I’m an attorney. As soon as I found Bitcoin I began thinking about how it would change the justice system, the rule of law, and the ways in which society resolves disputes. That was the topic of my first article for Bitcoin Magazine, which concluded with these words:

[W]hile Bitcoin will have a destabilizing effect on the civil justice system in the short-term as it continues to disintermediate the system’s financial linchpins, it is possible to leverage Bitcoin to replace this system with improved conflict resolution paradigms. Bitcoin can be the catalyst for better liability enforcement methods, but that’s not an inevitability. Bitcoin won’t just fix this. It will require concerted efforts by lawyers, developers, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders to devise and implement alternative systems.

At the time, I couldn’t yet conceive of a way to harness Bitcoin’s disintermediating power to create those alternative systems of justice.

Then I discovered the open-source protocols Nostr and Fedimint. These are, at their core, communication protocols for organizing social interactions and empowering communities, not just individuals. The rule of law is, at its core, a social construct. Thus, I realized that these bitcoin-adjacent protocols were necessary to building alternative justice systems that, like Bitcoin, are entirely separate from the state.

Like the conventional state-run fiat currency system, state-run courts have been problematic for individuals and communities across the globe. State-run courts are failing to furnish justice to the more than 4 billion people living outside the protection of the law without access to justice1, and the 54% of the population that lives under some form of authoritarian rule2. And it’s not just the developing world or autocracies where access to justice is lacking, the justice gap between low- and high-income earners in the United States is well documented3. Private, accessible, and affordable alternatives are necessary.

But since the rise of nation-states, private alternative dispute resolution (ADR) has mostly existed in the shadow of state-run courts. Arbitral awards are not self-executing. If a disputant refuses to comply, the other party must petition the courts to enforce the award, once again calling upon the coercive power of the state4. Conventional Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) systems (those that use software and the internet) are no different.

By taking conventional ADR and ODR designs, however, and deploying them on open-source protocols like Bitcoin, Nostr, and Fedimint, the link to state-run courts can be entirely severed. The result is Open Source Justice.

Open Source Justice empowers sovereign communities to peacefully and voluntarily resolve their own disputes with open-source tools. Open Source Justice embodies the belief that fairness and transparency are fundamental rights in dispute resolution. It champions community-driven approaches, leveraging open-source technology to create equitable, accessible, and decentralized solutions for conflict resolution.

And Open Source Justice is the thesis on which the Resolvr Project is built. After publishing some initial designs and putting out a call for like-minded contributors, I found some “lawyers, developers, entrepreneurs,” and cypherpunks committed to advancing justice beyond the state. Together we’ve created Nostr- and Bitcoin-native dispute resolution tools.

Our pilot product is designed for a community close to home: the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) ecosystem. We’ve built a peer-to-peer bounty marketplace.

Resolvr’s Pilot Product: The Bounty Marketplace

“The root problem with conventional currency is all the trust that’s required to make them work.”

-Satoshi Nakamoto

Satoshi could have been describing conventional bounty marketplaces, which are marred by inherent trust issues:

  • Exit scams and bankruptcies,
  • Delayed, cumbersome payouts that hinder developers’ earnings,
  • Censorship and discretion to limit access to projects.

This year, the centralized marketplace BountySource (which, in 2019, had 5,445 listed bounties worth $406,425) stopped paying out bounties to developers. The community of freelance developers that used the marketplace suspected the owners had embezzled the escrowed bounty funds.

But removing the centralized escrow doesn’t eliminate trust from the bounty economy, it just shifts it to the bounty funders, who have vastly asymmetric power due to their unlimited discretion over whether to certify a payout. They are judge and jury. And they can even change the bounty criteria after the developer has already performed work that satisfies the original bounty criteria.

A high profile example of this was the Human Rights Foundation’s (HRF) recent decision to pay only half the bounty reward for developing encrypted group chat on Nostr. After being presented with a solution that satisfied the original bounty description (which was very short and lacked detail), HRF changed its criteria to include, among other details, the requirement that the solution be a fully merged Nostr Improvement Proposal (NIP).

Current centralized marketplaces lack transparent dispute resolution to resolve such disagreements and ensure fairness in the bounty relationship. In the event of a disagreement, users usually just send a support email to an unknown decision-maker employed by the platform.

