On April 3, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) provided important guidance for token issuers. The SEC Division of Corporation Finance issued a No-Action Letter dated April 3 regarding TurnKey Jet, Inc. (the “TurnKey No-Action Letter”) in which the SEC staff confirmed that it would take no action against Turnkey Jet, Inc. (TKJ) for selling tokens without registration. This guidance is most relevant to token issuers who are focused on commercial utility and record-keeping benefits in a centrally controlled network and are willing to minimize or eliminate the profit elements of the token. The TurnKey No-Action Letter, taken together with the Framework for “Investment Contract” Analysis of Digital Assets (“Framework”) issued by the SEC’s Strategic Hub for Innovation and Financial Technology on the same date, offers guidance for structuring the elements of a private, permissioned, centralized blockchain token and network.[1]  Continue Reading TurnKey Token Gets to Fly: SEC Issues First No-Action Letter for Token Sale

Long awaited guidance from the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on application of the Howey test to digital assets came on April 3 in the form of a Framework for “Investment Contract” Analysis of Digital Assets (“Framework”) and a No-Action Letter regarding TurnKey Jet, Inc. (the “TurnKey No-Action Letter”). These two documents are best understood as part of a trilogy with the June 2018 Hinman speech.

The Framework offers the clearest indication yet of the SEC staff’s thinking on the Howey test, with the TurnKey No-Action Letter and the Hinman speech providing examples of where a digital asset fails to meet a necessary element of the test. For purposes of clarity, it helps to think of the Howey test as having four elements:  (1) an investment of money (2) in a common enterprise (3) with a reasonable expectation of profits (4) derived from the efforts of others.[1]

The first two prongs are essentially throwaways inasmuch as the Framework devotes only three sentences to them in total. SEC staff note that these prongs are “typically satisfied” in evaluating digital assets. On the other hand, the Framework pays significant attention to the third and fourth elements. Continue Reading SEC Smooths Out Digital Assets Turbulence With Further Guidance

Last week, US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel of the Southern District of California reversed his previous November 2018 order and issued a preliminary injunction against Blockvest LLC (Blockvest) and its founder, Reginald Buddy Ringgold, III, after finding that the Blockvest token (BLV token) met the definition of an investment contract under the Howey test and was therefore a security.  While we are keen to see an example of a digital asset that falls outside the definition of a security either through application of the Howey test or a new test, we are relieved that Judge Curiel did not use the Blockvest case to set forth this precedent. Continue Reading Judge Holds Blockvest Token a Security Under Howey, and the Wait for a Non-Security Token Continues

The Global Blockchain Business Council (GBBC) recently published its 2019 Annual Report, “Beyond the Hype: Building Blockchains for Real World.” The report provides a comprehensive update on the global regulatory landscape surrounding blockchain technology along with an overview of some of the blockchain solutions being built by GBBC members.

Steptoe authored an overall insights piece, titled “Regulation in the US: Where are We, and Where are We Going?,” which looks at where the United States stands in terms of regulation and predicts what we’ll see in terms of regulation in 2019. Steptoe also provided regulatory updates for the United States as part of a global regulatory overview, with specific insights on ICO regulation in the US.

To access the GBBC 2019 Annual Report click here.

Last month the Texas Department of Banking published an updated supervisory memorandum discussing the application of the state’s money transmitter law to digital assets.  Nearly every state has a money transmitter statute regulating businesses engaged in the transfer of money within that state, but states vary considerably with respect to how their laws apply to digital assets.  A number of states, including Texas, have taken the position that their money transmitter laws apply only to fiat currency and not cryptocurrency.  Such laws might still apply to a cryptocurrency company, for example one that exchanges cryptocurrency for fiat currency, but don’t govern companies that do not offer fiat-based services. Continue Reading A Regulatory Fork for Stablecoins: Is New Texas Guidance a Sign of Things to Come?

Have you ever wondered how blockchains can be considered secure even though hacks of cryptocurrency exchanges routinely make headlines?  Or whether distributing a permanent ledger to every participant in a network might run afoul of privacy laws and regulations?  Data security and privacy are frequently part of the conversation about blockchain and technology in general, and they raise complicated legal issues for practitioners and clients to consider. Continue Reading An Overview of Blockchain Cybersecurity Risks and Issues

Evan Abrams recently published an article on CIO Review titled “Blockchain and The Law: How a Simple Project can get Complicated Quickly.” In his article, Evan discusses a number of complex legal regimes that CIOs should consider when building enterprise blockchain applications. Companies should assess which legal regimes apply to their specific application from both a federal and state level and keep in mind the laws applying to blockchain technologies can change rapidly. At the federal level, oversight may come from the Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and the Internal Revenue Service, among others. Companies seeking to enter the blockchain space should also look at state regulation, which varies widely. For example, New York has adopted a regulatory regime known as the BitLicense that covers a variety of virtual currency business activity.

To read the full article click here.

On December 17th, Alan Cohn hosted the 244th episode of The Cyberlaw Podcast. We took a deep dive into all things blockchain and cryptocurrency discussing recent regulatory developments and projections for 2019. Continue Reading Blockchain Takes Over Episode 244 of the Cyberlaw Podcast

Sanctions compliance considerations have always been an important factor for cryptocurrency companies, but a number of recent US government actions suggest regulators are increasingly focused on the intersection between digital currencies and economic sanctions.   This intensified focus highlights the importance of sanctions compliance for blockchain-related companies, particularly for those considered US persons.

This increased focus has been building for a number of months.  For example, in March of 2018, President Trump issued an Executive Order imposing certain sanctions on the Venezuelan government-issued digital currency known as the petro.

Last week, the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) took another step to ramp up sanctions against bad actors utilizing digital currency.  Continue Reading Sanctions Compliance Risk Increases for Cryptocurrency Companies

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC or Commission) November 16 announcement charging two cryptocurrency companies—CarrierEQ Inc. (d/b/a Airfox) and Paragon Coin Inc. (Paragon)—with conducting an initial coin offering (ICO) in violation of the securities registration rules should not come as a surprise to those in the industry. The SEC has repeatedly emphasized that issuers of securities—even those based on a blockchain or distributed ledger technology—must register such securities or comply with an applicable exemption from registration under the Securities Act of 1933 (the Securities Act). The Airfox and Paragon orders explain when the SEC will determine that a token offering constitutes a security, and the remedial measures that the SEC may require for token offerings that do not comply with the Securities Act. Following the announcement, the Commission’s divisions also put out a public statement outlining their views on digital asset securities issuance and trading. We view these actions as signals that the Commission is likely to ramp up its efforts to enforce the securities laws in the weeks and months to come. Continue Reading A Thanksgiving Feast: SEC Sets the Table for More Crypto Enforcement Servings to Come