Blockchain and the Law

Crypto Exchange Obtains Favorable Ruling in Arbitration of Claims over Alleged Trading Losses

This past month, a California district court granted a motion to compel arbitration of various claims by customers of cryptocurrency exchange platform, Coinbase Global, Inc. (“Coinbase”), finding that Coinbase’s User Agreement, which contains a broad arbitration provision, including a delegation clause that delegates questions of arbitrability to the arbitrator.  (Donovan v. Coinbase Global, Inc., No. 22-02826 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 6, 2023)). Unlike some electronic contracting disputes, which turn on whether the user had adequate notice of the terms and manifested consent to such terms (a ruling which often involves an examination of a site or app’s screen display and whether the user is reasonably presented with notice that completing a transaction will bind the user to terms of service), the account holders in this case did not dispute that they had agreed to the User Agreement, rather they argued that the arbitration provision and delegation clauses were unconscionable and unenforceable. Continue Reading

Consumer Law Claims against French Crypto Asset Wallet Provider May Proceed in California Court

Customer lists held by providers and the personal information users enter to obtain digital wallets or set up crypto exchange accounts are enviable targets for hackers.  Such data can be used to launch targeted phishing schemes and related scams to trick holders into divulging their private keys or else unknowingly transferring anonymized crypto assets to hackers.  One recent case involves a suit brought by customers who purchased a hardware wallet to secure cryptocurrency assets and are seeking redress for harms they allegedly suffered following data breaches that exposed their personal information.

A recent Ninth Circuit decision analyzed whether a federal court had personal jurisdiction over a foreign crypto asset wallet provider, an issue that can be important when litigating in this area, given the boundary-less nature of the world of crypto assets and related services. (Baton v. Ledger SAS, No. 21-17036 (9th Cir. Dec. 1, 2022) (unpublished)).  Continue Reading

New York Department of Financial Services Issues Cryptocurrency-Related Guidance to Banks, Increases Regulatory Scope

At a time when states are jockeying for position to become digital asset and cryptocurrency hubs and we’ve witnessed turmoil and regulatory uncertainty within the cryptoasset industry, the New York Department of Financial Services (“NYDFS”) on December 15, 2022 released its final Guidance (the “Guidance”) to banking organizations seeking to engage in “new or significantly different” virtual currency-related activities. As stated in the Guidance, “virtual currency-related activity” includes all “virtual currency business activity,” as defined under the BitLicense regulation (23 NYCRR § 200.2(q)), as well as “the direct or indirect offering or performance of any other product, service, or activity involving virtual currency that may raise safety and soundness concerns for the Covered Institution or that may expose New York customers of the Covered Institution or other users of the product or service to risk of harm.” At a high level, the Guidance reminds state-regulated banks (“Covered Institutions”) that, as a “matter of safety and soundness,” they must apply for approval before engaging in digital asset-related activities and outlines the types of information the NYDFS deems most relevant in assessing a proposal and the potential risks that such virtual currency-related activities may pose for the institution, consumers and the market in general (note: The Guidance expressly states that it does not interpret existing laws nor take a position on the sorts of activities that may be permissible for Covered Institutions to take).

Notably, the Guidance further increases the scope of NYDFS oversight by expanding the types of virtual currency activity requiring approval: “virtual currency-related activities” must receive approval, whereas previously only “virtual currency business activity” required prior approval from the NYDFS.  In a footnote, the Guidance explains the difference – virtual currency-related activity” essentially means any “virtual currency business activity” as defined under the BitLicense rules, plus certain additional activities that the NYDFS believes might raise “safe and soundness concerns.” Continue Reading

European Central Bank Director General Proclaims ‘Bitcoin’s Last Stand’

On November 30, 2022, amidst the tumult roiling the cryptocurrency industry following the latest collapse of a major crypto exchange and its reverberations throughout the crypto economy, European Central Bank (ECB) Director General Ulrich Bindseil and Adviser Jürgen Schaaf published a post on the ECB Blog, “Bitcoin’s last stand,” declaiming that Bitcoin “has never been used to any significant extent for legal real-world transactions” and that its market valuation is “based purely on speculation” and, on top of that, “the Bitcoin system is an unprecedented polluter.”  The scathing rebuke of Bitcoin, the largest crypto asset by market cap, was hurled at what the ECB officials see as Bitcoin’s technological shortcomings that make it “questionable as a means of payment” and “rarely used for legal transactions,” given that real Bitcoin transactions are “cumbersome, slow and expensive.” With the current price of Bitcoin having fallen since it peak of $69K in November 2021, the ECB officials described its current price (below $20K) as “an artificially induced last gasp before the road to irrelevance.” The remarks echo statements made by Fabio Panetta, Member of the Executive Board of the ECB, back in April 2022 where he decried the entire “crypto gamble,” seeing crypto-assets as “bringing about instability and insecurity – the exact opposite of what they promised.” (See also recent statements by a Bank of England deputy governor noting that cryptocurrency was a “gamble” that needs to be regulated similar to the traditional financial sector, echoing his own remarks from November 2022 that urged “bringing the activities of the crypto world within the relevant regulatory frameworks”). Continue Reading

When Chains Change, Do NFTs Stay The Same? How Hard Forks May Affect NFT Value and Licenses

At 2:43am EST on September 15, 2022, the first Ethereum block was validated using Proof of Stake, signaling the success of the Ethereum Merge, one of the most anticipated events in blockchain and computer science history. The Merge shifted the Ethereum blockchain (native token ETH, or ether) from a proof-of-work (PoW) consensus mechanism to a proof-of-stake (PoS) consensus mechanism, which has reduced the network’s energy usage by about 99.5%. Ethereum now facilitates a 7-day average of over one-million transactions per day, at a volume of over $600 million per day, making the Merge an engineering feat akin to swapping a car’s engine while it’s driving on the Autobahn. Continue Reading

CFTC Ooki DAO Enforcement Action Update: The Commission Responds

On September 22, 2022, the CFTC announced an order simultaneously filing and settling charges against bZeroX, LLC (“bZeroX”) and its creators for illegally offering leveraged and margined retail commodity transactions in digital assets, operating as an unregistered futures commission merchant and failing to conduct KYC on its customers. According to the CFTC, a month prior to this settlement announcement, bZeroX transferred control of the bZx Protocol to the bZx DAO, a decentralized autonomous organization (“DAO”), which later renamed itself as the Ooki DAO.  On the same day as the bZeroX settlement was announced, the CFTC filed an enforcement action against the Ooki DAO (successor to bZeroX) for violating those same regulations.  The CFTC stated that bZeroX and its creators engaged in this unlawful activity in connection with their decentralized blockchain-based software protocol that functioned in a manner similar to a trading platform.  The transactions executed on bZeroX, and subsequently on the Ooki DAO, were required to take place on a registered designated contract market.  Additionally, the complaint asserted that bZeroX and Ooki DAO were operating as unregistered futures commission merchants by soliciting and accepting orders from customers, accepting money or property as margin and extending credit.

The structure of Ooki DAO, and the CFTC’s enforcement action against the DAO itself, has garnered a lot of media attention (and industry reaction) and raised novel legal issues. Continue Reading

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