Blockchain and the Law

SEC Sues Crowd Machine for Allegedly Fraudulent and Unregistered ICO

In its first enforcement action of the year involving ICOs, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged two companies and their founder for violations of antifraud and registration provisions of the federal securities laws in connection with an initial coin offering (ICO).  On January 6, 2022, the SEC announced charges against Australian citizen Craig Sproule and two companies he founded, Crowd Machine, Inc. and Metavine, Inc. (collectively, the Defendants), for making materially false and misleading statements in connection with an unregistered offer and sale of digital asset securities in an ICO.  (SEC v. Crowd Machine, Inc., No. 22-00076 (N.D. Cal. filed Jan. 6, 2022)).

These charges add to the SEC’s growing list of enforcement actions that target unregistered offerings of digital assets.  ICO activity peaked in 2017, when hundreds of issuances raised an estimated $5 billion from investors.  Since that time, scrutiny from the SEC has cooled this practice. However, the SEC remains vigilant in taking action against unregistered ICOs, based on its view that digital tokens are likely to be securities. In remarks last year, SEC Chairman Gary Gensler voiced agreement with former SEC Chairman Jay Clayton’s position on ICOs: “To the extent that digital assets like [initial coin offerings, or ICOs] are securities — and I believe every ICO I have seen is a security — we have jurisdiction, and our federal securities laws apply.” Continue Reading

Ringing in the New Year: Regulators and Industry Seek to Bring Stability to Stablecoins in 2022. How (Much), Remains a Question.

On December 17, 2021, the Financial Stability Oversight Council (“FSOC”) – a collaborative body formed under the Dodd-Frank Act composed of state and federal regulators and tasked with identifying risks and responding to emerging threats to financial stability – released its 2021 Annual Report (the “Report”). In the Report, the FSOC offered wide-ranging insight into what it perceived to be various vulnerabilities in the financial system and related regulatory concerns on topics ranging from climate-related financial risks, the real estate market, certain financial structures, data challenges, and cybersecurity. Notably, the FSOC additionally dedicated a section of the Report on the specific risks digital assets pose to the financial system, specifically, those involving stablecoins.

Stablecoins are digital assets designed to maintain a stable value by pegging the digital asset to a national currency or another reference asset (i.e., a commodity like gold, silver, or oil). Using reference assets to stabilize price, stablecoins seek to become the alternative payment mechanism to bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and have also been used to facilitate trading and lending of other digital assets. However, the FSOC, taking a systemic, wide view, is not without concern. Continue Reading

In the Coming ‘Metaverse’, There May Be Excitement but There Certainly Will Be Legal Issues

The concept of the “metaverse” has garnered much press coverage of late, addressing such topics as the new appetite for metaverse investment opportunities, a recent virtual land boom, or just the promise of it all, where “crypto, gaming and capitalism collide.”  The term “metaverse,” which comes from Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel “Snow Crash,” is generally used to refer to the development of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies, featuring a mashup of massive multiplayer gaming, virtual worlds, virtual workspaces, and remote education to create a decentralized wonderland and collaborative space. The grand concept is that the metaverse will be the next iteration of the mobile internet and a major part of both digital and real life.

As currently conceived, the metaverse, “Web 3.0,” would feature a synchronous environment giving users a seamless experience across different realms, even if such discrete areas of the virtual world are operated by different developers. It would boast its own economy where users and their avatars interact socially and use digital assets based in both virtual and actual reality, a place where commerce would presumably be heavily based in decentralized finance, DeFi. Since the metaverse is planned as a single forum with disparate operators and users, the use of a blockchain (or blockchains) would seem to be one solution to act as a trusted, immutable ledger of virtual goods, in-world currencies and identity authentication, particularly when interactions may be somewhat anonymous or between individuals who may or may not trust each other and in the absence of a centralized clearinghouse or administrator for transactions.

In order for the metaverse to become a reality – that is, successfully link current gaming and communications platforms with other new technologies into a massive new online destination – many obstacles will have to be overcome, even beyond the hardware, software and integration issues. Indeed, the legal issues stand out, front and center.

Read the full post on Proskauer’s New Media and Technology Law blog.

SEC Halts DAO’s Registration of Two Stable Tokens as Securities, Alleging Material Deficiencies in the Disclosure

On November 10, 2021, the SEC announced that it had instituted proceedings against a Wyoming-based decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) to halt its registration of two digital tokens, alleging that disclosure in the organization’s registration statement was deficient and contained materially misleading statements. (In the Matter of American CryptoFed DAO LLC, No. 3-20650 (SEC Order Nov. 10, 2021)).  Without the SEC’s latest action, the issuer’s Form 10 filing was scheduled to become effective on November 15, 2021 (sixty days from the initial filing date).  The action against American CryptoFed DAO LLC (“CryptoFed”) serves as a clear reminder that cryptocurrency remains in the SEC’s crosshairs, and token issuers must carefully consider regulatory risk when launching new products. Continue Reading

Treasury Department Steps Up Its Counter-Ransomware Efforts and Simultaneously Issues New Sanctions Compliance Guidance for Virtual Currency Industry

Recently, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a bureau of the U.S. Treasury Department, released a report on ransomware trends stating that during the first half of 2021, 68 different ransomware variants extracted approximately $600 million from victims across the country. FinCEN identified Bitcoin as the most common ransomware-related payment method in reported transactions and noted that ransomware incidents requesting Monero (XMR) – what FinCEN refers to as an anonymity-enhanced cryptocurrency – are increasing as hackers seek to reduce the transparency and traceability of such transactions.

Given this environment, the White House and Treasury Department have sought to counter the ransomware threat by taking a number of actions, including holding a virtual two-day multinational summit on ransomware, conducting classified threat briefings for critical infrastructure executives, and establishing some expected cybersecurity thresholds for critical infrastructure providers. Compounding these efforts, the Treasury Department is leveraging existing Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) controls that already apply to fiat currency and enforcing them more deliberately toward virtual currency to combat ransomware attacks.

Two days after the White House issued its October 13, 2021 Fact Sheet detailing these anti-ransomware efforts, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued its “Sanctions Compliance Guidance for the Virtual Currency Industry” (“Guidance”). Continue Reading

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

LexBlog

This website uses third party cookies, over which we have no control. To deactivate the use of third party advertising cookies, you should alter the settings in your browser.

OK