Sunday 18 October 2015

Tokyo District Court ruling on the ownership of bitcoins: the use of the English word "ownership"

The Tokyo District Court ruling on 5 August 2015 is reported as having denied the "ownership" ("shoyûken" in Japanese) of bitcoins on the ground that shoyûken is a concept limited to tangible things. This ruling cannot be wrong so far as the Japanese law concept of shoyûken is concerned since no one can deny that bitcoins are intangible. It is, however, misleading to translate "shoyûken" into "ownership" since the English word "ownership" is often used in a broader sense covering also intangible things. Thus, it is not uncommon to speak of the ownership of patent or copyright. On the other hand, "shoyûken" of patent or copyright is never heard of. The ruling, when reported outside Japan in the language of "ownership", seems to have caused a lot of alarm but the appreciation of difference between the Japanese law concept of "shoyûken" and the English word "ownership" should allay concerns.

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