Is Blockchain the Death of Antitrust Law? The Blockchain Antitrust Paradox

Georgetown Law Technology Review / 3 Geo. L. Tech. Rev. 281 (2019)

59 Pages Posted: 25 Jun 2018 Last revised: 16 May 2019

See all articles by Thibault Schrepel

Thibault Schrepel

Harvard University (Berkman Center); Utrecht University School of Law; University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

Date Written: June 11, 2018

Abstract

Western legal systems have historically helped establish trust between parties and reduce transactional uncertainty by providing recourse to legal procedures. Nonetheless, establishing trust still imposes significant transactional costs and blockchain may reduce them to a smaller level. In the meantime, the very nature of the technology raises fundamental questions about antitrust law and how individuals conduct transactions.

This article intends to contribute to the literature by describing the challenges that blockchain presents for analyses of unilateral anticompetitive practices and proposing some changes to antitrust law and regulations that address those challenges. It proceeds in three sections to this end.

First, this article argues that, because blockchain is decentralized, anonymous, and immutable, questions arise regarding the ability to detect anticompetitive practices and their perpetrators. We show that some practices are de facto more likely to be implemented.

Next, this article discusses current antitrust laws and how antitrust authorities should tackle these issues. On the one hand, regulators must avoid using their unfamiliarity with a new technology to justify over-regulating a potentially beneficial advancement or employing what this article calls the “blockchain excuse” for regulation. On the other hand, antitrust enforcement must adapt to stay relevant, and this article suggests that regulators adopt a new methodology of “regulatory infiltration” using a “law is code” approach.

Third, even if this new regulatory scheme is adopted, some ultimate questions demand resolution. This article seeks to address them in part three: is blockchain the death of antitrust law as we know it? Should it be? Answering those questions is not easy because blockchain continues to evolve. Nevertheless, the decentralized nature of blockchain forces us to consider the legitimacy of antitrust law, which rests on centralized legal structures and enforcement that are inconsistent with blockchain’s trustless nature; although, antitrust is still needed. This is the blockchain antitrust paradox.

Keywords: antitrust, competition law, blockchain, algorithms, artificial intelligence, law is code, smart contract

JEL Classification: K21, K20, L12, L40, L41, L42, L43, L44, L51, O31, O33, O34

Suggested Citation

Schrepel, Thibault, Is Blockchain the Death of Antitrust Law? The Blockchain Antitrust Paradox (June 11, 2018). Georgetown Law Technology Review / 3 Geo. L. Tech. Rev. 281 (2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3193576 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3193576

Thibault Schrepel (Contact Author)

Harvard University (Berkman Center) ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Utrecht University School of Law ( email )

Janskerkhof 3
Utrecht, 3512 BK
Netherlands

University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne ( email )

France

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