A Cryptocurrency by Any Other Name May Still Smell Like a Security

Dror Futter, Partner, Rimon, P.C.

Although the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has been studying blockchain and cryptocurrencies since 2013, until its recent pronouncement, the SEC had been silent with respect with respect to its regulatory authority with respect to Initial Coin Offerings. An Initial Coin Offering (“ICO”) is a company’s release of its own cryptocurrency in exchange for tokens of a pre-existing cryptocurrency (e.g., bitcoins and in rare instances, a fiat currency – currency backed by the issuing government such as Dollars or Euro). The ICO issuing company effectively ‘sells’ a pre-defined number of coins or crypto-tokens to purchasers.

The surge in ICO’s has been so dramatic, that in 2017 ICO’s surpassed venture capital as the primary source for funding blockchain ventures and recent news reports suggest that funds raised through an ICO were “crowding out” venture investors. Most ICO’s in the United States have been conducted without registration under U.S. securities laws. Typically, the issuer simply provides potential investors with a “White Paper” outlining how they intend to use the money raised by the ICO.  To put it charitably, the quality and detail of these White Papers varies widely.

The similarity between the term “Initial Coin Offering” and “Initial Public Offering” or IPO is more than coincidental and these similarities have now prompted the SEC to issue its first pronouncements on the subject of ICO regulation under the securities laws and on July 25, 2017, the SEC did just that and issued the following three documents:
• An SEC Report of Investigation;
• A Press Release about the report; and
Guidance to Purchasers of Digital Tokens

The issue the SEC has been grappling with is the application of the definition of a “security” to the tokens being issued in an ICO.  In a 1946 Supreme Court case Securities and Exchange Commission v. Howey Co., the U.S. Supreme Court identified four criteria (which have evolved a bit since that decision) that need to be present for an investment contract, within the meaning of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, to be a security.  They are: (1) the investment of money or other consideration, (2) In a common enterprise (although there is a split over how “commonality” should defined), (3) where investors expect a profit, and (4) any returns to the investors are derived solely from efforts of the promoters (issuers) or other third parties. The Court noted that the facts and circumstances of each case will determine whether an instrument is a security, even if it does not technically fall within the narrow criteria of their specific decision.

In short, the SEC press release stated:
• Tokens offered and sold by “The DAO” (the case that had been investigated) were securities, subject to the federal securities laws;
• Issuers of blockchain technology-based securities must register offers and sales unless a valid exemption applies;
• Those participating in unregistered offerings may be liable for securities law violations; and
• Securities exchanges enabling trading in these securities must register unless an exemption applies.

The SEC’s documents are silent on so-called “utility tokens” or “service tokens” – tokens that allow the purchaser to obtain a service (e.g., data storage; online games) and it is likely we will hear more from the SEC in future, since their press release contained a clear warning the securities laws and regulations apply to ICO’s. Although not all tokens sold in an ICO will automatically be considered a security, there remains significant uncertainty and most knowledgeable attorneys in this arena have already been advising their clients to avail themselves of the exemptions to the registration requirements (e.g., Reg D, Reg A+ or Crowdfunding under the JOBS Act).

This is an extremely complex and challenging (and evolving) area of the law and regulation and you can read the entire Client Alert: Casting Light Over Recent Events Concerning the SEC’s views on ICOs, Cryptocurrencies, Tokens, Securities and their Legal Repercussions.  Of course, if you want to know even more or need guidance, you should contact Dror Futter directly and you can always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, or any of the attorneys at Rimon Law with whom you regularly work.

Taking Wagers on Sports Betting & Online Gambling

– Joe Rosenbaum

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 prohibits most states from authorizing sports betting (the law grandfathered a few states, such as Nevada) and New Jersey has been fighting to convince the Federal government to allow the State to legalize and license sports betting.  The latest attempt to circumvent the Act was the repeal of New Jersey’s own sports betting prohibitions at racetracks and casinos.  That effort was derailed by a series of court decisions, culminating in a 9-3 en banc decision of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which then led to the State of New Jersey petitioning the Supreme Court of the United States.

