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The shift from a market built around the sale of tangible goods to one premised on the licensing of digital content and services has done significant and lasting damage to the notion of individual ownership. The emergence of blockchain technology, while certainly not necessary to reverse these trends, promised an opportunity to attract investment and demonstrate consumer demand for marketplaces that recognize meaningful digital ownership. Simultaneously, it offered an avenue for alleviating worries about hypothetical widespread reproduction and unchecked distribution of copyrighted works. Instead, many of the most visible blockchain projects in recent years—the proliferation of new cryptocurrencies and the NFT craze, chief among them—have ranged from frivolous opportunities for speculation to outright fraud. Rather than sowing technological seeds that might have yielded a workable proof-of-concept for digital property interests in consumer goods, exploitative blockchain schemes have salted the earth, threatening to discredit the broader, and fundamentally more important, project of constructing a legal framework for digital ownership.


Copyright © 2023 by Aaron Perzanowski. This Essay is available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license, the full terms of which are available at

Originally published as Aaron Perzanowski, How the Blockchain Undermined Digital Ownership, 80 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 1137 (2023). Available at:

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.