The SEC issued a new report (Report of Investigation) cautioning market participants that offers and sales of digital assets by “virtual” organizations are subject to the requirements of the federal securities laws. Such offers and sales, conducted by organizations using distributed ledger or blockchain technology, have been referred to, among other things, as “Initial Coin Offerings” or “Token Sales.” Whether a particular investment transaction involves the offer or sale of a security – regardless of the terminology or technology used – will depend on the facts and circumstances, including the economic realities of the transaction.
The SEC’s report found that tokens offered and sold by a “virtual” organization known as “The DAO” (a digital “decentralized autonomous organization”) were securities and subject to federal securities laws. The report confirms that issuers of distributed ledger or blockchain technology-based securities must register offers and sales of such securities unless a valid exemption applies. Those participating in unregistered offerings also may be liable for violations of the securities laws. Additionally, securities exchanges providing for trading in these securities must register unless they are exempt. The purpose of the registration provisions of the federal securities laws is to ensure that investors are sold investments that include all the proper disclosures and are subject to regulatory scrutiny for investors’ protection.
The SEC’s report stems from an inquiry that the agency’s Enforcement Division launched into whether The DAO and associated entities and individuals violated federal securities laws with unregistered offers and sales of DAO Tokens in exchange for “Ether,” a virtual currency. The DAO has been described as a “crowdfunding contract,” but it would not have met the requirements of the Regulation Crowdfunding exemption because, among other things, it was not a broker-dealer or a funding portal registered with the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
Also read A Closer Look: Blockchain Primer
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