Last month, the Supreme Court refused to deny New Jersey’s challenge to the Federal ban (see, Christopher J. Christie, Governor of New Jersey, et al, Petitioners v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, et al; and New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, Inc., Petitioner v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, et al) and left the door open to grant certiorari in the case if the Office of the Solicitor General (which is part of the U.S. Department of Justice) argues the case raises serious issues and questions of Federal law. They could, if they so choose, seek to revisit the long-standing position of the DOJ holding sports betting illegal.  To some extent, with the new administration of President Trump in place, many see this as an opportunity to do just that, since many of you may remember that as owner of casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, then businessman Donald Trump was a proponent of the legalization of sports betting.

Clearly, as States look to generate other sources of tax revenue, many view this as an opportunity to increase revenues and regulate an activity that has long been associated with organized crime. Indeed, the American Gaming Association estimated well over $4 billion in bets were placed on the Super Bowl last Sunday, virtually all of it, illegally. President Trump has consistently said he is in favor of eliminating or reducing legislation and regulation that restricts what States may or may not do and that encumber businesses needlessly beyond necessary Federal oversight. This may well fit right into that category, although there have been no comments as yet from the Administration.

Former Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, just confirmed last night as Attorney General of the United States, has voiced opposition to any expansion of online gambling in the past, although when questioned during Senate hearings, did indicate he was willing to take another look at how and to what extent online gaming is being enforced by the Federal government.  There is also the possibility that in deciding to allow sports betting and an expansion of online gaming generally, the Federal government may choose to adopt some form of federally regulated or licensed betting and gambling scheme. While the path ahead is far from certain and opposition remains, some things do seem clear: attitudes are changing, the present administration is not averse to controversial new ideas, is favorably disposed to the elimination of any unnecessary Federal regulation that stands in the way of creating jobs and stimulating the economy and, notably, is likely to welcome finding an opportunity to enable States to find ways to increase tax revenue – and taxing so-called ‘sin’ industries may not be such an objectionable idea.

Stay tuned and, of course, if you have any questions, want further information or need help, don’t hesitate to contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, or any of the attorneys you regularly work with at Rimon.

FCC Opens Radio and Television Broadcasting to Foreign Entities

by Stephen Díaz Gavin

For more than 80 years, Section 310(b) of the Communications Act of 1934 has been interpreted as prohibiting direct foreign ownership of more than 20% and indirect ownership of 25% or more of US radio and television broadcast stations.  Effective January 31, 2017, this will change as the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has removed longstanding prohibitions against these limitations on foreign ownership, although it has preserved the right, on a case-by-case basis, to block a foreign acquisition of a broadcast license in excess of 25% (e.g., for reasons of national security).

Foreign entities, for quite some time, have already been permitted to acquire control over non-broadcast licenses (e.g., nationwide cell carrier T-Mobile is majority owned by Deutsche Telekom). But the FCC has steadfastly enforced its longstanding foreign ownership control policies over broadcast station licenses.  Most famously, Rupert Murdoch had to become a U.S. citizen before being able to acquire control over what we know today as Fox Broadcasting.

Changes adopted to the rules of the FCC will enable approval of up to and including 100% aggregate foreign beneficial ownership (voting and/or equity) by foreign investors in the controlling U.S. parent of a broadcast licensee, subject to certain conditions.  The revised rules, which newly define and in certain respects create different rules for “named” and “un-named” investors, they will allow a named foreign investor that acquires less than 100% to increase its controlling interest to 100% at some time in the future.  If a named foreign investor acquires a “noncontrolling” interest, that investor will now be permitted to increase its voting and/or equity interest up to and including a “noncontrolling” interest of 49.99% in the future, if it chooses to do so.

