Blockchain? OK, but not for property

Even Leonardo da Vinci would agree.

What if there were one global digital database recording the ownership of every piece of art or, for that matter, of ANY property of the world? Above all: what if that database was the ultimate legal authority that decrees and certifies who is the only legitimate owner of some property?

On one hand, it may be great. It would not be exactly what John Lennon sang (“Imagine NO possession”), but as close to it as possible (“Imagine no quarrels ABOUT possession”).

To figure out how this could work in practice, imagine if that were the only way in which France is globally acknowledged as the owner of Mona Lisa. This would happen thanks to a secret digital key, owned by the French Government. They could use it in any moment to show everyone that the database says they own Mona Lisa. And they could also use to legally give Mona Lisa away to anyone, by using it to write the corresponding statements in the same database.

In practice, this means that all it would take to “steal” the Mona Lisa would be to force, or convince, some goverment official who can access the key to do just that.

Blockchain? OK, but not for property /img/mona-lisa-stolen.jpg
<a href="" target="_blank">YES, the Mona Lisa WAS stolen for real, once. But not with a blockchain!</a>


It wouldn’t matter that the Mona Lisa is secured in a Louvre room with plenty of alarm systems and professional guards around. Whoever had controlled that official could then just walk into the Louvre, tell the guards “give me this painting because the database says it’s mine”, and the guards would be legally obliged to do so.

If you replace courts with databases, at least.

And this, in a nutshell, is why distributed databases, no matter how trendy, sophisticated or distributed they are, should never be the ultimate authority on property. For details, please read “No, Real World Ownership Is Not a Use Case for Blockchain”.

As a bonus, here is the famous Xkcd cartoon that is applicable to blockchain, and most other overhyped tech, digital or not:

Blockchain? OK, but not for property /img/xkcd-security.png
<a href="" target="_blank">Click for source</a>