How should lawyers cite blockchain?  For the first time there is an answer

How should lawyers cite blockchain? For the first time there is an answer

Every new technology ends up in court sooner or later, and cryptography is no exception. Today, judges around the world hear cases involving everything from stolen bitcoin to crypto contract disputes to who can keep NFTs in divorce. But as lawyers become more familiar with cryptocurrencies and the blockchain, they face a new problem: How is it described in court filings?

While the challenge of citing blockchain data may seem appropriate only to legal geeks, it has real-world implications. Citations—which can refer to past cases, newspaper articles, or other sources—are the building blocks of case law, and as more controversies over NFTs reach court, judges and attorneys will need a reliable way to find them.

In the few NFT cases brought to court, the citations do not refer to the blockchain – which will provide a definitive account of transactions involving NFT – but instead to a website or just a written description. This includes a thin issue From this summer that saw the Department of Justice commission a senior executive at the NFT marketplace OpenSea for insider trading.

Blockchain and NFT-related cases are not the first that lawyers have wrestled with how to cite the new technology. In the 1990s, important sources of information and evidence for what people called the World Wide Web began to appear. In response, popular citation guides such as blue book– Typically edited by law students – Establish standards for citing online sources similar to those of longstanding books, journals, and other parts of the law.

Now, with the proliferation of blockchains and NFTs, the first record citation for these has arrived thanks to some law students who are curious in the field of cryptography.

Citing “Token Standards” and “Smart Contract Identifiers”

Alexandra Champagne is a final year law student at McGill University in Montreal. She is also the citation editor for McGill Law Journal, who publishes Canadian Guide to Standard Legal Certification (aka McGill Guide), which is the most widely used legal citation guide in Canada, similar to blue book used in the United States

In the process of considering changes to the next edition of the guide, Champagne realized that the legal world still had to interpret cryptocurrencies — an area in which she and others in the magazine have been involved in their personal lives, including an editor who bought NFTs. while the blue book And other guides include rules for citing online sources, just citing a website may not be enough in the case of NFTs.

Like said champagne luck, Blockchains and smart contracts (which create and transfer NFTs) are a new and distinct technology from the web. Given that blockchains create a permanent, public, and tamper-resistant record of technologies, it makes sense to incorporate them into a legal citation system. To this end, she and her colleagues have developed citation rules that include references to blockchain-specific elements such as token standards—Bitcoin or Ethereum, for example—and character strings, known as smart contract identifiers, that refer to the NFT on the blockchain. Here is a screenshot of the upcoming standard:

As you can see above, the guide provides examples of quotes from famous NFTs like artist Beeple It sold for $69 million And one of the Bored Ape group, which is popular with celebrities.

The new blockchain and citation rules will take effect on the 10th edition of McGill Guide It was published next year by Thomson Reuters. *

In response to a query from luck, Editors at blue book He said that the guide has not yet explored a citation format for blockchain-based data, but will recommend future editors consider the question before publishing an updated version in 2025.

Blockchain and “hard links”

Jennifer Allison, a librarian at Harvard Law School Library, says that while searching for NFT citations, she discovered an article in a law journal discussing this topic. The article included an image of an NFT, describing it as a “symbolic representation of a mural”, but with a quote that simply refers to a webpage in OpenSea.

Alison said luck The issue of quoting from NFT is likely to emerge more and more as digital assets become the subject of legal disputes over insider trading, breach of contract, and even probate issues. For now, she says, lawyers and judges may be content simply to describe NFTs as if they were another piece of art, by citing their title and where they were sold — but over time this will likely prove insufficient.

“The board does not have the same digital footprint as the NFT, and McGill’s proposed citation model appears to do a better job of letting the user know exactly what is being cited, how a reader can locate it or more information about it,” Allison said via email.

Allison also raised the issue of “link rot” – a term that describes the phenomenon of URLs crashing or not being used. By 2013, junction rot has become a major issue for Earth’s highest court, which is leading The New York Times To publish an article entitled “In Supreme Court Opinions, Web Links to Elsewhere” Which revealed that half of the web pages mentioned in the court ruling were no longer working.

In response, the blue book Other citation directories called for web page references to include so-called permalinks—a duplicate URL but one maintained by Harvard or other university libraries. The idea is that even if the original link no longer works, the permalink will always do so. Today, the system has become the standard across courts and academic publishers.

However, in the case of smart contracts and NFTs, it is unclear whether hard links are necessary since, by nature, blockchains are designed to be permanent and immutable. Meanwhile, in the event that future citation editors call a secondary source that locates an NFT, one option might be to integrate decentralized file storage services such as Arweave or Filecoin linked to various blockchains.

It will likely be years before all this happens, but for now it seems inevitable that the blockchain will become a source of authority for the legal system the way the web was two decades ago.

“We don’t know what kind of unique forms of technology will emerge from the blockchain that may not be casually associated with a particular URL,” explains McGill’s Champagne. “Having a way to cite blockchain technology directly referring to smart contract, token ID, etc., we hope will provide authors with a sustainable approach to getting the information to their readers.”

* Quote reproduced with permission from Thomson Reuters Canada Limited from Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation, 10The tenth Version/Manuel canadien de la référence juridique 10E edition; It will be released soon in 2023.

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