Although the FCC’s expansive “public interest standard” in approving sales and investments in broadcast licenses, coupled with input from other Executive government agencies, could significantly delay or block investments from some countries, the strong support of this initiative by the remaining Republican members of the FCC would tend to indicate the FCC will be disposed to allow most transactions to proceed to closing.  Indeed, the FCC has already signaled its willingness to do so, by approving just such a foreign ownership acquisition in a recent declaratory ruling issued even before the new rules take effect, ending a decades long back-and-forth haggling over Mexican ownership of Univision.

For more information regarding the new FCC rules or assistance in handling the regulatory and transactional aspects of such an investment, contact the author, Stephen Díaz Gavin, or Phil Quatrini or Sandy Sterrett, all partners at Rimon, P.C.

Of course, you can always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, the Editor!

Mobile Money, Mobile Risk – The Future of ePayment Systems

Earlier this week, the editorial staff of the UK-based publication e-Finance & Payments Law & Policy, interviewed Joseph I. Rosenbaum, New York-based partner and Chair of Rimon’s global Advertising Technology & Media law practice, in connection with its cover story for the January 2013 issue. The stimulus for the initial story was the release late last year of a report by the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC) regarding the risks attendant to the growth and evolution of the mobile payment industry, and the use of mobile contactless payment technology by consumers and merchants in routine purchase transactions (e.g., NFC, Bluetooth, RFID, SMS, Wi-Fi, and WAP enabled devices generally.)

While the cover story is still in the process of being edited for publication, the editorial staff felt that publishing the full interview separately was itself newsworthy. So follow this link and you can read the full text of the e-Finance & Payments Law & Policy interview with Joseph I. Rosenbaum, partner at Rimon LLP.

You can also read the FDIC report, issued in its Supervisory Insights – Winter 2012 release, right here: Mobile Payments: An Evolving Landscape.

Of course, if you need help or more information, contact Joseph I. Rosenbaum (joseph.rosenbaum@rimonlaw.com), who also leads the ATM Mobile Marketing initiative, or feel free to call upon any of the Rimon lawyers with whom you regularly work. We are happy to help.

New Jersey Casinos Permitted to Offer Mobile Gambling on Premises

In a press release dated October 9, 2012, the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, Division of Gaming Enforcement, unveiled new temporary regulations applicable to mobile gaming in Atlantic City casinos. Procedurally, these regulations will remain in effect as of October 8 for 270 days, while the Division of Gaming Enforcement hopes to publish final regulations within 60 days.

With a focus on preventing underage gambling and protecting the security of mobile gaming, these new regulations will permit established and licensed casinos to enable mobile gambling on their property – ostensibly in every “recreational” area, but not in parking lots and garages. The regulations require providers of software and other technical means to exploit mobile gambling, to also obtain licenses as gaming-related service providers.

If you want to review the press release and materials, you can go to the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General website, or you can download and read a copy of the new temporary regulations right here N.J.A.C. 13:69O [PDF].

Of course, if you need help or more information, contact me, Joseph I. Rosenbaum (joseph.rosenbaum@rimonlaw.com), or any of the Rimon lawyers with whom you regularly work.

Insight from California’s Special Assistant Attorney General for Technology

In a recent interview with Travis LeBlanc, California’s Special Assistant Attorney General for Technology, Amy Mushahwar and Joshua Marker of Rimon’s Data Privacy, Security & Management practice, obtained some interesting insight on California’s new Privacy Protection and Enforcement Unit. Mr. LeBlanc addresses current and upcoming privacy trends, and the focus of California’s enforcement actions.

You can read the entire discussion and the insights obtained right here: Rimon Attorneys Interview Travis LeBlanc, of California’s New Privacy Protection and Enforcement Unit

As always, if you need help or more information, contact the Rimon lawyers mentioned above; me, Joseph I. Rosenbaum; or any of the Rimon lawyers with whom you regularly work.

CFPB Proposes Nonbank Risk Supervision

This post was written by Robert M. Jaworski and Joseph I. Rosenbaum.

