Friday 13 March 2020

Dematerialization of Negotiable Instruments

My article, "Legal Issues Arising From the Use of Blockchains for the Dematerialization of Negotiable Instruments: with a Particular Focus on Bills of Lading and the UNCITRAL Model Law" has just been published. It is in (2020) 5 Yearbook of the Japanese Association of International Business Law 24-39 and is attached to this post.

I wrote this article on the basis of a paper I gave one year ago at the symposium "UNCITRAL Model Law, Cryptocurrency and Blockchain" (Waseda University, 16 March 2019). As the presentation was made in Japanese, this article, too, was written in Japanese. The accompanying English abstract reads as follows:

This article considers the legal challenges which will be encountered when blockchains are used to dematerialize negotiable instruments such as bills of lading. The digitization of negotiable instruments yields a lot of benefits to the society but has been hampered by various technological and legal obstacles. On the technological side, this article examines the advantages and drawbacks of the blockchain as a tool for dematerializing negotiable instruments. On the legal side, there is a lot of uncertainty over the permissibility of, and the legal requisites for, dematerializing negotiable instruments. To improve certainty, the UNCITRAL created the Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records in 2017. The Model Law lays down the attributes which an electronic record needs to possess before it is deemed to be functionally equivalent to the corresponding "transferable instrument," a term broadly synonymous with "negotiable instrument." Thus, the electronic record must, by virtue of a reliable method, be identifiable (which implies the consistency of the record) and amenable to exclusive control. This article considers whether blockchain-based electronic records have these attributes. Among such attributes, the reliability of the method poses a particular challenge to the current law since the latter is not accustomed to evaluate the reliability of blockchains. Prior to the emergence of the blockchain technology, electronic records could only be maintained by an administrator of the database. It follows that under the conventional approach, the reliability of the method would be ensured through the regulation and oversight of the administrator. The blockchain, on the other hand, is a trustless technology which is founded on the notion that a system dispensing with the need for administrators is reliable for the very reason that it is distrustful. Whether the law is ready to embrace this notion will be tested if the society is to harness the full potential of the blockchain.

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