Smart Contracts and the Limits of Computerized Commerce

46 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2021

Date Written: October 1, 2020


Smart contracts and cryptocurrencies have sparked considerable interest among legal scholars in recent years, and a growing body of scholarship focuses on whether smart contracts and cryptocurrencies can sidestep law and regulation altogether. Bitcoin is famously decentralized, without any central actor controlling the system. Its users remain largely anonymous, using alphanumeric addresses instead of legal names. Ethereum shares these traits and also supports smart contracts that can automate the transfer of the cryptocurrency. Ethereum also supports specialized “tokens” that can be tied to the ownership of assets, goods, and services that exist completely outside of the Ethereum blockchain. By some accounts, cryptocurrencies and smart contracts will revolutionize private law. Some argue they have the potential to displace contract and property law. In this Article, I will argue that a complete revolution is not inexorable. Facing the technical and complicated nature of this subject, we should keep in mind a simple fact: cryptocurrencies and smart contracts are computer data and computer programs. To a large extent, they will have legal force only if given force by judges, regulators, and legislators.

Suggested Citation

Chason, Eric D., Smart Contracts and the Limits of Computerized Commerce (October 1, 2020). Nebraska Law Review, Vol. 99, No. 330, 2020, Available at SSRN:

Eric D. Chason (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

613 South Henry Street
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States

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