The SEC suffered a significant loss last week in its ongoing legal battle with Ripple over the XRP digital token. While the District Court held that Ripple’s initial sales of XRP to institutional investors constituted the sale of unregistered securities, it was a Pyrrhic victory as the court held
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.
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?
Late last year, the SEC filed a litigated action in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against Ripple Labs Inc. and two of its executive officers (collectively, “Ripple”), alleging that Ripple raised over $1.3 billion in unregistered offerings of the digital asset known as XRP.…
The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) recently issued highly anticipated guidance to assist market participants in determining whether a digital asset is offered and sold as a security.
On April 3, 2019, the SEC’s Strategic Hub for Innovation and Financial Technology published an analytical framework for evaluating whether the offer…
In early March, the Manhattan U.S. Attorney unsealed indictments against the leaders of the Bulgarian-based “purported” cryptocurrency “OneCoin” on wire fraud, money laundering and federal securities fraud charges relating to an alleged $3 billion pyramid scheme devised to market OneCoin. OneCoin’s lawyer has also been charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering for allegedly conducting financial transactions with some of the proceeds of the scheme to conceal the unlawful activities.
On February 20, 2019, the SEC announced that it settled charges against Gladius Network LLC (“Gladius”) for failing to register non-exempt offers and sales of securities in violation of Sections 5(a) and 5(c) of the Securities Act. While the SEC has previously settled charges relating to unregistered ICOs, this is one of few occasions since its 2017 DAO Report that the SEC refrained from imposing civil monetary penalties for an ICO that it determined violated the registration requirements of the federal securities laws.