Mark Roderick appeared on The Exchange with KB podcast with host Kirill Bensonoff, where he discussed Crowdfunding, Blockchain & Cryptocurrencies. In this episode, Kirill and Mark discussed the JOBS Act, Title II Crowdfunding, Accredited Investors, Regulation Crowdfunding, why we need investment regulation, the future of cryptocurrency, Libra and other blockchain tech and cryptocurrency, and legislation regarding blockchain and crypto.
Facebook just announced a Facebook cryptocurrency called Libra.
To me, the timing seems poor. Over the last year or so, Facebook has suffered one public relations black eye after another regarding its privacy policies, it compliance with an order of the Federal Trade Commission, its role in disseminating conspiracy theories and election interference, and its dominance in the social media industry. A Facebook cryptocurrency will, by definition, give Facebook even more private information and even more financial power. Already, regulators and members of the public are shouting “No!”
A few thoughts about what this means:
- Not long ago, some predicted that cryptocurrencies would lead to a better world, a world that would be more free, more decentralized, where consumers could interact with one another without middlemen. Libra, a cryptocurrency created by one of the most powerful companies in the world, seems to promise exactly the opposite.
- It didn’t take long to get from idealism to disappointment, but the arc itself is typical of technologies, from radio to automobiles to the internet. We expect technologies to save us, then they don’t.
- Are tokens securities? Does Howey apply? Facebook’s announcement shows that those questions are small potatoes in the scheme of how cryptocurrencies may re-shape the financial world.
- Undoubtedly, Facebook is in this for the data. Will consumers care? Probably not.
- Facebook might be first, but how long can it be before Google and Amazon — especially Amazon — issue their own cryptocurrencies?
- Regardless of political persuasion, governments aren’t going to allow Facebook or anybody else to compete with their national currencies. We are already seeing opposition from Democrats and Republicans alike, and we can expect more.
- And the next step: How long can it be before the U.S. dollar itself is given the features of a cryptocurrency, in effect competing with Facebook?
- The price of bitcoin increased on the announcement, but I think that’s exactly wrong. The announcement shows that bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies will be left behind as big companies take over, just as a few big companies now monetize the once-egalitarian internet.
- In the same way, I expect the announcement to stifle innovation in the cryptocurrency industry generally, just as the existence of Facebook already stifles innovation in social media and Microsoft once stifled innovation in software. Nobody wants to compete with the giant.
As all six readers of this blog know, I’m a believer in Crowdfunding from a capitalist, ideological perspective. I believe in making capital available to entrepreneurs everywhere, no matter where you grew up, no matter who your parents are, and in making great investments available to ordinary Americans, helping to narrow the wealth and income gaps that do so much harm to our society.
Frankly, Facebook and Libra feel like a step in the opposite direction, toward a world where knowledge and wealth and power are more concentrated and ordinary Americans are so many data points to be monetized. I’m certainly interested in hearing a different point of view.
Questions? Let me know.
Mark Roderick is one of the leading Crowdfunding lawyers in the United States. He represents platforms, portals, issuers, and others throughout the industry. For more information on Crowdfunding, including news, updates and links to important information pertaining to the JOBS Act and how Crowdfunding may affect your business, follow Mark’s blog, or his twitter handle: @CrowdfundAttny. He can also be reached at 856.661.2265 or email@example.com.
On this episode of the Consensus Network Podcast, host Buck Joffrey discusses how regulations and laws are affecting the crypto landscape for better and for worse with FG’s Mark Roderick. Here are some highlights:
- The “Wild Wild West” of crypto ICOs
- What happens to tokens that violated the SEC rules?
- What needs to happen for exchanges to become more compliant in the eyes of american securities law?
- The possibility of a crypto ETF
- Utility tokens vs. security tokens
Questions? Let me know.
John Barlow died last Wednesday. Mr. Barlow wrote lyrics for the Grateful Dead, dabbled in Republican politics in Wyoming, and, more famously, had big dreams for the internet. He referred to the internet as “the new home of the mind” and demanded of governments, “I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us.”
Good things have come from the internet, no question, but for the most part Mr. Barlow’s dreams have not materialized. Twenty five years later, the internet means mainly Facebook and Google for most people, along with a loss of privacy, e.g., Equifax. The internet has made it easier to work from home and collaborate and start social movements like #MeToo and #TeaParty, but also allows Russia to interfere with our elections. We’re connected all the time, yet somehow feel more lonely. And all the information circling the globe leaves us with a citizenry somehow less informed than when television came in three black and white channels.
Mixed results are not unique to the internet. Pick any technology – electricity, automobiles, television, nuclear power – and you’ll find the same story of idealistic dreams transformed or broken on the shoals of the real world. We imperfect human beings keep asking technology to save us from ourselves, and it never can.
Which brings us to blockchain.
Speaking at a crypto-conference in New York the day Mr. Barlow died, I heard a speaker predict that blockchain would replace the banking system, that cryptocurrency would eliminate national currencies, that we are about to witness a fundamental change (for the good) in the human condition. You can read articles in serious business publications about the “ethos” of blockchain, how the technology will replace our broken trust in private and government institutions.
