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On June 26, the SEC announced a settlement with two offshore entities, resolving allegations that the entities violated federal securities laws by raising more than $1.7 billion in unregistered digital token offerings. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in October 2019, the SEC obtained a temporary restraining order, halting the offerings. According to the SEC, the entities violated Sections 5(a) and 5(c) of the Securities Act by failing to register its offers and sales of securities with the SEC. Prior to the restraining order, the entities had sold approximately 2.9 million digital tokens worldwide, including more than 1 billion tokens to 39 U.S. purchasers. The settlement requires the entities to return more than $1.2 billion to investors in “ill-gotten gains” from the token offerings. Additionally, the parent company is required to pay an $18.5 million civil penalty and give proactive notice to the SEC before participating in any digital asset issuances for the next three years. The entities entered into the settlement without admitting or denying the allegations in the SEC’s complaint.
On February 19, the SEC announced a settlement with a blockchain technology company resolving allegations that the company conducted an unregistered initial coin offering (ICO). According to the order, the company raised approximately $45 million from sales of its digital tokens to raise capital to develop a digital asset trade-testing platform and to build a cryptocurrency-related data marketplace. The SEC alleges that the company violated Section 5(a) and 5(c) of the Securities Act because the digital assets it sold were securities under federal securities laws, and the company did not have the required registration statement filed or in effect, nor did it qualify for an exemption to the registration requirements. The order, which the company consented to without admitting or denying the findings, imposes a $500,000 penalty and requires the company to register its tokens as securities, refund harmed investors through a claims process, and file timely reports with the SEC.
On February 6, SEC Commissioner Hester M. Pierce announced her proposal for a three-year safe harbor rule applicable to companies developing digital assets and networks. Pierce suggested that not only would the rule provide regulatory flexibility “that allows innovation to flourish,” but it would also protect investors by “requiring disclosures tailored to their needs” while still maintaining anti-fraud safeguards, allowing investors to participate in token networks of their choice. Proposed Securities Act Rule 195 would allow companies to sell or offer tokens without being subject to the Securities Act of 1933, and without the tokens being subject to the registration requirements of the Securities Act of 1934. In order to qualify for these exemptions, the proposed rule requires that a company developing a network must, among other things, (i) “intend for the network on which the token functions to reach network maturity…within three years of the date of the first token sale”; (ii) disclose key information on a freely accessible public website,” including applicable source code and descriptions of how to search and verify transactions on the network; (iii) offer and sell its tokens in order to allow access to or development of its network; (iv) make “good faith and reasonable efforts to create liquidity for users”; and (v) “file a notice of reliance” with the SEC’s EDGAR system within 15 days of the company’s first token sale made in reliance on the safe harbor. Pierce suggested that the three-year grace period for qualifying companies would allow time for the development of decentralized or functional networks, and, at the end of the three years, a successful network’s tokens would not be regulated as securities.
On January 21, the SEC announced that it filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York against a blockchain company and the company’s founder (defendants) for allegedly “conducting a fraudulent and unregistered initial coin offering (ICO).” The SEC alleges, among other things, that from 2017 until 2018, the defendants raised $600,000 from nearly 200 investors through promoting an ICO of digital asset securities called “OPP Tokens,” using material misrepresentations to create the false impression that the defendants’ platform was creating notable growth in the company. The defendants marketed the tokens by making misstatements to potential investors, greatly exaggerating the numbers of providers that were “willing to do business on, and contribute content to, [defendants’] blockchain-based platform.” The complaint also alleges that in marketing the ICO, the defendants provided a catalog of small businesses eligible to use the defendants’ platform that numbered in the millions, in order to create the false impression that the platform had a huge base of users. In reality, the catalog was not compiled by the defendants, but was simply acquired from a vendor. Additionally, the SEC alleges that the defendants provided numerous customer reviews in its promotions to create the impression that the platform had many users creating content, which were actually reviews stolen from a third-party website. The SEC charges that in addition to the above allegations, the defendants misrepresented that they had filed an SEC registration statement for the ICO. The SEC seeks injunctive relief, disgorgement of profits, civil money penalties, and a permanent bar preventing the founder from serving as officer or director of any public company.
On October 11, the SEC announced it obtained a temporary restraining order through an emergency action filed against two offshore entities that allegedly raised more than $1.7 billion of investor funds. According to the complaint, the entities sold approximately 2.9 million digital tokens worldwide, including more than 1 billion tokens to 39 U.S. purchasers. The entities promised that the tokens would be delivered upon the launch of its own blockchain by the end of October 2019. The SEC alleges the entities violated Sections 5(a) and 5(c) of the Securities Act by failing to register its offers and sales of securities with the SEC. In addition to the emergency relief, the SEC is seeking a permanent injunction, disgorgement, and civil penalties against the offshore entities.
On August 23, the Illinois governor signed HB 3575 to create the Blockchain Technology Act. Under the Act, “blockchain” is defined as “an electronic record created by the use of a decentralized method by multiple parties to verify and store a digital record of transactions which is secured by the use of a cryptographic hash of previous transaction information.” Among other things, the Act specifies permitted uses of blockchain technology in transactions and proceedings, such as in smart contracts, electronic records and signatures, and provides several limitations, including a provision stipulating that if a law requires a contract or record to be in writing, the legal enforceability may be denied if the blockchain transaction cannot later be accurately reproduced for all parties. Moreover, local government units are prohibited from imposing taxes or fees for the use of blockchain technology, and cannot require a person or entity to obtain a certificate, license, or permit in order to use a blockchain or smart contract. HB 3575 takes effect January 1, 2020.
On May 23, the Florida governor signed SB 1024, which establishes the “Florida Blockchain Task Force” within the Department of Financial Services to “explore and develop a master plan for fostering the expansion of the blockchain industry in the state, to recommend policies and state investments to help make this state a leader in blockchain technology, and to issue a report to the Governor and the Legislature.” Within 90 days of signing, the bill requires that a majority of the 13 required members of the task force must be appointed and the task force must hold its first meeting. The task force is required to, among other things, study blockchain technology and submit a report to the Governor and the Legislature with recommendations for implementing blockchain technology in the state and recommendations for specific implementations to be developed by relevant state agencies. The bill took effect on May 23.
On April 26, the Washington state governor signed SB 5638, which recognizes the validity of distributed ledger technology. Intending to expand the scope of the existing federal ESIGN Act, the bill adds a new chapter to the Revised Code of Washington, defining distributed ledger technology as “any distributed ledger protocol and supporting infrastructure, including blockchain, that uses a distributed, decentralized, shared, and replicated ledger.” The bill prohibits an electronic record from being denied “legal effect, validity, or enforceability solely because it is generated or stored using distributed ledger technology.” The bill is effective July 28.
On April 16, the Arkansas governor signed HB 1944, which defines blockchain technology under the state’s Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA). Under the act, “blockchain technology” is defined as “a shared, immutable ledger that facilitates the process of recording one or more transactions and tracking one or more tangible or intangible assets in a business network.” The act also provides definitions for “blockchain distributed ledger technology” and “smart contract” under the UETA. The act takes effect 90 days after adjournment of the legislature.
On March 26, the Utah governor signed SB 213, which, among other things, defines and clarifies blockchain technology-related terms and exempts from the state’s Money Transmitter Act certain persons who facilitate the “creation, exchange, or sale of certain blockchain technology-related products.” Specifically, the amendments state that blockchain tokens are not money transmissions. The amendments take effect 60 days after adjournment of the legislature.
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