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
On July 16, 2018, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) issued a customer advisory on digital tokens. Citing various studies and reports, the advisory identified high rates of fraud in some initial coin offerings, and warned investors to be on the lookout for the following risks associated with investing in digital tokens:
- The potential for forks in open-source applications that could split away market participants, increase the number of digital coins or make coins obsolete.
- Decrease in mining or validation costs (if price is tied to those factors).
- Acceptance of other currencies, coins or tokens for offered goods and services.
- The link between the value of a digital coin or token and the offered product or service.
- Adoption of the digital coin or token as a broad medium of exchange or store of value.
- Future competitors or technological changes that could disrupt the underlying business.
- Future demand or uses for an application, network, product or service.
- Liquidity in the market for a specific digital coin or token.
- Changes to the underlying technology that could devalue digital coins or tokens.
- Risk of theft from hacking.
The CFTC has largely ceded enforcement authority for digital tokens that are securities to the Securities and Exchange Commission, but the advisory reminds readers that “digital tokens and coins can also be derivatives or commodities, depending on how they are structured.”