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Casper Disaster: Zamfir v. CasperLabs

Part 1 in a series exploring the nature, function and limits of trademark law in crypto, wrapped in terms of legitimacy.

If Google decided to basically clone Ethereum’s Proof-of-Stake research and launch its own blockchain under the name ‘Casper’ (with a corresponding public sale of a token called $CSPR), would that be legal?

Beyond its immediately legality, would that maneuver be legitimate in the eyes of the global blockchain community? Would it be legitimate in the eyes of nonchainers who are, as we speak, researching hundreds of blockchain projects in search of their first friendly entry point into the space?

These twin questions of legality and legitimacy are currently being tested in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. They’re also being tested in the hearts and minds of blockchainers worldwide.

In effort to safeguard ‘Casper’ for Ethereum, on March 17, 2021, an OG Etherean (Vlad Zamfir) filed a lawsuit against a former affiliate (CasperLabs LLC) [hereafter, CLL] alleging that their use of the Casper name is illegitimate, and … bottom line … illegal.

Zamfir v. CasperLabs LLC

Quick Primer on ‘Casper’

If you’re new to the space, the word ‘Casper’ is a unique and important term of art in Ethereum and the broader blockchain/tech community (on par with terms like ‘Linux’ or ‘Wiki’ outside crypto).

Casper refers to at least two major prongs (CBC Casper & Casper FFG) of multi-year open-source research and development projects. Aspects of both appear in existing and planned implementations of Eth2 and progeny. Here’s some more context from the Ethereum reddit posted by some guy.

If all of this sounds like needless nerd-speak to you, please recall the thought experiment of Google launching a ‘Casper’ chain, and just tweak it a bit.

Instead of a googly ‘Casper’ network, imagine Google launching ‘Gothereum’ or ‘Gasper’ with a corresponding sale of $gETH tokens.

If you think there’s a high chance of normies being confused by $gETH, you’re absolutely right.

Wait, I’m Confused! Why Sow Confusion?

Project A using Project B’s branding to market itself is inherently confusing.

The same dynamic is at play with CLL’s usage of ‘Casper’ — except it’s not only normies getting confused and misrouted. Even experienced blockchain actors and investors lack clarity regarding CLL’s network, token, affiliations, and intentions.

To be clear, we’ll never know the full scope of the relationship between Zamfir and CLL, even if this case went to trial. Nor will we ever know the full range of motivations that resulted in two crypto players turning to a U.S. federal court for relief. [Note to blockchain self: just because there are problematic institutions doesn’t mean we get rid of all institutions and their functions — aka, court systems, state welfare provisions].

Nevertheless, we can still learn a lot from analyzing this lawsuit through a broader aperture of substantive and procedural postures. These postures may represent new forms of crypto impact litigation, shed light on similar types of lawsuits to come, and serve as important historical precedent in both legal and extra-legal ways. These data points and trajectories are incredibly valuable on their own, irrespective of “he said; she said” allegations in the fog of memory and litigation.

What is clear from the pleadings in Zamfir v. CasperLabs is that this dispute is far more consequential than an ordinary commercial name squabble. Beneath the surface trademark issues, the central faultlines are longstanding yet spasmodic cultural rifts between open-source communities and more proprietary-minded teams. As such, outcomes here will go on to influence our digital and physical realities for decades.

This may sound like an exaggeration at first. But the history of the Internet is full of examples of rent-seeking players stepping in to appropriate and capture open-source projects through the Trojan gates of intellectual property, only to redeploy once-emancipatory tech towards openly exploitative and monopolistic aims.

Again, to be extra clear, we have no need to attribute these motivations to CLL. Rather it is important to remember that crypto is on the front lines of a massive geopolitical reorg, and that actors like CLL are deploying increasingly sophisticated lines of attack to stake out their respective cryptospace claims. And IP law is one of the monopolist’s favorite weapons. Therefore, understanding CLL’s tactics is useful far beyond the fate of Casper.

