If Ned's stake was under a true obligation, it would be in the form of a contract. Setting aside the fact that there is no written, much less signed contract that looked anything like the one I'm showing below, we can assume that it's closer to a verbal contract.
TL;DR: No, Both Ned and the community was in full breach of contract by HF17/18 and the witnesses did nothing to avoid it. Therefore, no valid contract currently exists.
There are requirements under many juridictions, like:
- Both parties must know of the existence of the contract. Let's stipulate that Ned and the community were aware of the contract.
- The contract must have an expiration. Let's stipulate that Ned and the community implied 99 years as the contract term, so we don't have to worry too much about when it began and when it would end.
Therefore, let's walk through it to see if the obligation currently has the rest of the elements of a contract, as it evolved and became more specific:
An offer is a promise to act or refrain from acting, which is made in exchange for a return promise to do the same.
For example, Ned makes an offer (promise) to the community: If you invest in Steem, I will hold on to this large pile of pre-mined Steem out of the reward mechanism as if it didn't exist, and off exchanges, thereby functionally reducing the supply. In addition, if any part of it ever does go to an exchange, it is only for development of the platform.
Acceptance of an offer is the expression of assent to its terms.
Community accepts this offer from Ned with the intent to devote resources to the Steem project in the form of time, effort, mining, and funds.
At this point, mining also begins (anticipating price speculation down the road), though it's not really part of the contract yet.
Each party to a contract must provide something of value that induces the other to enter the agreement.
Ned keeps the funds off the exchange and refrains from using them to vote for witnesses and content. The community begins to mine and design a plan to improve the platform.
Price speculation continues. At this point, if this were a timeline, the community is, in theory, already taking profits on their investments. Some people get into speculation, some people get out of speculation.
At this point, many in the community have already benefitted from the contract if they mined/speculated, even though it's only in Consideration phase.
Also during this phase, HF14 introduces the ability to decline voting rights, which Ned never enables. This should be seen as a warning to witnesses that they may need to act because, although late to the discussion, this operation would ratify half of the Consideration element on-chain.
It should be noted that some founder funds are being used to vote for witnesses and content, but this is not part of the contract and should be excused for this evaluation.
Mutuality of Obligation
Both parties become bound to perform their obligations or else the agreement as if neither party is bound to perform.
Ned continues to keep the stake locked up, never utilizing it for anything, as promised, with the one exception of only selling in certain amounts to directly fund development. It should be noted that the price of STEEM has risen enough for this to be feasible.
The community works on the platform and/or buys STEEM to hold as a store of value.
This is where we have a problem. Ned did not keep the stake locked up. As blockchain features were added, (e.g.: delegation), the stake became partially unlocked.
Remember that both parties are bound to perform their obligations or else the agreement as if neither party is bound to perform.
Therefore, the community was under the false assumption that the contract existed, when in fact, it (or some of it) was in breach the moment the stake became delegated.
This does not mean Ned was the only person who needed to breach the contact to make it invalid. It means the community has justification to do something.
One could speculate that this is when the community was in its rights to bring a class-action lawsuit against Ned, but they didn't.
More importantly, the witnesses knew, or should have known, that they could have deployed a softfork to bring Ned back into the contract, but they didn't. Instead, they authorize the breach for an additional 6 hardforks.
The witnesses may not have had the technical ability to deploy a softfork to limit Ned's activity. But their job was to authorize hardforks and they continued to do so, knowing Ned was in breach.
Furthermore, by HF16, the witnesses authorized the 13-week powerdown which further undermined the effectiveness of declined voting rights.
By this time, I assert that the contract is functionally abandoned.
Competency and Capacity
Just means that the person is not a minor, not mentally incapacitated, and not intoxicated.
An interesting note is that people who assert that Ned had a contract with the community must also assert he was not a minor, was not mentally incapacitated, and not intoxicated when the contract was agreed upon.