The year 2018 was a busy one for the SEC in the digital asset space, with the agency cementing its role as the primary de facto regulator of crypto finance in the United States. The SEC’s enforcement division was operating at full speed, bringing a series of enforcement cases in the crypto space with an emphasis on fraud and scams involving digital assets. Notably, the SEC brought first of its kind cases involving digital securities against an unregistered broker-dealer, an unregistered investment company and an unregistered token exchange. The SEC also took action against an airdrop of securities, while at the same time providing general guidance on when the federal securities laws apply in the first place.
At a recent securities regulation conference, Bill Hinman, Director of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance, indicated that the agency intends to release “plain English” guidance around the issue of whether an ICO is a security. The SEC has provided guidance on these issues in its DAO Report and Hinman’s own prior speech, and as we have frequently blogged, has been actively enforcing perceived violations of the federal securities laws. The idea behind the plain English guidance appears to be to consolidate the SEC staff’s views into a single “how to” document for use by the lay person. Continue Reading SEC Plans “Plain English” ICO Guidance
As we have previously blogged, state and provincial securities regulators across the U.S. and Canada have been actively policing the marketplace for ICOs and security token offerings, supplementing efforts at the federal level in the United States undertaken by the SEC. Texas and Massachusetts have been particularly active on this front, and New York recently issued a blistering report on the status of crypto exchanges. Colorado and North Dakota are among the latest states to announce enforcement actions against crypto businesses. Continue Reading Colorado and North Dakota Announce ICO Enforcement Actions
On Monday, October 22, 2018, Judge J. Paul Oetken of the Southern District of New York granted Alibaba Group Holding Limited’s (“Alibaba”) motion for preliminary injunction in a trademark action against several foreign-based promoters and developers of a new cryptocurrency called “AlibabaCoin.” In doing so, the court considered several novel issues around personal jurisdiction and blockchain. Continue Reading Alibaba Wins Preliminary Injunction Against Developers of Cryptocurrency “AlibabaCoin” In Trademark Dispute
Hunton Andrews Kurth partner Scott Kimpel, chair of the Firm’s blockchain working group, recently participated in a panel discussion hosted by the Washington Legal Foundation regarding the latest legal issues associated with ICOs and security token offerings. Co-panelists included Alan Cohn, formerly of the Department of Homeland Security and Daniel Alter, former general counsel of the New York Department of Financial Services. Continue Reading Initial Coin Offerings: Can Securities Regulators Balance Market Growth and Investor Protection?
Recently, in a wide-ranging speech, the SEC’s Chief Accountant, Wes Bricker, provided his thoughts on how the SEC accounting staff analyzes accounting issues surrounding digital assets and distributed ledger technology. Bricker emphasized that companies must continue to maintain appropriate books and records, irrespective of whether distributed ledger technology, smart contracts or other technology-driven applications are (or are not) used. Likewise, when accounting for digital assets, companies should act appropriately within the parameters of the existing requirements of the federal securities laws. Accordingly, they should consider traditional regulations and accounting standards such as those relating to books and records, internal accounting controls, internal control over financial reporting, and custody. Bricker emphasized that “[d]istributed ledger technology and digital assets, despite their exciting possibilities, do not alter this fundamental responsibility.” Continue Reading SEC’s Chief Accountant Discusses Digital Assets
On September 11, 2018, capital markets regulators announced a series of cases that are the first of their kind in the digital assets space.
The SEC announced its first case charging unregistered broker-dealers for selling digital tokens. According to the SEC’s order, the defendants operated a self-described “ICO Superstore” that solicited investors, took thousands of customer orders for digital tokens, processed investor funds, and handled more than 200 different digital tokens in connection with both ICOs and the defendants’ own secondary market activities. The defendants also promoted the sale of approximately 40 digital tokens in exchange for marketing fees paid by digital token issuers. Because the digital tokens issued in the ICOs and traded by defendants included securities under the SEC’s DAO Report, the SEC concluded that the defendants’ market activities required broker-dealer registration with the SEC. Continue Reading A Day of Firsts
As we previously reported, in May 2018, more than 40 state and provincial securities regulators in the United States and Canada launched a coordinated enforcement sweep of the ICO market dubbed “Operation Cryptosweep.” On August 28, 2018, the North American Securities Administrators Association (“NASAA”) published a press release with an update on the progress of this initiative. According to NASAA, more than 200 active investigations of ICOs and cryptocurrency-related investment products are currently underway, and blue sky regulators have brought 46 enforcement actions to date. Continue Reading NASAA Updates Status of “Operation Cryptosweep”
A recent settled SEC enforcement action against an ICO issuer (the “Company”) and its promoter calls into question the viability of the “airdrop” model of distributing digital tokens to investors. In the ICO context, an “airdrop” generally refers to the widespread distribution of digital tokens to community members either for free or in exchange for performing menial tasks. Whether such a distribution model runs afoul of the federal securities laws has been the subject of much debate in recent months, and the SEC’s case provides additional insight into their analysis of the issue. While a narrow path for airdrops may remain, the case will significantly curtail their current use. Continue Reading SEC Brings Enforcement Case Involving “Airdrop” of Securities
In a terse press release issued July 26, 2018, the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (“FINMA”) announced that it has launched enforcement proceedings against an ICO issuer based on evidence that the company may have “breached financial market law.” According to FINMA, the proceedings focus in particular on possible breaches of Swiss banking law resulting from the potentially unauthorized acceptance of public deposits. FINMA noted that, in the context of its ICO, the subject company “accepted funds amounting to approximately one hundred million francs from more than 30,000 investors in return for issuing EVN tokens in a bond-like form.” Continue Reading Switzerland Announces ICO Enforcement Action