The organizers of an initial coin offering (ICO) recently won dismissal of an investor’s fraud claims by establishing that their public risk disclosures negated the investor’s claims of reliance on alleged misstatements. The project, a video service provider’s ICO, was governed by a purchase agreement called a “Simple Agreement for Future Tokens” (“SAFT”). The plaintiff investor later lost his entire investment as the token collapsed, allegedly due to the provider’s decision to scrap its initial plans for a decentralized platform and move to a permissioned blockchain (and also the provider’s choice to seek additional capital via a “Regulation A” public offering). The New York court found that even if certain representations made by the issuer regarding the prospect of a decentralized network were actionable, the Plaintiff had not plausibly alleged “reasonable reliance” on such representations in signing the SAFT. (Rostami v. Open Props, Inc., No. 22-03326 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 9, 2023)).
The SEC’s push to regulate the next generation of blockchain-based applications will likely give rise to disputes and enforcement actions, particularly in the developing decentralized finance (DeFi) space. Although DeFi has the potential to enhance or replace traditional financial products by speeding execution and reducing transaction costs using blockchain technology,…
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.”
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.”
On February 1, 2021, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it had brought charges against several individuals involved in an alleged scheme to induce investors to transfer more than $11 million to buy into an unregistered initial coin offering (ICO) of B2G tokens, which the SEC claimed was merely an elaborate sham. (SEC v. Krstic, No. 21-0529 (E.D.N.Y. Filed Feb. 1, 2021)). The complaint, filed in the Eastern District of New York, alleged that Kristijan Krstic (“Krstic”), John DeMarr (“DeMarr”), and Robin Enos (“Enos”) (collectively, “Defendants”) conspired, in violation of securities laws, to defraud over 460 investors of $11.4 million with promises of large returns on investments from its offerings, including for B2G tokens that the defendants claimed were genuine digital assets for a mining and trading platform.
One driver for the first widely adopted cryptocurrency Bitcoin was to create a store of value that existed outside of government control. It is therefore no surprise that attempts to regulate the rapidly developing crypto asset market have required great efforts from regulators and legislators around the world to keep apace.
In this blog, we compare key drivers and results of the regulatory approach being taken in the US and UK. While the U.S. is leading the way on the enforcement of crypto regulations, the UK has taken greater steps in relation to banking approvals. With regard to tax treatment, the position is becoming much clearer in both jurisdictions.
First though, is there even “an” approach within each country?
On December 4, the SEC’s new Cyber Unit announced it obtained an emergency asset freeze to halt the initial coin offering (“ICO”) of PlexCoin. According to the SEC, the Plexcoin ICO had raised up to $15 million to date through the fraudulent sale of unregistered securities.
This is the first-ever…