On September 24, 2019, the House Financial Services Committee held an oversight hearing entitled “Oversight of the Securities and Exchange Commission: Wall Street’s Cop on the Beat” in which each of the five SEC commissioners were called as witnesses. While the hearing covered a wide range of issues related to securities regulation and enforcement, it also touched on a number of topics of particular interest to crypto and blockchain businesses, including the application of the securities laws to digital assets.
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On July 8, 2019, the SEC’s Division of Trading and Markets and FINRA’s Office of General Counsel issued a Joint Statement on Broker-Dealer Custody of Digital Asset Securities. The Joint Statement discusses several provisions of the federal securities laws applicable to registered broker-dealers that may be implicated when such entities custody digital asset securities.
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As this short video explains, the “initial exchange offering,” or IEO, is the latest innovation in the offer and sale of cryptocurrencies. By partnering with a crypto exchange to aid in marketing and listing efforts, issuers engaging in an IEO hope to obtain better visibility and liquidity for their products. But like the ICOs they seek to replace, IEOs raise a host of potential issues under the US federal securities laws.
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In a case being closely watched by the crypto community, a California federal judge reversed his earlier decision and, on reconsideration, issued a preliminary injunction against ICO issuer Blockvest LLC. Although the SEC has a high success rate in litigated cases, its action against Blockvest was notable because the judge initially declined to grant the SEC’s request for a preliminary injunction, then ruling that “at this stage, without full discovery and disputed issues of material facts, the Court cannot make a determination whether the BLV token offered to the 32 test investors was a ‘security.’” After reviewing new evidence, the judge subsequently reversed his position and found that Blockvest had indeed issued a security.
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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 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.
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State and provincial securities regulators across the US and Canada have been actively policing the marketplace for ICOs and security token offerings, supplementing efforts at the federal level undertaken by the SEC. Colorado and North Dakota are among the latest states to announce enforcement actions in the crypto space.
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On November 8, 2018, the SEC announced settled charges against an unlicensed digital token exchange. It represents the SEC’s first enforcement action based on findings that such a platform operated as an unregistered national securities exchange. This action follows first-of-their kind enforcement actions that the SEC brought in September against an unregistered broker-dealer and an unregistered investment company that each transacted in digital securities.
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