Bitcoin and the Law - Whither Transactions?

Accepted Session
Short Form
Scheduled: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 from 4:45 – 5:30pm in B304


How does Bitcoin interact with the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act and other laws regulating ecommerce? Do those acts even contemplate a decentralized currency? Where do we go from here?


In the before-times, Judge Frank Easterbrook gave a speech entitled “Cyberspace and the Law of the Horse,” in which he argued that the internet did not require thinking about a “new kind of law.” Rather, the current legal framework would need to adapt itself to cases in which the internet was involved, using time-honored techniques of comparing facts from old situations to new situations. He recalled University of Chicago Law School dean Gerhard Casper’s comment that he was proud that there was no class entitled “Law of the Horse,” because such a course would be “doomed to be shallow and to miss unifying principles.”

Lawrence Lessig and others disagreed, suggesting that cyberspace was an entirely new thing, that required new regulatory models. Grafting established principles to cyberspace, they suggested, was substantially worse than treating the subject as a tabula rasa. Lessig in particular has championed the creation of new legal frameworks and assumptions that accommodate and regulate actions and transactions in cyberspace.

Subsequent acts of Congress have leaned closer to Easterbrook than Lessig, creating model acts for electronic transactions that mirror the current regulations underlying all banking and other traditions of transactional law.

But Bitcoin might be the technology that broke the horse’s back. As a decentralized currency, that can be “minted” by anyone with sufficient processing space, and spreads across geographical boundaries in an instant, it is alarming to governments and confounding to the average businessman. But the cool kids seem to like it – its adoption is becoming increasingly widespread.

In this talk I’ll hit the high points of the law and then address what Bitcoin might mean for the future of transactional law.

Speaking experience

Recently, three talks at Ignite Portland, and a prior presentation at Open Source Bridge.

In the past, I was deeply involved in competitive speech and debate throughout high school, college, and beyond.
Ignite videos:

I have not given this talk before.