Very concretely, CLL’s trademark claims today will influence BSV and Facebook patent troll postures tomorrow.

Having raised the stakes, let’s take a step back and open our analysis with the question of legitimacy, as recently posed by Vitalik Buterin.

V for Verisimilitude

Coincidence or not, Buterin published his blog The Most Important Scarce Resource is Legitimacy the day after Judge Curiel’s first hearing in the Zamfir v. CasperLabs lawsuit.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, please take a moment to process the argument because it speaks directly to core issues here.

For TLDR folks, the highlights from Buterin’s post (double quotes and italics are Buterin’s words; single quotes, brackets, and bolds are added) include:

  • the meme ‘not your keys, not your coins’ is not quite right. The truth is more like, ‘not your crew, not your coins.’ (“Steem-the-company never actually ‘owned’ the [STEEM] coins [they thought they bought]. If they did, they would have had the practical ability to use, enjoy and abuse the coins in whatever way they wanted. But in reality, when the company tried to enjoy and abuse the coins in a way that the community did not like, they were successfully stopped.”)
  • social > individual (“Once again, millions of dollars of value are being controlled and allocated, not by individuals or cryptographic keys, but by social conceptions of legitimacy.”)
  • legitimacy > legality [> legitimacy …] (“legitimacy governs all sorts of social status games, intellectual discourse, language, property rights, political systems and national borders. Even blockchain consensus works the same way: the only difference between a soft fork that gets accepted by the community and a 51% censorship attack after which the community coordinates an extra-protocol recovery fork to take out the attacker is legitimacy.”)

In his own cryptic way, without mentioning Zamfir or Casper, Buterin is drawing a bright line in the sand concerning the use of Ethereum marks and code banks: regardless of some Casper-the-company’s claim to actually ‘own’ the Casper trademark, in the end, social conceptions of legitimacy will determine control and allocation of property and other rights surrounding this name (and, crucially, the stacks of technologies associated with the name).

If we stepped back a moment to think about it, the very idea that one ‘owns’ something, and that such ownership confers ‘this or that’ ability to do things or stop others from doing things with that ‘something’ is itself very much reliant on existing social conceptions of legitimacy. Kidneys are not valid legal assets on the market. Why? Because ‘we’ (read: representative government) say so. Of course, a lot can get swept under the moniker of ‘legitimacy’ (or ‘society’ for that matter) but the point remains that is it just about inconceivable to imagine a scenario that is not wrapped up in pre-existing norms of social legitimacy. That goes for blockchain as well.

Google and CLL can hire the very best lawyers money can buy, but the legitimacy (and corresponding legality) of their use of ‘Casper’ will always hinge on how the proverbial ‘community’ decides to treat their friendly or unfriendly ghosts.

Vitalik’s legitimacy argument is a strong shot across the bow of strict positivists and propertarians. It’s not limited to Casper, either. The underlying postures reflect deep tensions (and can help predict outcomes!) in, say, ongoing duels between Uniswap and SushiSwap, as well as other types of disputes in the new ‘cloneconomy’ (aka ‘forkonomy’ h/t Dovey Wan).

So NFTable! Alas, this Tweet is unavailable.

With legitimacy in mind, let’s now go deeper into the legal issues.

Unpacking Zamfir v. CasperLabs

Whatever the scope of any outstanding contractual relationships between Zamfir and CLL, at its core, the present dispute is about avoiding confusion around the term ‘Casper.’

