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The Ineluctable Modality of Securities Law: Why Fungible Crypto Assets Are not Securities


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Securities regulators in the United States have repeatedly asserted that most fungible blockchain-based crypto assets are clearly securities under current law. This perspective may at first seem understandable. Much of the interest in crypto assets to date has been driven by their investment potential, and the judicial adoption of this position would give U.S. securities regulators jurisdiction over nearly all activity taking place with these assets. But this assertion is incorrect. An exhaustive review of the relevant appellate case law and the related legal scholarship demonstrates that this position is inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s definition of the term “investment contract” as developed by federal appellate courts for nearly a century.

This Article addresses the federal securities law status of fungible crypto assets not intended to be a type of traditional security, with a focus on secondary transactions in these assets, such as those effected on a centralized crypto asset marketplace, like Coinbase, or through the use of a smart contract-based protocol, like Uniswap. Such crypto assets lack the ineluctable hallmarks of a security – (i) they neither create nor represent the necessary legal relationship between an identifiable person or entity and the owner of the asset and (ii) marketplace-based secondary transfers of these assets do not create investment contract transactions. Moreover, treating these fungible crypto assets as securities implies a need for the development of an entirely new concept in federal securities law: “issuer-independent securities”.

Capital raising from investors, whether involving sales of crypto assets or anything else of value, is incontrovertibly subject to the protections provided by U.S. securities laws, as has been demonstrated through numerous successful enforcement actions by securities regulators. Expanding the reach of federal securities law to characterize fungible crypto assets as securities is both unnecessary and misguided. Instead, the legitimate policy concerns raised by non-capital raising activity involving crypto assets should be addressed by Congress. We examine these concerns and discuss the approaches adopted in several Congressional bills introduced during 2022, which the authors believe could form the basis of a reasonable and balanced solution to the unique issues raised by the trading of fungible crypto assets in non-fundraising transactions.

Edited by HAL1000
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