Digital Assets

This project, run by Professor Louise Gullifer and Professor Jennifer Payne, and co-run by Guy Morton, will consider legal issues arising from the holding of assets using distributed ledger and blockchain technology.


Developments in distributed ledger and blockchain technology have led to the emergence of innovative new asset types, such as crypto-currencies, crypto-securities and other tradable crypto-assets, some of which represent assets in the real world, such as gold.  The value of these assets, at the moment, is enormous, and their existence raises many important legal questions, which need to be considered both on a national and international basis.

This project brings together an international group of legal experts to consider some of the major legal issues arising from the move towards digital assets.   It has two main aims: first, to facilitate and enrich the work that is being done individually by members of the group and, second, to consider specific issues collectively and produce specific outputs.   

At the first workshop, held on 14th September 2018, it was decided to group the relevant issues, at least initially, into those relating to the property aspects of digital assets, those relating to the holding of digital assets through custodians and those related to regulation.    Project members have been assigned to three groups to review the issues falling within each category, with a view to determining what issues could usefully be considered by the project given the depth of expertise of its members and their internationality. There was further discussion of the issues at a second workshop, held on 23rd November 2018 and a conference was held at Harris Manchester College on 26th June 2019.

One of the main issues arising from the rise in digital assets is their nature as property. The Digital Assets Project is considering this as part of its work, and has produced a paraphrase in English of the judgment of the Tokyo District Court in the MtGox case based on a literal translation of the Japanese text.    In this case, the court considered the question of whether bitcoin could be the object of ownership under Japanese law.     This paraphrase is made freely available to anyone who would like to use it for research or other purposes, and further explanation of the paraphrase can be found by visiting the Commercial Law Centre blog.  It is not an official translation, and should not be relied upon as a definitive text but instead is prepared in order to assist with the academic debate about the nature of bitcoin as property.  The footnotes are editorial additions.  The editors are: Professor Megumi Hara, Gakushuin University; Professor Charles Mooney, University of Pennsylvania; Professor Louise Gullifer, University of Oxford. The translation can be found below.

This project is undertaken by the Commercial Law Centre, and is generously sponsored by Fusang Vault Ltd.    For enquiries about the project, please contact or