify the data’s integrity and timestamp without relying on a trusted authority, something that could help independent creators who don’t have the time or means to file a patent or create legal copyrighting to protect their work.

You know, as long as Charles Darrow doesn’t steal it and enter it into the blockchain first.

But wait – seriously, what if that happens?

I mean, the reverse is also true, right? What if a company is using a public ledger and someone inserts copyrighted material into it? Are they in breach of copyright law? This is actually a major issue in blockchain law at the moment. The blockchain is supposedly immutable, and for legal records the whole point is that it can’t be altered or tampered with.

Issues surrounding breach of copyright and data protection are huge. The EU just passed the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) which many of you may have been made aware of recently when you received a million emails in one day from every subscription service or company you’d ever given your email address to. Recently companies were required to confirm with customers that they were OK with the company storing their data (along with a bunch of other data regulations). What if something like that happpens again further down the line when blockchain is more widely adopted?

An extreme example of this was the unpleasant revelation that links to underage pornography had been uploaded to the Bitcoin blockchain –  does that make node operators somehow

Different countries have different laws factoring in intent and knowledge of crimes like this one, and while it’s unlikely to put a stop to Bitcoin, it certainly raises an interesting legal question. The thing is, this is all so new that we’re essentially flying blind here while regulators and legal authorities figure out what the hell they’re doing.

Meanwhile, blockchain continues to make innovations in the legal world that seem likely to prove revolutionary very soon.

Blockchain, for better or worse, is going to really shake things up in the coming years –  so hold on to your hats folks, and try to look like you know what the hell is going on, OK?

Interested in other cool crypto posts….check out Mining Wars: Bitmain vs Dragonmint and The Price of Bitcoin vs Cost of Mining.

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