The Dodd-Frank Act granted to the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) supervisory authority over a wide array of financial entities, including large depository institutions and their affiliates, as well as various nonbank “covered persons,” such as residential mortgage originators and servicers, private education lenders, payday lenders, and “larger participants” in other markets and their respective service providers. To prevent “bad actors” from escaping through cracks in the CFPB’s supervisory reach, Dodd-Frank gave the CFPB broad authority to supervise other nonbank covered persons if CFPB has “reasonable cause to determine, by order … and after a reasonable opportunity to respond” that such nonbank covered person “… is engaging, or has engaged, in conduct that poses risks to consumers with regard to the offering or provision of consumer financial products or services” (“Additional Authority”). The CFPB has now taken its first step toward fleshing out this Additional Authority and providing a framework for this type of supervisory authority.

On May 20, 2012, the CFPB suggested rule was published in the Federal Register, proposing to establish procedures by which it will supervise any nonbank covered person that is not already subject to CFPB supervision. The most significant of these procedures would:

  • Require the CFPB to provide such unsupervised person with a Notice of Reasonable Cause, informing them that the CFPB believes it has a reasonable basis upon which to assert supervisory authority and providing facts that support that belief
  • Give the unsupervised person an opportunity to respond to the Notice, in writing within 20 days, either contesting the assertions or voluntarily consenting to supervision
  • Allow an unsupervised person to contest the assertion of such supervisory authority, in writing, but also through informal arguments in a supplemental oral response (typically by telephone), which would not constitute a hearing on the record, and neither discovery nor testimony of witnesses would be permitted. Following any contest and submissions, the Assistant Director for Nonbank Supervision would be required to make a recommendation, with the Director authorized to issue the final decision and Order as to whether or not the unsupervised person shall be subject to CFPB supervision.
  • Allow the unsupervised person, once becoming subject to CFPB supervision, to petition the Director after two years (and no more than annually thereafter) for termination of the Order. FYI, an unsupervised person that voluntarily consents to CFPB supervision would not have a right to file such a petition.

Issuance of a Notice does not mean charges have been filed against the unsupervised person, it simply triggers the procedures outlined in the CFPB rules. However, if the CFPB issues a notice of charges, it can choose, in its sole discretion, to utilize more formal adjudicatory procedures (including some variations) that are described in 12 C.F.R. 1081.200. Comments on the proposed rules are due by July 24, 2012, and you can read the entire proposed CFPB rule directly at Procedural Rules To Establish Supervisory Authority Over Certain Nonbank Covered Persons Based on Risk Determination.

If you need more information about these proposed rules, or want help determining if you should submit comments and the best way to approach the substance and form of those comments, please contact Robert M. Jaworski (rjaworski@rimonlaw.com). Of course, you can always find out more or get the assistance you need by contacting me, Joe Rosenbaum, or the Rimon attorney with whom you regularly work.

IAPP Privacy Presentation – Is the Wizard of Oz Still Behind the Curtain?

On May 10, 2012, I had the privilege of making a presentation at the IAPP Canada Privacy Symposium 2012. The title of my presentation was "Social and Mobile and Clouds, Oh My!" and it addressed some of the emerging issues in privacy, data protection and surveillance that arise as a result of globalizing technology and the convergence of social media, mobile marketing and cloud computing.

As part of that presentation (and as I have started to do for some time now in other presentations), I raised the issue of how lawyers, the law, legislators and regulators often use words to describe activities – words rooted in tradition or precedent – that are no longer applicable to the activity in today’s world. "Privacy" is such a word, although "not applicable" perhaps is too harsh. Obviously the word has significant applicability in a wide variety of situations. But "invasion of privacy" has become a knee-jerk reaction to virtually every information-gathering activity, even information readily and publicly available and, in some cases, posted, disclosed or distributed by the very individual whose privacy is alleged to have been "invaded."

Please feel free to download a PDF of my presentation, "Social and Mobile and Clouds, Oh My!" [PDF] (Note: Embedded video file sizes are too large to include), and let’s start a conversation about how we use words and how they wind up in laws and regulations. Lawyers work with words. Use them artfully and they provide powerful structures within which society, commerce and all forms of human endeavor function. Use them improperly and they cause confusion, uncertainty, inconsistency and inherently inequitable outcomes.

