A report released by litigation consultancy firm Cornerstone Research indicates that initial coin offerings (ICOs) account for under 2% of securities class action lawsuits – just 12 of 750 cases.
ICOs are not the main offenders… are they even securities?
With the total number of securities lawsuits at levels unmatched since 1995, the report found cases involving ICOs hit just five in the latter part of 2017, and have reached seven in 2018 so far. There have been 111 suits filed in total since the start of the year. While cases filed against American companies are reported to be on the decline, there is a growing number opened against European and Asian companies, nearly double that seen in the last decade.
Whether ICOs even classify as securities is currently up for debate. Securities can be defined as financial assets that represent a proof of ownership in the stake of a company that has intrinsic monetary value, but some argue tokens and cryptocurrencies purchased during ICOs do not qualify under this definition. This disagreement has led many to question whether the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is even the correct entity to be investigating cases involving ICOs.
Despite much bad press regarding ICOs, several of these few cases opened against crypto-related companies found fault in their reluctance to file their tokens as securities, which is a legal requirement in the US.
In one instance, Ripple (XRP) is facing three separate lawsuits from investors who lost money when they sold the tokens on. The plaintiff in one of these cases argues the XRP classifies as a security because i) they must be purchased with money, ii) investors reasonably expect to profit from them due to Ripple’s own promotional efforts, and iii) the profits collected are determined by the company’s management decisions.
The Massachusetts branch of the SEC suspended five cryptocurrency companies offering ICOs in March this year because they had all failed to register their tokens as securities.
In February, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton declared that ICOs must meet securities regulations, ”end of story”, although in June the SEC voted that Ethereum did not meet the definition of a security. Ethereum and Ripple have fundamentally different structures and use-cases for them, but it indicates a more reasoned, practical approach may be taken by the SEC in the future.
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