(Un)disputed Core Facts:

  1. Zamfir introduced the term ‘Casper’ into blockchain lexicon as early as 2015/2016;
  2. Zamfir became affiliated with CLL on or around 2018;
  3. CLL applied for a word trademark over ‘Casper’ in late 2019, and the trademark was registered with the USPTO on November 17, 2020 (see USPTO screenshot below);
  4. on or around 2020, Zamfir and CLL began to dispute the scope of licensing, intellectual property and contractual arrangements between them (presumably, among other deeper business and/or research disputes);
  5. on or around late 2020 and early 2021, Zamfir learned about CLL’s plans to launch a blockchain network with the name Casper, along with an ICO under the token symbol $CSPR (pronounced, ‘Casper’);
  6. in early 2021, Zamfir sent a formal notice to CLL demanding that CLL cease-and-desist using ‘Casper’ to refer to its planned network and/or platform token;
  7. CLL proceeded to market its initial token offering under the Casper name, with the launch starting on March 22, 2021 (with the sale ongoing for several days thereafter);
  8. On March 17, Zamfir filed a lawsuit against CLL including a motion asking the court for a preliminary injunction (PI) and/or temporary restraining order (TRO) preventing defendant CLL from proceeding with their token offering (and/or network launch) under the name Casper, among other things;
  9. On March 26, Judge Curiel denied Zamfir’s TRO motion, which means the parties will now likely proceed to amended pleadings, and so-called ‘motion practice’

If you want to know why the court did not take emergency action to block the sale of $CSPR, please read Judge Curiel’s order, which is very thorough.

Our focus here remains on the big picture. In this big picture view, Zamfir will likely want to take the case all the way to a jury trial so that a jury of his peers can ultimately decide whether they would be confused by $CSPR on CLL’s planned Casper network as opposed to Casper implementations and projects on the Ethereum network.

Questions Presented:

With that in mind, here are some questions of law and fact that Judge Curiel and jury would likely have to decide at various points in the lawsuit:

  • what is the scope of CLL’s trademark #88979132 regarding the word ‘Casper’ — ?
  • Echoing Judge Curiel’s question in the TRO hearing, does Casper’s provenance as an open-source Ethereum project mean that anybody can use the term to refer to whatever products or services they wish to offer, globally?
  • what, exactly, are CLL’s ‘Casper’ products/services as opposed to Ethereum’s ‘Casper’ products/services?
  • what is the marketplace in which CLL and Ethereum operate?
  • who are the classes of consumers and stakeholders who are likely to be confused by CLL’s usage of ‘Casper’ — ?

Parties’ Broad Legal Postures:

Zamfir does not contest that CLL registered a trademark over Casper.

Rather, the core factual questions in dispute appear to be: (1) whether or not CLL agreed to license the trademark, either fully or partially, back to Zamfir, and (2) the scope of Zamfir’s rights to use Casper irrespective of any U.S. and/or foreign trademark claims by CLL; (3) the scope of CLL’s rights to use Casper irrespective of any U.S. and/or foreign trademark, equitable, and/or other claims by Zamfir.

In essence, Zamfir claims CLL promised him some type of grant-back license, and/or assignment and/or reversion in relation to the Casper trademark (CLL disputes this). His equitable claims rest on the fact that he presumably relied on these promises; that it was reasonable for him (or any similarly-situated individual) to do so; and that he relied on CLL’s promises to his detriment. [Note: the equitable claims/postures above are reverse-engineered from Zamfir’s pleadings, remedies sought, and arguments raised by Zamfir’s lawyers at the March 22 hearing; Zamfir has not asserted standalone equitable claims at this stage, although it is reasonable to infer that his March 17th Complaint will be amended to plead additional claims, including those sounding in equity].

Notice how social legitimacy, and not simply ‘the law’, is crucial to figuring out how to decide this dispute. Was it legitimate for Zamfir to rely on these promises? To figure that out, we need a sense of what counts as they ‘type’ of promise that one would ‘reasonably’ think to be able to ‘rely’ on, and we’d need a relatively clear sense of what sort of action ‘shows’ reliance, ‘shows’ a promise, and so forth… To figure those questions out, we have to think of what we as a society, or a sub-community (or in legal talk, a ‘market’ or ‘industry’) consider to be legitimate forms of promise and reliance. At stake here is not simply what the law ‘says’, but what we will consider legitimate, and whether that social consensus over legitimacy will have the force of law.

