2019-05-13Zeitschriftenartikel DOI: 10.1515/eplj-2019-0005
Property in Digital Coins
Digital coins have burst into mainstream awareness recently, mainly as a result of high-worth ‘Initial Coin Offerings’ (‘ICOs’). The most immediate question in the legal treatment of digital coins is whether they are properly seen as digital ‘commodities’, and/or as ‘securities’, and/or as units of ‘money’. But the conceptual underpinnings of these categories are not clear, nor is it clear how these categories relate to each other; no legal system currently deals adequately with incorporeal objects as objects of property law. This category includes not only digital coins but also some forms of conventional money and securities. Establishing a satisfactory account of their treatment in property law is therefore a necessary first step to incorporating digital coins into private law theory. I argue that this task is best approached on the basis of a plausible ontology of incorporeal objects, including those embodied in paper (i.e. banknotes and conventional securities) and those that exist natively in ‘cyberspace’ (i.e. electronic ‘book-money’, modern securities, and now digital coins). We therefore urgently need to develop a plausible account of a how packets of data can be treated as an object of property rights. Using a comparative analysis of English law and Civilian law (particularly German) concepts of property as an entry point into this complex of problems, I explore the ontology of incorporeal objects and the role of documentation in their creation and maintenance as part of the ‘ontic furniture’ of our economic world. I explore the conceptual basis of property in digital coins in terms of a new category of property. Such a category is long overdue and will be increasingly important in the future.
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This publication is with permission of the rights owner freely accessible due to an Alliance licence and a national licence (funded by the DFG, German Research Foundation) respectively.