As digital assets and cryptocurrencies have become an increasingly important part of the current financial landscape, market participants and their advisors have struggled with to answer the question whether or not the tokens and coins represent “securities” subject to the requirements of the federal securities laws. In a remarkably direct speech on June 14, 2018, SEC Director of Corporate Finance William Hinman provided some helpful guidance on the SEC’s approach to these digital assets. Among other important things in his speech, Hinman shared his view that Bitcoin and Ether are not “securities” under the U.S. securities laws. He also emphasized that all of the circumstances involving a digital asset, including in particular the way in which it was sold, will determine whether or not the asset is a security. The text of Hinman’s speech at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit can be found here.
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One of the cutting-edge legal issues – one that is raised in a number of pending securities class action lawsuits – is the question of whether cryptocurrencies are “securities” and therefore required to be registered with the SEC before they can be traded. Within this larger question are a host of related issues, perhaps the most interesting of which is the question whether digital currencies that act as “mediums of exchange” are securities, or rather are more like traditional currencies, which are exempt from the definition of securities. The answer to this question could have an enormous impact on the marketplace for digital currencies and could have significant liability implications in a number of pending actions and enforcement actions.
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John Reed Stark

One of the most significant recent developments in the financial world has been the sudden proliferation of cryptocurrencies. The quick rise of digital currencies seemingly caught regulators by surprise; regulatory action and involvement was slow to develop. But as John Reed Stark, President of John Reed Stark Consulting and former Chief of the SEC’s Office of Internet Enforcement, documents in the following guest post, U.S. regulators have heard the bell and are now rising to action, and for good reason. A version of this article previously appeared on Cybersecurity Docket. I would like to thank John for his willingness to allow me to publish his article as a guest post on this site. I welcome guest post submissions from responsible authors on topics of interest to this site’s readers. Please contact me directly if you would like to submit and article. Here is John’s guest post.
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John Reed Stark

As cryptocurrencies and ICOs have proliferated, one very key question has been whether not the coins or tokens are securities within the meaning of the federal securities laws. Earlier this week, the first federal court hearing at which this question was discussed took place in the federal district court in Brooklyn. In the following guest post, John Reed Stark, President of John Reed Stark Consulting and former Chief of the SEC’s Office of Internet Enforcement, provides his detailed report of the court hearing as well as his perspective on the topics under discussion. A version of this article originally appeared on Cybersecurity Docket. I would like to thank John for his willingness to allow me to publish his article as a guest post on this site. I welcome guest post submissions from responsible authors on topics of interest to this site’s readers. Please contact me directly if you would like to submit a guest post. Here is John’s guest post.
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Among the many problems that have come to light in the current cryptocurrency craze have been problems relating to celebrity endorsements for initial coin offerings (ICO). In the following guest post, John Reed Stark, President of John Reed Stark Consulting and former Chief of the SEC’s Office of Internet Enforcement, reviews the highest profile examples of cryptocurrency celebrity endorsements, and then proposes a list of cryptocurrency caveats, for celebrities and for everyone else as well. A version of this article originally appeared on Cybersecurity Docket. I would like to thank John for his willingness to allow me to publish his article as a guest post on this site. I welcome guest post submissions from responsible authors on topics of interest to this blog’s readers. Please contact me directly if you would like to submit a guest post. Here is John’s guest post.
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Among the many innovations we have had to confront in a world characterized by rapid technological change is the advent of cryptocurrency, as a social and financial phenomenon. As I have previously noted, the current cryptocurrency craze has also become a legal phenomenon as well, as now nearly a dozen securities class action lawsuits involving cryptocurrency, ICOs, and blockchain technology have been filed just in the last six months or so. The latest of these lawsuits  — one involving allegations relating to an Italian cryptocurrency exchange operator nicknamed “The Bomber” and including investor demands for the court to compel a “rescue fork” — may suggest that in addition to technological change, the advent of cryptocurrency could introduce legal changes as well.
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I am sure that when most people think about the kind of organization that might engage in an Initial Coin Offering (ICO), they typically are thinking of a start-up venture — an enterprise trying to get off the ground. But there have been some high-profile cases of well-established companies trying to jump on board the cryptocurrency bandwagon. For example, Kodak, the iconic film and photographic equipment company that has fallen on hard times in recent years, announced a plan earlier this year to launch KodakCoin, a photography-focused cryptocurrency that is supposed to help photographers manage their collections by creating permanent, immutable records of ownership. (Kodak’s later postponed the planned launch.)

The online retailer Overstock.com is another established company that late last year announced plans for a cryptocurrency offering. Overstock’s cryptocurrency plans were derailed earlier this month after its planned offering drew SEC scrutiny. Now, the company has been hit with a securities class action lawsuit relating to its miscarried cryptocurrency initiative, as discussed below. Though much of what happened to Overstock is company- specific, the sequence of events and the overall circumstances may have some important lessons as the cryptocurrency phenomenon evolves.   
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John Reed Stark

As many readers undoubtedly are aware, the prices for bitcoin has plunged in recent days, from a peak of nearly $20,000 in December to approximately $8,300 more recently, representing a decline of nearly 60%. The prices for other cryptocurrencies have also fallen along the same order of magnitude. This dramatic decline certainly at least raises the question of whether or not the pricing bubble for cryptocurrencies that fueled the recent wave of initial coin offerings (ICOs) has burst – or at least, is about to burst. In the following guest post, John Reed Stark, President of John Reed Stark Consulting and former Chief of the SEC’s Office of Internet Enforcement, suggests that the bursting of the ICO bubble may be exactly what the financial marketplace needs for the long haul. I would like to thank John for his willingness to publish his article as a guest post on this site. I welcome guest post submissions from responsible authors on topics of interest for this site’s readers. Please contact me directly if you would like to submit a guest post. Here is John’s guest post.
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 The astonishing bitcoin bubble may have burst over the last several days. From its intraday peak in December 2017 of $19,783, the price for bitcoin had fallen as of Saturday to $8,524, a decline of over 60%. (Price declines continued on Monday.) Bitcoin’s price has fallen before and it has generally proven to be volatile. The price may yet escalate again. But if it has always been hard to specify a reason for the phenomenal price movements of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, there certainly have been recent developments aplenty to undermine the price for these digital assets.
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Many readers may have noted SEC Jay Clayton’s January 22, 2018 speech about his agency’s scrutiny of cryptocurrencies, as well as the January 24, 2018 opinion piece Clayton wrote in the Wall Street Journal along with his counterpart from the CFTC, J. Christopher Giancarlo. In both statements, Clayton made in clear that the SEC intends to hold gatekeepers to account for their activities in connection with ICOs and cryptocurrencies. In the following guest post, John Reed Stark, President of John Reed Stark Consulting and former Chief of the SEC’s Office of Internet Enforcement, takes a look at the SEC’s cryptocurrency related focus on gatekeeper liability. I would like to thank John for his willingness to publish his article as a guest post on this site. I welcome guest post submissions from responsible authors on topics of interest to this blog’s readers. Please contact me directly if you would like to submit a guest post. Here is John’s guest post.
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