U.S. government agencies continue to take action against cryptocurrency mixing services that enable cybercriminals to obfuscate the trail of stolen proceeds on public blockchains stemming from illicit cyber activity. On November 29, 2023, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) sanctioned another virtual currency mixing

As discussed in Part I of this series, NFT-based lending is pioneering a new avenue of investment and activity on the blockchain that will enable new and innovative use cases. In this Part II, we will discuss the implications for Lenders.

I. Issues for Lenders:

These on-chain loans secured by digital assets present a question for lenders: how do lenders get comfortable extending secured financing to borrowers where the secured asset is digital, like an NFT? In traditional financing, lenders and borrowers negotiate a security agreement, which governs the rights a lender will have in a transaction. Per the Uniform Commercial Code (the “UCC”), which regulates interests in personal property as collateral for debt, a security interest in tangible collateral can be perfected against third parties by possession of the collateral or by filing a financing statement. At the same time, a security interest in many kinds of intangible collateral can be perfected against third parties only by filing a financing statement. Sometimes, best practice calls for possession and filing (when both types of perfection are permitted under the UCC).

Mechanically, when the lender and borrower agree to terms on a peer-to-peer marketplace like Blur (as discussed in Part I of this series), the NFT is placed into a vault – a smart contract with specific storage and security features – with a lien on it; at this point, the principal is transferred to the borrower. As discussed below, the UCC, as currently adopted in most states, does not account for perfection of a security interest in digital assets by any method other than the filing of a financing statement, so a vault & lien combination is insufficient to perfect a security interest in the NFT collateral against third parties; however, the 2022 UCC Amendments provide certain clarity for perfecting a security interest in digital assets against third parties.

In general, the UCC is periodically updated to incorporate emerging technologies and trends. Among other updates, the 2022 UCC Amendments address digital assets and distributed ledger technologies, affording transactors in goods and services updated default rules under the UCC. As such, lenders should be aware of the varying new measures to ensure their loans are adequately secured and perfected against the borrower and any third party, including customers and other creditors of the borrower. Hence, the lender would be first in line to realize on the collateral in a fight with other creditors of the borrower.

Despite the protracted crypto bear market, innovators in non-fungible tokens (“NFTs”) are hard at work. Gone are the days when NFTs were merely profile pictures (“PFPs”) displayed on a pseudonymous social media account or shown for their prestige online or in real life to confused friends and colleagues. As discussed in our two-part series explaining Ordinals and their implications for NFT owners and creators, this year NFTs have expanded beyond the Ethereum blockchain, where NFTs initially grew to prominence as a result of the blockchain’s ability to execute smart contracts, to the original blockchain, Bitcoin.

Beyond Ordinals, gaming-related innovations, new ERC standards, and other innovations, the industry continues to push forward to new frontiers, such as NFT-based lending.

This is Part I of a two-part article on NFT-based lending (Click here for Part II). In this part, we will discuss recent innovations in NFT-based lending, explaining various mechanics and functions. In Part II, we will dive into the legal issues for lenders involving secured transactions under the UCC, Pre- and Post- Article 9 and 12 Amendments.

As discussed in Part I of this series, state DAO LLC laws have been enacted in the last several years and have become one option for decentralized autonomous organizations (or DAOs) to create a so-called “legal wrapper” or real-world corporate entity to shield individual members from liability.

In Part II we will look at some of the standout features of the United States’ DAO laws.[1]

