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)).
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.
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.”