Ownership vs possession

A few weeks ago I came across the following Tweet:

TDIL (That Day I Learned) that even the most knowledgeable can be defenseless against perceived authority as they shut down critical thinking.

Everyone should know that the law distinguishes possession from ownership. That’s what allows safe deposit boxes to exist or makes theft a crime. I also agree that unintentional possession can be a problem in some circumstances. I certainly don’t want drugs put in my backpack, without my knowledge, when I’m travelling!

But let’s consider the example where someone offers you a $100 bill. If you don’t know the person you may want to reject it because you don’t want to be exposed to whatever comes attached to that offer. (That would be a useful feature for CoinText, for example. When you send Bitcoin Cash to a new number, that number could first receive a message asking for consent, before actually doing the transfer.) But if you’re face to face, and accept the money, it’s hard to argue that you don’t intend to receive it.

So let’s change the situation! Imagine you put $1 in an envelope and into someone else’s mailbox. (It’s your money now, so we’ll use less. Even imaginary money is hard to give away.) Would you say that that person cannot spend the money? Would you say that you didn’t intend to give that money or, in other terms, transfer the ownership of that money? I would guess not.

Bitcoin Cash works like that and even makes intent clearer. Contrary to intuition, when you give someone your address and that person sends you Bitcoin Cash it’s the other person that stipulates how you can spend that money. Attached to the transaction is a contract, in Bitcoin script, that basically says “the only person that can spend this coins is the owner of the key for this address”. So, whenever someone sends you Bitcoin Cash, they are voluntarily writing a contract that gives you ownership of the coins and signing it. It’s a bit hard to argue, after that, that the person didn’t intend to send you the coins or that you can’t spend them. The only thing you need to convert that possession to ownership is have the intent to own them. Do you want money? There! It’s yours.

If Bitcoin Cash was perfectly fungible, that is, if no one could know where did the coins come from, then no one would worry about these things. But coins can be tracked and sending someone a small amount, just to then track their expenses, is a real possibility. People can look for these cases (some actually do) and donate those coins to miners. It’s the equivalent of receiving money in your mailbox and handing it over to the police. The price of a little more privacy…

Obviously laws are different everywhere. Apparently moose cannot be thrown from a plane and I’ve heard from someone that some dictator or emperor ordered the Sun to rise at a certain time. It’s possible to put anything into law. But let’s be real and be critical. Laws are always behind the times and some things just don’t make sense.

Disclaimer: this post was written very high on mount stupid.