CLL disputes Zamfir’s allegation that it promised any sort of assignment. CLL’s broad posture is that as the registered owners of the Casper trademark, their use of Casper for their network and token offering is fully legal. The argument amounts to CLL having exclusive right to use the Casper name, potentially foreclosing concurrent use by anyone else.

Discrete Legal Claims:

Zamfir’s Complaint alleges two claims: (1) false designation of origin (under federal statutory law) and (2) unfair competition (under California common law). Although the claims are discrete (meaning Zamfir can prevail on both, one, or neither), they are both factually and legally interrelated.

The federal claim alleges that the way CLL has been using the Casper mark is improper. If CLL’s use of Casper terms leads to confusion regarding the origin of particular goods, services, and networks, it constitutes a violation of the U.S. Lanham Act, entitling Zamfir to various remedies.

Here’s the relevant part of the statute:

Underlying Policies:

William Kratzke, a member of the American Law Institute and eminent trademark scholar, explains the underlying economic and policy principles behind strong trademark protections for original creators of trademarked goods/services as follows:

The trademark that conveys material messages to consumers concerning the user’s goods or services or reputation is the manifestation of value that [say, Zamfir, Buterin, and other Ethereans] created.

[…] law should not permit others to use the same mark with respect to their products to confuse the message that the trademark imparts lest a consumer makes an unintended purchase. In its most damaging form, concurrent use on apparently identical competitive products or services — i.e., the counterfeit — surely impairs a trademark’s information-transmission function and diminishes social wealth.

Importantly, U.S. trademark law is not the only body of rules that entitles parties like Zamfir to remedies in these sorts of cases.

There exists a large and growing body of federal and state law covering unfair competition, misrepresentation, and equitable rights — designed to protect consumers from unwittingly making purchases based on confusion regarding the origin of the product or services they are buying (even if the confusion does not result in actual trade diversion from one competitor to another).

As the U.S. Supreme Court noted in FTC v. Algoma Lumber Co., 291 U.S. 67, 81 (1934),

[T]here is a kind of fraud, as courts of equity have long perceived, in clinging to a benefit which is the product of misrepresentation . . .[N]o matter what [the] motives of [respondents] may have been when they began [using the phrase “California White Pine,”] [t]hey must extricate themselves from it by purging their business methods of a capacity to deceive.”

As Kratzke points out, mere profit from a misrepresentation presumably constitutes proof of having engaged in an “unfair method of competition.” In the decades that followed, the FTC’s “capacity to deceive” standard was interpreted by courts in many open-ended ways. Ultimately, in 1984, the FTC itself narrowed the standard to three elements of deception:

  1. a misrepresentation, omission, or practice likely to mislead consumers;
  2. a reasonable interpretation by consumers under the circumstances; and,
  3. materiality of the misrepresentation, practice, or omission, i.e., likely to affect consumer conduct or choice concerning the product.

The key point here is that trademark claims must be analyzed together with related “unfair competition” precedent. This is especially true, as here, in cases concerning false designation of origin that also allege unfair competition (see Count 2 of Zamfir Complaint, paragraphs 68–71).

Is CLL’s Usage of ‘Casper’ Fair?

Applying the rules and principles above to the facts here, it is reasonable to conclude that CLL’s use of ‘Casper’ to refer to its network and tokens has already misled some consumers into buying $CSPR under the false belief that CLL and/or its products/services are somehow affiliated with (and/or endorsed by) Ethereum’s Casper projects and/or researchers.

Screenshot from page 9 of First Supplemental Declaration of Vlad Zamfir In Support of Motion for Preliminary Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order, filed March 22, 2021

Importantly, we are not talking about intent to mislead here. Even seemingly-benign or even well-intentioned practices that are likely to mislead consumers may be sufficient to constitute false designation of origin and/or unfair competition.