DAOs as LLCs, or LLDs. As discussed below, the Wyoming (SF0038, codified at W.S. §17‑31‑101 through §17‑31‑116; Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon signed an amendment to the DAO Supplement into law (SF0068) (the DAO Supplement and its 2022 amendments) (collectively, the “WY Law”)  and Tennessee (HB2645/SB2854, to be codified at Tenn. Code Ann. §48-250-101 through 48-250-115) (the “TN Law”), DAO LLC laws opt for the “wrapper” approach by “wrapping” DAOs within an LLC. Utah, however, goes further. Under the “Utah Decentralized Autonomous Organizations Act” (HB 357) (codified at Utah Code Ann. §48-5-101 – 406) (the “Utah Law”), rather than being wrapped by an LLC, limited liability decentralized autonomous organizations (or “LLDs”) are the legal entity formed under the Utah Law. (Utah Code Ann. §48-5-104). Under the Utah Law, LLD members enjoy limited liability and are only liable for the on-chain contributions that the member has committed to the DAO. (Utah Code Ann. §48-5-202). Further, members cannot be held personally liable for any excess liability after the DAO assets have been exhausted. (Utah Code Ann. §48-5-202(1)(b)). Utah further covers situations when a DAO refuses to comply with an enforceable judgment or order against the DAO by stating that members who voted against using the DAO’s treasury to satisfy a judgment may be liable for any monetary payments in the judgment or order “in proportion to the member’s share of governance rights in the [DAO].” (Utah Code Ann. §48-5-202(d)(2)).  The Utah Law, in another effort to foreclose certain theories of liability, also explicitly states that a developer, member, participant or legal representative of a DAO may not be imputed to have fiduciary duties toward each other or third parties solely on account on their role, absent certain express actions or statements. (Utah Code Ann. §48-5-307).  These questions have been more salient for DAO members, given the ongoing CFTC enforcement against the Ooki DAO and the recent California district court ruling that various governance token holders in a DAO could be deemed to be members of a “general partnership” under California law and thus potentially joint and severally liable in the suit.

Little-known legal trivia: In 1977 Wyoming was the first state to pioneer the LLC, which is now a commonly applied legal innovation.  Fast forward more than forty years…in July 2021, Wyoming again tried to be at the vanguard of new corporate formations and passed legislation that recognized decentralized autonomous organizations, or DAOs, as legally distinct business entities, with protections for token holders similar to those offered to corporation stockholders or limited liability company members. Wyoming may have jumped off the blocks first, but Tennessee and Utah are not far behind. Recently, on March 1, 2023, the Utah Legislature passed HB 357 (codified at Utah Code Ann. §48-5-101-406), the “Utah Decentralized Autonomous Organizations Act” (the “Utah Law”).

This article is Part I of a two-part article on developments in state DAO LLC laws. In this part, we will briefly outline the basics of a DAO and the latest state enactments in the area, as well as explain why real-world corporate formations may be attractive for some DAO members. In Part II, we will do a deep dive into the more notable aspects of the new crop of state DAO LLC laws and offer some final thoughts.

In what appears to be an issue of first impression, a California district court ruled that various defendants allegedly holding governance tokens to the bZx DAO (or “Decentralized Autonomous Organization”), a protocol for tokenized margin trading and lending, could be deemed to be members of a “general partnership” under California law under the facts outlined in Plaintiffs’ complaint, and thus potentially joint and severally liable for negligence related to a phishing attack that resulted in the loss of users’ cryptocurrency. (Sarcuni v. bZx DAO, No. 22-618 (S.D. Cal. Mar. 27, 2023)). The ruling is significant given that this is purportedly the first court to substantively consider the legal status of a DAO under state law (albeit in a ruling on a motion to dismiss); interestingly, in a prior settlement the defendant bZeroX, LLC and its founders reached with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) in 2022 over claims that bZeroX and its founders unlawfully offered leveraged and margined retail commodity transactions in digital assets, the order expressly considered the bZx DAO (and its successor Ooki DAO, which is co-defendant in the instant action) as an “unincorporated association” under federal law. (In re bZeroX, LLC, CFTC No. 22-31 (Sept. 22, 2022)).

