Jusletter IT

“Code is Law” and Smart Contracts. Embedding Ethics in Decentralized Ledger Systems

  • Authors: Federico Costantini / Bálint Ferencz / Szabolcs Nagypál
  • Category of articles: Juristische Informatik-Systeme & Legal Tech
  • Category: Articles
  • Field of law: Blockchain
  • Collection: Conference proceedings IRIS 2021
  • DOI: 10.38023/c4b873df-aee5-4de3-893b-a15be9df5128
  • Citation: Federico Costantini / Bálint Ferencz / Szabolcs Nagypál, “Code is Law” and Smart Contracts. Embedding Ethics in Decentralized Ledger Systems , in: Jusletter IT 27 May 2021
“Smart Contracts” are tools based on distributed ledger technologies deployed in order to increase the efficiency of transactions. Their adoption is growing at an exponential scale due to the undisputable advantages brought by their property of self-executing tasks, yet on the opposite it raises concerns since it does not require any sort of moral scrutiny. In our paper we first address how the current ethical discussion can be framed in Decentralized Ledger Technologies, then we unfold the evolution in legal theory of a decentralized approach – epitomized by the motto “code is law” – finally we focus on “smart contracts” discussing the application of “engineering ethics” or the implementation of “ethical oracles”. At the end we conclude with a few remarks and some perspectives for future research.


  • 1. DLT and ethics: “dust under the carpet”?
  • 2. Ethics, law and technology: a never-ending discussion
  • 3. “Code is law” from “Lex Informatica” to “Lex Cryptographia”
  • 4. Legal issues of smart contracts
  • 5. Conclusions
  • 6. Acknowledgement
  • 7. References

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