Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Regulating Blockchain and DLTs: An Introduction to the Law and Policy Aspects

LEVEL 05 - Postgraduate Modular Diploma or Degree Course


DEPARTMENT Centre for Distributed Ledger Technologies

DESCRIPTION The rise of the Internet and the digital economy that it enabled had a profound impact on our understanding of law and the limits of regulation. The study-unit will introduce students to regulatory theory, and to the interactions between law, innovation and society. It will elicit an understanding of the relationship between law and policy, proceeding to discuss the issues surrounding regulation of blockchain, other DLTs and cryptocurrencies. The course will also provide a brief but comprehensive introduction to the Maltese legislative framework, and its policy underpinnings.

The study-unit will introduce students to the fundamental legal principles of legal fields such as constitutional law, criminal law, contract law, tax law, intellectual property law and data protection law, enabling them to better appreciate the challenges and the need to find sustainable regulatory solutions for our digital future.

The study-unit will introduce students to the dialectic between global problems and discourses and local, specific and particularistic solutions. It will also seek to highlight the benefits of sustained and systematic cross-disciplinary research, and collaboration between computer science and law. While law is often (mis)perceived as the incessant raiser of objections, concerns and warnings that get in the way of exciting and beneficial new technologies, the law may indeed be a beneficial and creative force that increases value and opportunities for companies, individuals and wider societies.

Study-Unit Aims:

This study-unit will permit students to identify and understand the relationships between those different areas of law, such as constitutional law, including human rights law, criminal law, civil law and ICT law which are especially pertinent to the study of blockchain/DLT regulation.

The aim of the study-unit is to provide the requisite background, as well as a basic understanding of the law and policy issues relating to blockchain, other DLTs, cryptocurrencies and associated regulatory frameworks - in particular the Maltese one. The study-unit also aims to provide students with an understanding of and ability to participate in the debate as to whether existing legal norms and regulatory frameworks will be disrupted or undermined by recent technological developments relating in particular to blockchain and DLTs.

It aims to foster an instructive debate regarding issues and developments such as:
- what is blockchain/DLT? what might it become?;
- regulatory strategies that aim to regulate these emergent blockchain/DLT-based systems without excessively limiting the opportunities for innovation;
- the financial application of DLT, including the economics of money, cryptocurrencies and related financial products such as Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs);
- blockchain applications in contexts ranging from registration of assets (including land) to self-executing ('smart') contracts;
- how data protection concepts and rules will apply to blockchain/DLTs;
- smart versus traditional contracts: the relationship between smart contracts and traditional law;
- Cryptocurrency versus anti-money laundering regulations.

The over-arching aim of this study-unit is to prepare graduates for careers that require a capacity to work with innovation, technology and new law as a result of unprecedented change and disruptive technologies such as blockchain, DLTs, smart contracts, cryptocurrencies (e.g. bitcoin), and the fourth industrial revolution.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- Distinguish between different branches of law;
- Identify different flows of information within society;
- Describe basic legal implications of information flows, especially in relationship to fundamental human rights law, data protection law and criminal law;
- Describe what is blockchain and what are distributed ledger technologies (DLTs), their (potential) uses and their perceived benefits and challenges, in particular from a legal perspective;
- Explain the concept of 'regulatory strategy', including the meaning of the rule of code versus the rule of law;
- Identify the problems from a legal and regulatory perspective (e.g. data protection; anti-money laundering (AML) and know your customer (KYC) regulations);
- Describe the new blockchain and cryptocurrencies regulatory framework in Malta;
- Explore the meaning of smart contracts, their regulation at law and their comparison with natural language agreements;
- Discuss matters relating to barter of value, the economics of money, classification of DLT assets and taxation of such assets.

2. Skills:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- Locate sources of law;
- Identify information law issues within information flows;
- Apply information law knowledge to blockchain and DLT contexts;
- Examine how technological developments may disrupt or undermine fundamental legal concepts;
- Read and apply new law, in particular that regulating cryptocurrencies, blockchain and DLTs;
- Analyse the deployment of blockchain-based systems and appraise suggested or actual regulation of the technology;
- Question the rule of (autonomous) code versus the rule of law, and the assumptions regarding the superiority of one or the other when it comes to freedom and autonomy.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

As Information Technology law is a rapidly developing area, the law is often challenged to respond to the many advances in technology. It is therefore important to keep abreast of developments. The specific area of technology law and policy in particular that relating to blockchain and DLTs is a fast moving one. As such, it can be difficult to find books which are up-to-date with current developments, as books can often be 12 months behind current developments even at the time of their publication. Journal articles are often the best source of more recent information, and have the added advantage of often being available electronically via the WWW. As a result a lot of reading will be set from journals. Primary materials, such as legislation and caselaw, as well as other useful secondary material are also often published on-line and, as a result, learning how to search Internet resources effectively is an increasingly important skill.

Up-to-date readings will be assigned by lecturers as the course progresses, given that legislation and guidance is a shifting target as the industry evolves.

Main Texts:

- Rowland, D, Kohl, U. & Charlesworth A. (2017) Information Technology Law, (5th ed.) (Routledge)
De Filippi, P. & Wright A. (2018) Blockchain and the Law: the rule of code (Harvard University Press)
- The European Union Blockchain Observatory and Forum (2018) Blockchain and the GDPR; accessible at
- Finck, M (2019) Blockchain and the General Data Protection Regulation: Can distributed ledgers be squared with European data protection law?, at
- Sklaroff, J. M. (2018) "Smart Contracts and the Cost of Inflexibility" Penn Law: Legal Scholarship Repository; accessible at
- Raskin, M. (2017) "The Law and Legality of Smart Contracts" 1 Georgetown Law Technology Review 304; accessible at
- Durovic, M. & Janssen, A. (2018) "The Formation of Smart Contracts and Beyond: Shaking the Fundamentals of Contract Law?" In L. DiMatteo, M. Cannarsa & C. Poncibo (eds.) Smart Contracts and Blockchain Technology: Role of Contract Law (Cambridge University Press 2019); accessible at
- Kerikmäe, T. & Rull, A. (eds.) (2016) The Future of Law and eTechnologies, (1st ed.) (Springer)

Supplementary Readings:

- Ryan, P. (2017) "Smart Contract Relations in e-Commerce: Legal Implications of Exchanges Conducted on the Blockchain" Technology Innovation Management Review; accessible at:
- Werbach, K. & Cornell, N. (2017) "Contracts Ex Machina" Duke Law Journal 67:313; accessible at:
- Szabo, N. (1996) "Smart Contracts: Building Blocks for Digital Markets"; accessible at:

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Lecture and Independent Study

Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Resit Availability Weighting
Assignment SEM1 Yes 100%

LECTURER/S Kevin Aquilina
Michael Camilleri
Joseph Cannataci
Mireille-Martine Caruana
Pauline Debono
Antonio Ghio
David Gonzi
Wayne Pisani

The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2020/1. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.