A DAO is a decentralized autonomous organization where token holders can vote on governance decisions of the DAO. DAOs don’t typically operate within a formal corporate structure, opting instead to distribute governance rights among persons who hold a specific governance token. The entire raison d’être of a DAO is to take advantage of web3 technologies and operate without a traditional corporate formation to make decisions without a central authority or usual top-down management structure. While DAOs are emerging as a viable structure in DeFi space, this ruling shows that their non-traditional makeup may not necessarily be a shield from real world liability.  Plaintiffs’ theory that the DAO members are part of a general partnership means that anyone holding governance tokens at the relevant time would be jointly and severally liable for the torts of the DAO.  To be sure, even though existing structures do not fit the novel web3 organizational primitive that is a DAO, nothing prevented the bZx DAO (or its successor Ooki DAO), from creating a so-called “legal wrapper” or real-world corporate entity to shield individual members from liability and limit potential creditors to monetary recovery from the DAO’s treasury only.

As discussed in Part I of this series, Ordinals are a pioneering new method of utilizing the Bitcoin blockchain that will usher in new and innovative use cases on Bitcoin. As promised, in Part II we will discuss the implications for creators and owners.

Implications of Ordinal NFTs for Creators and Owners

As with most crypto innovation, capable users quickly flocked to the shiny new object. Copies of popular Ethereum NFT projects began appearing on the Bitcoin blockchain after the Ordinals launch. For example, a clone of CryptoPunks, named Ordinal Punks, popped up and is reportedly gaining traction. Further, the owner of Bored Ape Yacht Club (“BAYC”) #1626 permanently removed the NFT from its spot as one of the most valuable in the space by “burning” it, then inscribing the NFT on Bitcoin using Ordinals.  While the owner of BAYC #1626 effectively deleted – or symbolically transferred – the NFT, it appears that some NFT creators are not purists and are willing to experiment on Bitcoin. For example, Yuga Labs, the creator behind the Bored Ape Yacht Club Ethereum-based NFT phenomenon, announced that it would release a NFT project called TwelveFold on the Bitcoin blockchain.

In our December article we asked: what do hard forks mean for my NFTs? In this article we ask a similar question: how does a copy of an NFT on completely different chain (Bitcoin, not Ethereum), affect value and licenses?

A number of questions arise. Does the holder of the copycat Ordinal on Bitcoin require a license corresponding to the Ethereum NFT? What happens to the Ethereum NFT purchaser’s rights granted to it under the license, which may or may not include a commercial right to exploit and sublicense? Does an Ordinal inscription of an Ethereum NFT fall under a purchaser’s general non-commercial use and public display rights that are generally given to purchasers on NFT marketplaces? Does the original Ethereum NFT holder hold one set of rights and the holder of the copycat on Ordinals possess any rights that may be in conflict with the original NFT holder’s? Generally speaking, would the value of the NFT be affected if two identical copies exist on two different blockchains? Does the NFT owner or project have a say in which blockchain to recognize? Has any IP infringement occurred?

The NFT community has been humming in 2023 after the recent rise in Bitcoin NFT mints. Ordinals, a non-fungible token (“NFT”) protocol, sent the community buzzing in January 2023 when it launched on the Bitcoin blockchain (as updated by soft forks in the protocol in 2017 and 2021, which among other things, added new features to the blockchain and increased the block size from 1MB to 4MB and allowed for the inscription of data). Bitcoin evangelists – true believers in Bitcoin as hard money – appreciate that the Bitcoin blockchain’s development is optimized for non-censorable, decentralized money but not file storage and consider Ordinals as immutable JPEG garbage that will only create network congestion, thereby increasing fees, and should be viewed as beneath the original peer-to-peer mission. Conversely, NFT enthusiasts and the blockchain curious are celebrating Bitcoin’s NFT scene as an innovative use of the chain: unlike traditional Ethereum-based NFTs (where the original underlying asset generally resides on a centralized server or the IPFS), Ordinals reside on-chain.  Needless to say, the rise of NFTs on the original blockchain is not without questions.

This article is Part I of a two-part article on Ordinals. In this part, we will break down Ordinals, explaining Ordinal Theory, ins-and-outs and functions. In Part II, we will dive into the implications of having NFTs on two separate blockchains.