In my opinion that thinking isn’t just wrong but dangerous. Blockchain is not going to replace the banking system, and shouldn’t. Cryptocurrencies will replace fiat currencies only in countries without a functioning currency of their own. If you see a country where Bitcoin is the currency of choice, it’s like seeing a guy on the subway with an IV in his arm: you’re not sure what’s wrong, but you know he’s sick.
If you think blockchain has an ethos, you’ll sell tokens without bothering about securities laws. You’ll encourage wage-earners to invest their savings in a cryptocurrency whose price chart makes Pets.com look stable, having decided that it’s not so much a “currency” as a “store of value.” Most dangerous, you’ll convince yourself that technology is a substitute for morality.
Like every technology, starting with fire, blockchain can improve the human condition only if we tether it to our needs.
Fortunately, based on what I saw at the conference on Wednesday, there’s a lot of tethering along with the hype. Among other things, we heard from entrepreneurs using blockchain technology to:
- Improve healthcare outcomes
- Give consumers control over their financial records
- Facilitate business and consumer payments
- Reduce fraud in the financial markets
- Make sense of our antiquated system of property ownership
With the grandiose predictions and the mystification and, frankly, some wishful thinking by lawyers, the blockchain industry has earned a black eye in the minds of many, including government regulators. Even so, light shines through. As an industry, let’s dedicate ourselves to using the technology wisely, making it work for ordinary people, being more transparent than the law requires, thinking long-term, and above all, remembering that how blockchain is viewed 25 years from now depends not on technology, but on imperfect human beings like us.
Questions? Let me know.
Cryptocurrencies are hot. And often the sale of cryptocurrencies is referred to as Crowdfunding. Unfortunately, the use of “cryptocurrencies” and “Crowdfunding” together creates confusion about both, along with some pretty serious legal risks.
We use “Crowdfunding” to mean raising money for a business or other venture online. We say “donation-based Crowdfunding” when we’re talking about Kickstarter, where people ask for donations. We say “equity-based Crowdfunding” when we’re talking about raising money from investors, who receive a stock certificate or some other security.
A cryptocurrency is, well, hard to pin down. It’s a transaction registered in a distributed, secure database. Because it exists in limited quantities and is secure, it has value. Like anything of value, it can be used as a currency. For purposes of this post, the key feature of a true cryptocurrency is that is has value of itself, like a nugget of gold.
You use Crowdfunding to sell shares of stock. Obviously, the paper certificates representing the shares of stock have no value by themselves, they have value only to evidence ownership in the business that issued the certificates or, more exactly, in the cash flow the business is expected to generate. So it wouldn’t make sense to say “I’m selling nuggets of gold using Crowdfunding.” The nuggets of gold have an intrinsic value without reference to the cash flow of anything else, or at least you hope they do. I can go shopping with a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin or Ethereum, just as I can shop with US dollars or, historically, with gold.
This is where things get tricky and words matter. The blockchain – the technology underlying all cryptocurrencies – can be used for a lot of things other than cryptocurrencies. As it happens, one of the things the blockchain can be used for is to keep track of stock certificates. In fact, the blockchain works so well keeping track of stock certificates that it will undoubtedly be used by (or replace) all public stock transfer agents within the next five years.
What’s happening today is that companies are selling what they call “cryptocurrencies” that are really just interests in the future operations of a business, i.e., really just hi-tech stock certificates. Cool, they’re using blockchain technology to keep track of who owns the company! But that doesn’t mean what you’re buying is really a cryptocurrency and that you’re going to get rich like the early buyers of Ethereum.
Words are powerful, and the confusion around cryptocurrencies is deepened by the nomenclature. Sales of cryptocurrencies are often referred to as “initial coin offerings,” or ICOs, which implies a similarity to “initial public offerings,” or IPOs. Yet if we’re being careful, the two have nothing in common. In an IPO a company sells its own securities, which have value only based on the success of the company. In an ICO somebody sells a product that has intrinsic value of itself.
Ignoring the difference is going to land someone in hot water, probably sooner rather than later. A company that sells something it calls a cryptocurrency but is really just a share of stock is selling a security, even if that company has an address near Palo Alto. And a company that sells a security is subject to all those pesky laws from the 1930s. If you sell a cryptocurrency that is really just a hi-tech stock certificate, then not only do you risk penalties from the SEC and state securities regulators, you’ll also face lawsuits from your investors if things don’t go as planned.
How to know whether you’re selling a true cryptocurrency or a hi-tech stock certificate? Here are some tips:
- If the value of the cryptocurrency depends on the success of the business, it’s a security.
- If the value of the cryptocurrency depends on, or is backed by, real estate or other property, it’s a security.
- If the cryptocurrency is marketed as an investment, it’s probably a security.
- If the value of the cryptocurrency depends what the buyer does with it, rather than the success of the business, it’s probably not a security.
- If the cryptocurrency merely gives the holder the right to participate in a group effort (g., the development of software), it’s probably not a security.
- If you’re selling the cryptocurrency in lieu of issuing stock, it’s probably a security.