'Blocks of Lading': Distributed Ledger Technology and the Disruption of Sea Carriage Regulation
The bill of lading has, for centuries, been an integral component in the maritime shipping industry. However, the stagnation in the development of this legal instrument is contrasted with the exponential rate of development in other areas of commercial practice, which highlights the financial costs and delays associated with the use of bills of lading. The purpose of this paper is to present a modern alternative to the current paper-based bill of lading system that accounts for the practical and legal requirements of the incumbent instrument and also overcomes the deficiencies inherent in paper-based bills of lading. In the context of the regulatory uncertainty of bills of lading based on distributed ledger technology, this paper discusses approaches to regulating this new technology so as to achieve the same legal effects that the traditional, paper-based bill of lading provides. This paper presents two methods for regulating distributed ledger technology when applied to maritime shipping: the first is based on the principle of functional equivalence, which can be employed in domestic legislation, and the second is based on the Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records. I conclude that, while both approaches represent steps in the right direction, the latter would imbue this technology with sufficient legal certainty so as to spark a marine cargo carriage revolution and facilitate a productive disruption of the current industry practice.
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