But direct and circumstantial evidence of intent can be highly probative. And here, CLL finds itself in a pickle. For as everyone in the space knows, CLL named itself CasperLabs and decided to name its network and token ‘Casper’ precisely because the name is so strongly associated with Ethereum, proper.

CLL courted Zamfir precisely because he was a key face of Casper research within the Ethereum ecosystem. Even after litigation started, a CLL co-founder acknowledged Telegram chatter regarding likely confusion, going so far as to suggest that renaming the token and network would be a “Big Whoop.” Yet CLL proceeded under the Casper name.

Screenshot from page 13 of First Supplemental Declaration of Vlad Zamfir In Support of Motion for Preliminary Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order, filed March 22, 2021

If Zamfir and others acquiesced to CLL’s usage of ‘Casper’ based on express and/or implied promises regarding continued collaboration, compensation, and/or other reasonable expectations, it makes sense why they did not oppose CLL’s trademark applications or assert their claims until now.

Fact discovery on these and other questions is ongoing.

Yet from the vantage point of a crypto-curious neutral consumer with no prior exposure to CLL and/or Zamfir’s work, it is undeniable that Casper-branded services are intended to (and do) evoke a clear associational link between CLL and Ethereum-native Casper projects. (Linux / Red Hat Enterprise Linux may offer a useful analogy here, and is discussed below.)

For now, this may still seem like abstract analysis. However, please note that this type of analysis based on the pleadings and reasonable inferences is exactly what the court has already started to do and will be doing throughout litigation. But in effort to distill the issues further, let’s return to the common law unfair competition claims and statutory trademark claims and try to restate them: from hardcore legalese to something a bit more accessible.

Core Questions of Law & Fact:

Unfair Competition

Zamfir’s unfair competition claim under California common law is styled laconically, as follows:

69. Defendant’s unlawful use of the CASPER trademark described above constitutes unfair competition resulting in damage to Plaintiffs in violation of the Common Law of the State of California.

In light of what is “described above,” (the false designation of origin allegations) this unfair competition claim can be reframed in several ways:

  • Is it fair for Competitor A to front-run the release of a service by Competitor B by appropriating Competitor B’s well-known trademark?
  • Is it fair to impose an extremely high information load onto consumers to differentiate two seemingly-related projects where Competitor A has obtained trademark registrations that, semantically and symbolically, cause confusion with Competitor B’s project?
  • Is it fair for a for-profit firm to appropriate open-source public goods and then repackage them into a token sale under the name of the open-source research project?

Each of these restatements still feels incomplete, though.

So, in the spirit of crowdsourced knowledge production, how would you articulate the full range of stakes and interests in the unfair competition claim? Your input is extremely valuable here because if you’ve read thus far, you’re clearly a stakeholder who will be affected by the outcome here. So please drop a comment below, reach out on DMs, and so on.

Lanham Act (15 U.S. Code § 1125)

The statutory claim under 15 U.S. Code § 1125 is much easier to restate:

  • is CLL’s usage of ‘Casper’ likely to “cause mistake […] as to the affiliation, connection, or association of [CLL] with [Ethereum, and/or Zamfir and/or Buterin and/or other Ethereum Casper researchers and developers], or as to the origin, sponsorship, or approval of [CLL’s] goods, services, or commercial activities by [say, Zamfir and/or Buterin]” — ?
  • in simpler terms, are some people buying $CSPR under the mistaken belief that CLL has ‘blessing’ from some Ethereum OGs and/or the Ethereum Foundation?

Again, you and the jury will ultimately decide these common law and statutory questions. So what do you think is going on here?

To the extent it can help sharpen our focus and bolster the big picture argument above, let’s close our preliminary analysis with an analogy.

Casper ~ Linux

Of course, this is not the first time that a private actor has sought to capitalize on the successes of an open-source tech community. In fact, this dispute shares remarkable parallels to a famous trademark dispute from the mid-1990s concerning Linux.

