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Study information

Blockchain, Policy, Property

Module titleBlockchain, Policy, Property
Module codeLAWM167
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Robert Herian (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This is your opportunity to explore distributed ledger technologies (DLTs) and blockchain critically and contextually, to consider the impact on our national and international legal, regulatory, and governance norms, institutions.  During seminars, we will explore conceptual and practical aspects of these emergent technologies along with associated applications, including smart contracts, cryptocurrencies, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs).  The aim is to build on your previous study of law and technology, and further enhance your interest and curiosity through critical analysis of the legal, political, economic, and social changes DLTs and blockchain are creating in the UK and beyond.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module will aim to address the trans-jurisdictional attention on distributed ledgers, blockchain, and associated software and applications, which has intensified in the last decade, raising several legal, social, economic, and political problems and questions. There is much still to learn and understand regarding the local and global opportunities, obstacles, and challenges posed by the technologies.  But where did the story begin, where did the technologies come from, and where are they going? How and why do their characteristics excite so much speculation in and around private and public sectors and are they as transformative as some stakeholders would like to believe? What is the legal and regulatory status and significance of applications such as distributed autonomous organisations (DAOs), cryptocurrencies, smart contracts, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and what are the impacts on national and international policy, governance, norms, and institutions? Focusing on interdisciplinarity and intersections of theory and practice of laws (notably property), governance, and policy, this module critically explores and unpacks these questions and more.  Importantly, we will consider what the future may hold and who will benefit. The module will provide you with vital academic and professional skills of critical analysis, especially regarding an ability to assess and work with a wide-range of multimedia sources in the context of a fast moving and developing area law, regulation, and policy.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Critically analyse the application of existing legal doctrines and procedures (e.g., common law and equitable remedies) to distributed ledger (DLTs) and blockchain technologies, including smart contracts, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs.
  • 2. Critically analyse the role of private (e.g., start-ups) and public sectors (e.g., government) in setting the agenda for the implementation and use of DLTs and blockchain.
  • 3. Describe and explain what blockchain and DLTs are.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Research, identify, and critically discuss key legal considerations of and approaches to, and discuss contexts that fostered, DLTs and blockchain.
  • 5. Research, identify, and critically discuss steps taken by lawmakers nationally and internationally to promote and regulate DLTs and blockchain.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Research, identify, and critically discuss gaps in legal and regulatory knowledge and understanding of new and emerging technologies.
  • 7. Research, identify, and critically discuss legal, social, economic, and political expectations on new and emerging technologies.
  • 8. Present an in-depth description and analysis of intersections of law and technology.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover all or some of the following topics:

  • From hype to where?
    We will explore where DLTs and blockchain came from and why they matter, drawing on a range of sources including those from computer science.  Importantly, we will consider what is at stake for both private and public sectors from the use of these technologies.


  • The data in the machine
    What is the relationship between data and DLTs and blockchain?  Personal data remains a contestable “commodity” that private and public sectors increasingly need and rely on to function in twenty-first century economies.  Key questions include, therefore, whether DLTs and blockchain contribute to or protect against the commodification of personal data.  Are laws and regulations sufficiently robust to deal with this new and emerging situation?


  • Critical blockchain regulation
    Who ought to benefit from DLTs and blockchain?  If the technologies can offer, as some would argue, greater efficiency and transparency regarding data and information, then how can regulation make this a reality?  By looking at ongoing attempts by lawmakers and regulators in various jurisdictions (e.g., UK and EU), we will discuss what “good” or “effective” regulation may look like. 


  • Policymakers, lawmakers, and stakeholders
    Innovation and new technologies are often considered in terms of problems and solutions.  Who gets to decide and shape the form, substance, and future of DLTs, blockchain, and associated applications such as distributed autonomous organisations (DAOs), smart contracts, cryptocurrencies, and non-fungible tokens?  What influence do markets have in defining problems and solutions and driving innovation; is the law being side-lined in favour of “rule by entrepreneur”; and are governments and policymakers simply backing innovation for innovation’s sake?


  • Old law, new technologies
    Can existing laws cope with new technologies or do we need to start again?  Using examples of property and contract law in England and Wales, including remedies in common law and equity, we will explore the ability of old laws to function and remain relevant in a world of new technologies.  By examining case-law, we will aim to understand how well-prepared the judiciary is for the new technological horizon.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching1510 x 1.5 hours weekly seminars
Guided Independent Study90Assigned seminar readings
Guided Independent Study15Research for and preparation of formative assessment
Guided Independent Study30Research for and preparation of formative assessment

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay1000 words1-8Individual written feedback (with oral feedback upon request)

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay1002000 words1-8Individual written feedback (with oral feedback upon request)

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay (2000 words)Essay (2000 words)1-8Referral/Deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • P De Filippi and A Wright, Blockchain and the Law: The Rule of Code (Harvard University Press 2018)
  • R Herian, ‘Blockchain, GDPR, and Fantasies of Data Sovereignty’ (2018) 12 Law, Innovation and Technology 156
  • R Herian, Regulating Blockchain: Critical Perspectives in Law and Technology (Routledge 2018)
  • R Herian, ‘Smart contracts: a remedial analysis’ (2020) 30 Information & Communications Technology Law 17
  • K Werbach, ‘Trust, but Verify: Why the Blockchain Needs the Law’ (2018) 33 Berkeley Technology Law Journal 487

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

  • Law Commission, Smart legal contracts Advice to Government (Law Com No 401, 2021)
  • J Allen and P Hunn (ed), Smart Legal Contracts: Computable Law in Theory and Practice (Oxford University Press 2022)
  • D Golumbia, The Politics of Bitcoin: Software as Right-Wing Extremism (University of Minnesota Press 2016)

Key words search

Blockchain; NFT; DAO; Smart Contract; Cryptocurrency; Technology; Policy; Critical; Regulation

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date