In short, the current freelance bounty economy is terribly inefficient and unfair.

Enter Open Source Justice with Resolvr. Resolvr’s peer-to-peer bounty marketplace:

  • limits discretion of bounty grantors through reputational stakes,
  • resolves disputes through crowdsourced community review of bounty solutions,
  • uses Nostr for interoperable and censorship-resistant bounty discovery,
  • uses Lighting zaps for instant bounty payouts.

Resolvr creates reputational stakes by linking users’ Nostr accounts (a set of private and public keys) to their GitHub accounts. And Nostr’s inherent transparency means that all bounty events, including payouts and crowdsourced community decisions, are public. The community can see who the deadbeats and slackers are, and choose not to work with them.

Resolvr uses Nostr zap polls (NIP-69) for crowdsourced decisions on bounty disputes. This novel use case for zap polls represents the first Nostr-native dispute resolution tool.

To facilitate bounty interoperability over Nostr, Resolvr’s team has proposed NIP-43. By standardizing how bounty events and data are handled by relays and clients, other clients besides Resolvr can contribute to bounty discovery and fulfillment – turbocharging the bounty economy.

And by integrating with the bitcoin lightning network through Nostr zaps, Resolvr can facilitate peer-to-peer, near instant bounty payouts, drastically reducing third-party custodial risk.

The combination of these features:

  • gives developers assurances of payment for solving bounties,
  • decentralizes and grows FOSS funding sources,
  • unlocks access to the global talent pool,
  • provides a frictionless on-ramp for freelancers to earn Bitcoin (₿).

What’s Next?

The next dispute resolution tool on the roadmap for the Resolvr bounty marketplace will be a real game changer: noncustodial, bitcoin-native escrow. This noncustodial escrow system will be powered by on-chain discreet log contracts 🔮. In the event of a dispute, a Resolvr oracle will attest to the results of the crowdsourced zap poll to release the funds to the winning party.

In the future, Resolvr plans to expand the list of available dispute resolution oracles by inviting communities to serve as „review associations,” earning bitcoin for resolving bounty disputes (think: foundations, hackerspaces, bitdev meetup groups).

Beyond Bounties…

The Resolvr Project is building open-source justice systems on bitcoin and adjacent protocols. That means we’re not stopping at bounties. Resolvr will revolutionize dispute resolution on a global scale, offering secure, open-source, customizable, decentralized, and radically cost-efficient mechanisms for a multiverse of use cases (e.g., mining disputes over energy contracts and hosting, realtime microtransaction disputes over GPU compute for AI agents, disputes within FediMint communities, cross-border disputes, inter-company insurance settlement, general freelance work, etc.).

Dispute Resolution is a big opportunity, and vitally necessary to the coming bitcoin-based society.

Help Resolvr build Open Source Justice! Visit resolvr.io to post and claim bounties! Contribute to the project and provide feedback on GitHub and discord. Follow our Nostr account. And view our weekly team calls, steamed live on Nostr through Zap.Stream.

Let’s create Open Source Justice together.

Citations

See www.oecd.org/gov/delivering-access-to-justice-for-all.pdf, last visited Jan. 31, 2023. Another study of 179 states found that men do not have access to justice in 123 countries, and women do not have access to justice in 127. See https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/access-to-justice-women-row; https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/access-to-justice-men-row, last visited Jan. 31, 2023. 

2 See EIU Democracy Index, available at https://www.eiu.com/n/campaigns/democracy-index-2021/, last visited Jan. 31, 2023. By another measure, over 70% of the global population lives under a form of autocracy. https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/people-living-in-democracies-autocracies?stackMode=relative&country=~OWID_WRL, last visited Jan. 31, 2023.

3 https://iaals.du.edu/sites/default/files/documents/publications/justice-needs-and-satisfaction-us.pdf; https://justicegap.lsc.gov/the-report/

4 See Riikka Koulu, Law, Technology and Dispute Resolution: Privatisation of Coercion 71 (2019) (“ADR decisions struggle with accessing enforcement in those cases where the decision is not followed on a voluntary basis. Traditionally, ADR decisions had to resort to the state’s enforcement mechanism, which meant that they were subordinated to ex ante control of due process before being enforced.”); Designing Systems at 408–09 (explaining enforcement mechanisms for arbitral awards).

This is a guest post by Aaron Daniel. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.

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