Blockchain and the Law

U.S. Federal Regulators Turn Up the Heat on Cryptocurrency Trading Platforms

With new types of digital assets and related business on the rise, federal authorities have been busy investigating.  Recently, the SEC, FinCEN and the CFTC have imposed some notable settlements involving cryptocurrency trading platforms for allegedly operating without appropriate approvals from financial regulatory authorities.  This may be the start of the next wave of government enforcement activities.

Read the full post on Proskauer’s The Capital Commitment blog.

SEC Brings Charges against Allegedly Fraudulent Unregistered Decentralized Finance Project That Ran on the Ethereum Platform

On August 6, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it had charged two men, Gregory Keough and Derek Acree, and their company, Blockchain Credit Partners, doing business as DeFi Money Market (collectively, the “Respondents”), for unregistered sales of more than $30 million of securities using smart contracts and so-called “decentralized finance” (DeFi) technology and for making false and misleading statements about their business to investors in violation of the federal securities laws. (In re Blockchain Credit Partners, No. 3-20453 (SEC Order Aug. 6, 2021)).

In recent days, many eyeballs were closely watching the drama behind the cryptocurrency taxation and transparency measures contained in the Senate’s infrastructure bill  and are still digesting SEC Chair Gary Gensler’s recent remarks before the Aspen Security Forum that offered some clues on where the agency will go with respect to cryptocurrency regulation and enforcement. Meanwhile, the SEC continued its enforcement efforts to shut down what it deems fraudulent and unregistered securities offerings involving digital assets. After ceasing operations in February 2021, Respondents consented to a cease-and-desist order that includes disgorgement totaling almost $13 million and civil penalties of $125,000 each of the individual Respondents.  The SEC’s order provides another example of how the now-familiar investment contract analysis applies to tokens, with some additional insights on the impact of voting rights under the Howey test and a further analysis of tokens as notes. Continue Reading

SEC Chair’s Remarks Suggest Crypto is the “Wild West,” Signaling Future Enforcement and Desire for Enhanced Regulatory Authority

Gary Gensler, Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), attracted a lot of attention following his remarks at the Aspen Security Forum earlier this month, asking Congress for more authority “to write rules for and attach guardrails to crypto trading and lending” and opining that for the “volatile” industry to truly prosper it needs more investor and consumer protections.  But make no mistake: Gensler is not waiting around for Congress to act.  In his remarks, Gensler highlighted various areas where the SEC currently has jurisdiction and emphasized that “we have taken and will continue to take our authorities as far as they go.” Continue Reading

When is a Token More Than a Token? SEC Settlement over Anti-Touting Provision Raises Familiar Questions

On July 14, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) settled an action against the operator of a platform that promoted current and upcoming digital token offerings for violations of the anti-touting provision of the Securities Act of 1933.  In the Matter of Blotics Ltd. f/d/b/a Coinschedule Ltd. (July 14, 2021).  The SEC claimed that the primary source of revenue for the platform operator, Coinschedule Ltd., was compensation received from issuers that paid to list, market, and rate their token offerings on the platform. The SEC charged that Coinschedule’s failure to disclose the consideration it received from token issuers for promoting their token offerings was a violation of the anti-touting provisions (Section 17(b)) of the Securities Act.  The respondent, Blotics Ltd. (successor to Coinschedule Ltd.), was ordered to pay disgorgement of $43,000, plus interest, and a civil penalty of $154,434.

The settlement order does not shed any light on when a digital token is a security.  The anti-touting provisions of Section 17(b) apply only if the instrument being touted is a security, and the order states that some portion of the digital tokens offered and sold on the Coinschedule platform were securities in the form of investment contracts.  However the settlement order does not address how many or which of the 2,500 individual token offerings profiled on the Coinschedule platform involved securities, providing no analysis and only a conclusory statement that “[t]he digital tokens publicized by Coinschedule included those that were offered and sold as investment contracts, which are securities pursuant to Section 2(a)(1) of the Securities Act.” Continue Reading

DOJ Tax Division Shows Sustained Interest in Cryptocurrency

On May 5, 2021, another federal district court, this time for the Northern District of California, permitted the IRS to proceed with a John Doe summons very similar to the one served on Circle last month (the subject of a recent post).  This time, the Summons seeks information on customers of a San Francisco-headquartered digital currency exchange company called Payward Ventures Inc. and Subsidiaries, d/b/a Kraken.  As in the Circle case, the Summons only applies to customers who have engaged in a total of $20,000 or more in transactions with the company between 2016 and 2020.  Also like in Circle, thus far, DOJ is not alleging any wrongdoing by Kraken or its customers.

Read the full post on our Corporate Defense and Disputes blog.

NFTs Are Interesting but Fractionalized Non-Fungible Tokens (F-NFTs) May Present Even More Challenging Legal Issues

Except for the extensive coverage surrounding Coinbase’s IPO last week and the volatility in the price of cryptocurrencies, much of the air in the crypto space in the last few months has been taken up by the meteoric rise of non-fungible tokens (NFTs). At this point, we will assume that readers have at least a basic familiarity with NFTs. If not, we suggest a review of this SNL skit, as it is actually a pretty good summary.

It seems like new articles appear on a daily basis addressing some aspect of the legal issues associated with the NFT phenomenon. Interestingly, however, there have been few articles and little attention paid to what ultimately might be the most interesting development in this space, that is, the rise of fractional NFTs (F-NFTs).

F-NFTs Stir Up New Issues

Given that many NFTs are selling for significant amounts of money (in both fiat and digital currencies), the idea of fractionalization is taking shape to allow smaller investors to pool resources to purchase fractional interests of a NFT.  Additionally, there is great interest in the opportunity to buy fractional interests of large NFT collections. For example, it was recently reported that a collection of fifty CryptoPunks, which are early, now valuable NFT pixel art collectibles, were fractionalized into millions of tokens. The interest in fractionalization is not surprising given the high sale price of some NFTs and the widespread adoption of crowdfunding in many areas in e-commerce and investing.

Beyond mere entry into the market, purchasers can hold onto an F-NFT in the hope of seeing investment gains or realizing dividends, or else sell the F-NFT (from a technical perspective, referred to as a “shard”) to another investor. Several entities have emerged to facilitate the sale of F-NFTs to unlock liquidity in the market and create and trade fractions of NFTs.  For example, the NFT trading platform Niftex states that it allows owners to break NFTs into shards for purchase at a fixed price, with the fractions able to be subsequently traded in the market. The site also states that it allows shard owners some local governance rights on the platform with respect to a particular fraction set and provides an investor with a certain percentage of shards who wishes to own the entire digital asset with a method to bid on the remaining shards.

As most anything can be reduced to an NFT, it’s interesting to think of the possibilities of fractionalization. Now that the buying and trading of cryptocurrency has become mainstream, with major fintech platforms having begun to allow users to buy, sell or hold crypto and more and more decentralized finance (or DeFi) and decentralized applications (DApps) being developed to offer new digital solutions for various financial transactions, the continued fractionalization of NFTs is almost inevitable.

But is it legal? Continue Reading

A Warning to Cryptocurrency Users from the Justice Department’s Tax Division

As you might expect during tax season, the Justice Department’s press releases seem particularly focused on tax-related issues these days.  At the start of this month, DOJ sent a stern reminder to the public that non-traditional currency users should not expect to escape federal tax law enforcement.

Read the full blog post on Proskauer’s Corporate Defense blog.

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