In 1994, a crafty Boston lawyer by the name of William R. Della Croce, Jr., filed an application to register the ‘Linux’ trademark. The application was successful and in September 1995, Croce obtained registration over ‘Linux.’ The following year, he sent a flood of letters to Linux developers, demanding a 10% royalty on all of their sales of Linux-related software and services.

As a trademark troll, Della Croce’s posture was somewhat different from CLL’s here. But recall CLL’s argument that they “own” the registered Casper trademark, not only in the U.S., but also in many other national jurisdictions. Therefore, it is conceivable that CLL could try to use its IP portfolio to block concurrent use of ‘Casper’ by the very Ethereans who came up with, popularized, and then deployed their respective ‘Casper’ networks.

The Linux and OSS community pushed back hard against Della Croce. After litigation, the trademark (#74560867) was transferred to Linus Torvalds in his individual capacity. Torvalds subsequently assigned the trademark to a legal entity — the Linux Mark Institute — whose sole job was to freely license Linux to … good faith Linux developers.

Today, commercial entities like Red Hat Enterprise Linux do use the Linux name, but licensing and attribution lines have been greatly clarified. The greater the clarity between teams of developers, the lower the likelihood of confusion among consumers and users.

In light of ongoing confusion, CLL would be wise to clarify its intentions regarding Casper as soon as possible, especially on the issue of concurrent use. A default posture of staying mum during litigation is not workable here because Casper is not merely Zamfir’s intellectual property: many other Ethereans have Casper sticks in the metaphorical “bundle of rights” as well.

And nobody profits from escalating the dispute.

Except, of course, the lawyers.

Was Litigation Really Appropriate Here?

Whether we’re talking about crypto or non-crypto disputes, it’s always hard to assess whether litigation is the best dispute resolution modality, especially when parties have multiple alternative ways of resolving their differences.

As a sophisticated crypto law person, Zamfir’s decision to sue an affiliate in a U.S. federal court was likely not taken lightly. Yet returning to questions of posture between the parties, we should acknowledge how Zamfir’s Complaint, by itself, has enabled at least some consumers and users to differentiate CLL from Ethereum. That is already a win from the standpoint of reducing confusion in the crypto marketplace.

Stated differently, Zamfir’s failure to intervene via formal litigation at this stage might have amounted to waiver of rights to Casper altogether, not only estopping him in an individual capacity from attempts to reclaim the full bundle of Casper-related rights, but, much more consequentially: (1) perpetuating confusion among prospective $CSPR buyers regarding Zamfir’s and/or others’ affiliation and/or endorsement of CLL’s projects; (2) legitimizing CLL’s usage of ‘Casper.’

That being said, only a small fraction of consumers and users make market decisions only after doing thorough legal due diligence to uncover whether their intended purchase or use has potential clouds on legal title. This point further underscores the importance of legitimacy as a corollary of legality in the adjudication and resolution of legal disputes, especially ones concerning crypto legal relations.

Complex legal disputes like these may take years to resolve in the courts. That delay offers some advantages here: (1) spotlight effects vis-a-vis relevant actors; (2) greater opportunities for awareness-raising among diverse groups of global stakeholders; and (3) raising techno-social competence of national courts with respect to underlying blockchain technologies; and so forth.

On the other hand, justice delayed is justice denied, bringing us full-circle back to “legitimacy” not only in some theoretical sense (as legality’s ghost particle), but now also in terms of concrete processes of legitimation.

Legitimacy’s Cool; Legitimation’s Cooler

As blockchain governance stakeholders, we all know that legitimacy may be litigated much quicker and much more resolutely in other crypto legal settings … from Reddit to #CryptoTwitter, on up and down. We also know that these venues and processes are grossly inadequate for the task of blockchain governance and dispute resolution.

The Casper disaster yet again highlights the need for more rigorous study of legitimation dynamics both within and outside blockchain. Yet who will do that work when a leading blockchain governance voice is now laden with stacks of document review, months of deposition prep, and trial preparation?

