eCite Digital Repository

Property in digital coins


Allen, JG, Property in digital coins, European Property Law Journal, 8, (1) pp. 64-101. ISSN 2190-8273 (2019) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright © 2019 by Walter de Gruyter GmbH

Official URL:

DOI: doi:10.1515/eplj-2019-0005


Digital coins have burst into mainstream awareness recently, mainly as a result of high-worth ‘Initial Coin Offerings’ (‘ICOs’). The most immediate question in the legal treatment of digital coins is whether they are properly seen as digital ‘commodities’, and/or as ‘securities’, and/or as units of ‘money’. But the conceptual underpinnings of these categories are not clear, nor is it clear how these categories relate to each other; no legal system currently deals adequately with incorporeal objects as objects of property law. This category includes not only digital coins but also some forms of conventional money and securities. Establishing a satisfactory account of their treatment in property law is therefore a necessary first step to incorporating digital coins into private law theory. I argue that this task is best approached on the basis of a plausible ontology of incorporeal objects, including those embodied in paper (i.e. banknotes and conventional securities) and those that exist natively in ‘cyberspace’ (i.e. electronic ‘bookmoney’, modern securities, and now digital coins). We therefore urgently need to develop a plausible account of a how packets of data can be treated as an object of property rights. Using a comparative analysis of English law and Civilian law (particularly German) concepts of property as an entry point into this complex of problems, I explore the ontology of incorporeal objects and the role of documentation in their creation and maintenance as part of the ‘ontic furniture’ of our economic world. I explore the conceptual basis of property in digital coins in terms of a new category of property. Such a category is long overdue and will be increasingly important in the future.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:digital coins, cryptoassets, property law, ontology of digital objects
Research Division:Law and Legal Studies
Research Group:Private law and civil obligations
Research Field:Property law (excl. intellectual property law)
Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Group:Expanding knowledge
Objective Field:Expanding knowledge in law and legal studies
UTAS Author:Allen, JG (Mr Jason Allen)
ID Code:134259
Year Published:2019
Deposited By:Office of the Faculty of Law
Deposited On:2019-08-05
Last Modified:2020-08-17

Repository Staff Only: item control page