This article looks at whether the principle of technology neutrality can be applied to the centralised-decentralised scale in a manner similar to its application to the offline-online scale. The analysis is based on two cases of similar circumstances relating to bitcoin exchanges run by early adopters in Estonia and Sweden. The cases exhibit two different ex ante legislative approaches aimed at payments in currencies and the interpretation of the respective legislation by the judiciary in applying these rules to bitcoins and to the activity of exchanging bitcoins. The article examines whether the legal rules applied to the payment infrastructure of currencies were technology neutral and also implemented neutrally or whether, contrary to the principle, there was difference of treatment of decentralised technology outputs – bitcoins – from the centralised technology outputs – legal tender – irrelevant of the functional equivalence of these units of payment.
Since the emergence of cyberspace there have been different legal principles evolving, such as functional equivalence and technology-neutrality, with the aim to ease the regulator´s challenge of coping with the new paradigm of virtual, digital and electronic. Currently our societies have reached the doorstep of another similar disruption: infrastructures decentralized on the basis of blockchain and distributed ledger technology, or so-called cryptoeconomics. It is time to turn to cyberspace-related principles for inspiration on how to solve similar concerns, such as applying existing regulation(s) to new technological disruption. This article looks at different understandings of the functional equivalence principle, its shortcomings and the guidance it provides to regulators and courts in dealing with the challenges related to technological innovation including that of cryptoeconomics.