Monday, August 03, 2015
There's a new attorney in town, and his name is "Etherium". At least that's what the founders of a new Bitcoin seem to think about combining cryptocurrency with a Turing-complete programming language in order to make "unbreakable" contracts.
Since most agreements involve the exchange of economic value, or have economic consequences, we can implement whole categories of public and private law using Ethereum. An agreement involving transfer of value can be precisely defined and automatically enforced with the same script.Let's set aside the simple expedient of specifying a year for the sake of argument. I will be the first to concede that this approach could work for some kinds of agreements, but the idea that a computer language can take care of very much of the problem of the ambiguity of language in legal contracts is bunk. For one thing, I doubt anyone designs web sites and then looks for a buyer. I am sure most of these are done on commission, and ... well, one need only peruse the web site Clients From Hell a bit to realize that there can be all kinds of debate about what constitutes the acceptable completion of a project. And, to remove that ambiguity, one would essentially have to design the whole web site in order to have an unambiguous definition of completion. Unfortunately, this would require a designer to do the work for free just to have a contract! And then there's still the matter of a client's ability to pay at the agreed-upon time. Get ready to argue in court, anyway.
Let's look at an example. You've built a website and someone wants to buy it for $5000 but they can only pay in March. In the traditional approach, you transfer control of the website and write down what's been agreed on a piece of paper. March arrives and it seems there has been some confusion. You assumed the contract meant this March but they insist they meant next March. Get ready to argue in court about the meaning of "March".
At a bare minimum, I can't see how this idea can help anyone involved in work for which the full scope may not be knowable in advance. And, again, one would be amazed at how often some people can dispute the meanings of even common sense terms like color.