The bottom line is if you want the real deal Casper to please stand up, you have to make your voice heard. You also have to make your voice heard about how you prefer to have your voice heard.


Buterin’s legitimacy piece has a cool recap ending, so we’ll take a page out of CLL’s book and adopt a technique that clearly seems to be working.

As we can see, this dispute has far-ranging implications for the crypto space, far beyond the factually-discrete matter of use concerning the term ‘Casper’ (although that by itself is rather significant). This is not some run-of-the-mill trademark dispute between two nominally ‘private’ crypto actors.

The remedies sought here and the types of claims being litigated highlight the ever-present linkage between traditional state-based adjudicatory power and crypto legal actors. How could/would a court enforce its equitable reach to participants in a crypto ICO project? This is especially relevant in cases where, as here, crypto actors deliberately and formally fragment their respective corporate bodies precisely in attempt to limit their liability (and courts’ adjudicatory reach) in these types of disputes.

We’ll explore these themes in follow-up posts as they continue to ripen. For now, let’s close the analysis with the following overview:

  • the name ‘Casper’ is a big deal within crypto and if you’re not familiar with Casper research, you really owe it to yourself to get up to speed to see what Ethereans are up to (and why CLL hired some pretty heavy legal muscle to defend their right to use Casper tech)
  • within blockchain and broader global tech space and in broader global tech communities, ‘Casper’ is now synonymous in a general sense with Ethereum’s launched Proof-of-Stake (PoS/Eth2) architecture (significance: many other players aside from CLL are building out Casper stacks; therefore, Zamfir’s and CLL’s claims affect their rights and roadmaps in a very direct way too);
  • with respect to trademark and consumer confusion, there are many different Casper roadmaps within Ethereum (Casper FFG, Casper CBC, etc.) — and since there are many Caspers by design, any attempt to claim one Casper implementation as the authoritative Casper version or fork or branch is prima facie misleading in light of how Casper is used and understood in the blockchain community;
  • Casper tech stacks are foundational to Ethereum and Casper-related research is a significant ongoing research effort within the Ethereum ecosystem;
  • CasperLabs LLC’s usage of ‘Casper’ to refer to its planned network and token is extremely confusing to market participants because, inter alia, it does not differentiate between CLL and Ethereum initiatives; and
  • fundamental stresses and tensions in legal relations between OSS crypto researcher/developer communities and more traditional for-profit firms entering crypto.

Forecast & Recommendation

So, how will this dispute end? Realistically, what power would a U.S. federal court have over the name of a crypto coin and/or network? How will litigation impact intra-blockchain governance processes?

The question of enforcement and scope of remedies is especially important here because the relevant entity conducting the ICO on behalf of CLL is actually a non-U.S. corporation. CLL itself is incorporated in Wyoming, but the Casper Association is headquartered in Switzerland, and the contractual relationships between the respective legal entities and their principals are apparently unclear to the legal entities and their respective principals.

For now, to avert an even worse Casper disaster, the Ethereum and broader crypto community will need to rally around a shared cause: protection of well-known crypto trademarks from squatters, bad faith actors, and opportunists who (like Della Croce) are using existing legal forms to severely restrict crypto actors freedom of action.

Again, this is not only about Zamfir or the name ‘Casper.’ A very similar dynamic is at play with the ‘Ethereum’ trademark as well.

More bluntly, even if you don’t care about Casper or Ethereum, if you’re in crypto, you presumably care a great deal about understanding the reach of national courts over crypto. Therefore, you should care about unpacking the legitimacy ↔ legality continuum here.

Because the alternative is a legitimacy ↔ legality dynamic that gets unpacked on you and upon you.

Without your consent.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — —

[mega h/t to Anuj Das Gupta for emphasizing the importance of legitimacy frameworks here & more generally, brilliant insights & conversations regarding the future of crypto]




A journal pushing the bounds of our legal imaginaries, on-chain, off-chain, and against the chain.

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