Blockchain-enabled smart contracts, copyright licensing, and the right to change one’s mind

The concept of smart contract predates the blockchain and was first presented in 1994 by Nick Szabo who defined it as ‘a computerized transaction protocol that executes the terms of a contract.’ The promise of automated execution has become even more alluring with the new generation of smart contracts, that are a collection of code and data (…) that is deployed using cryptographically signed transactions on the blockchain network.’ Indeed, these new smart contracts inherit all the features of the underlying blockchain infrastructure, including ‘the tamperproof nature (…) that anchors their automated execution.’ In a music copyright context, smart contracts could be used for several purposes, such as to automate the execution of a licence or as a form of digital rights management (DRM).

Whilst the use of blockchain-based smart contracts in copyright can be praised or criticised for a number of reasons, this article will assess their compatibility with a principle that we deem inherent to our legal system, i.e. the right to change one’s mind. Contract law is designed to recognise such a right. This can be inferred by the compensatory nature of damages pursuant to the theory of efficient breach, and the prevalence of damages over specific performance. Since smart contracts ‘prohibit or make more costly efficient breach,’ should their adoption be encouraged?

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Published by guidonld

I am Associate Professor of Intellectual Property Law and Privacy Law at the University of Stirling, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, where I lead the Media Law and Information Technology Law courses. I am an expert in the legal issues of Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, cloud computing, robotics, and blockchain. Holder of a PhD (Unipa), a postdoc (QMUL), and an HEA Fellowship, I have a strong publication and bidding record and my works on Intellectual Property, Data Protection, Information Technology Law, Consumer Protection, and Human Rights have been cited by the EU Court of Justice’s Advocate General, the House of Lords, the European Commission, and the Council of Europe. Outside of the University of Stirling, I am Director of ‘Ital-IoT’ Centre of Multidisciplinary Research on the Internet of Things, Visiting Professor at the University of Macerata, Fellow of the Nexa Center for Internet and Society, Fellow of NINSO Northumbria Internet & Society Research Group, and I serve on the Executive Committee of the Society of Legal Scholars, the oldest and largest society of law academics in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Most of my publications can be downloaded for free on SSRN, ResearchGate,, and LawArXiv.

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