Seems like I am not the only one to point this out. Take a look at the insightful comments by John Montgomery, COO of GroupM Interaction, North America, as reported in a MediaPost RAW posting on Social Media entitled: If Marketing Terms Could Kill.

Kudos John. I’m with you. Let’s get it right.

FYI, Rimon has teams of lawyers who have experience and follow developments in privacy and data protection, information security and identity theft. If you want to know more, if you need counsel or need help navigating, or if you require legal representation in this or any other area, feel free to call me, Joseph I. ("Joe") Rosenbaum, or any of the Rimon lawyers with whom you regularly work.

White House Releases Privacy Report and Calls For a Consumer Bill of Rights

Earlier today, Secretary of Commerce John Bryson and Federal Trade Commission Chairman John Liebowitz outlined the Obama administration’s strategy for ensuring “consumers’ trust in the technologies and companies that drive the digital economy.” On the heels of their announcement, and although it is dated January 2012, the Department of Commerce released a long-awaited report entitled “Consumer Data Privacy in a Networked World, A Framework for Protecting Privacy and Promoting Innovation in the Global Digital Economy,” the administration’s roadmap for privacy legislation and regulation in the years ahead.

The announcement and privacy blueprint envisions a comprehensive and integrated framework for data protection, rather than the current sector-patchwork-quilt approach, and is comprised of four key pillars: (1) a consumer privacy bill of rights; (2) a multi-stakeholder process and approach dealing with how such a bill of rights would apply in a business context; (3) more effective enforcement; and (4) greater commitment to harmonization and cooperation in the international community.

The Report outlines the seven principles of its proposed Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and, although calling for legislation and regulation to codify and memorialize these rights, also sets out consumer privacy standards that companies are asked to immediately and voluntarily adopt in a cooperative public-private partnership. These seven principles are:

  1. Individual Control Through Choice
  2. Greater Transparency
  3. Respect for Context
  4. Secure Handling
  5. Access & Correction Rights
  6. Focused Collection
  7. Accountability

The Report notes that a company’s adherence to the voluntary codes will be viewed favorably by the FTC in any investigation or enforcement action for unfair and deceptive trade practices. By implication, a company that does not adopt and follow these principles might be used as evidence of a violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act, even if federal legislation is not passed on the subject. The FTC is expected to soon release its Final Staff Report on Consumer Privacy that will be consistent with the Obama administration’s proposed Framework Report. The report reinforces the administration’s commitment to international harmonization, and also touches upon the role state attorneys general in the United States can play. While we are still reviewing the details – and more will likely be forthcoming from the administration in the weeks and months ahead – Legal Bytes will keep you on top of these developments as they arise.

You can read the entire report right here: Consumer Data Privacy in a Networked World, A Framework for Protecting Privacy and Promoting Innovation in the Global Digital Economy.

These are developments that affect all businesses, domestic and multi-national, global and local, consumers and regulators. The complexity and challenges of compliance should not be underestimated, nor should the administration’s commitment to follow the roadmap outlined. Rimon has teams of lawyers who have experience and follow developments in privacy and data protection, from prevention and policy to compliance and implementation. If you want to know more, need counsel, need help navigating, or if you require legal representation in this or any other area, feel free to call me, Joseph I. (“Joe”) Rosenbaum, or any of the Rimon lawyers with whom you regularly work.

Online Gambling. Time to Change Legal Bytes to Legal Bets?

On December 23, 2011 the U.S. Department of Justice reversed its decade long position on the applicability of the U.S. Wire Act to online gambling that does not involve sports betting. In previous years, prosecutions were brought against any form of online gambling based on their interpretation of the Wire Act. This opinion, reverses the long standing position and may well clear the way for States to become more aggressive in legislatively enabling intra-State online gaming and who knows, perhaps the Federal government will consider licensing and regulation permitted online gambling. This is not simply big news within the United States. Gaming and gambling operators around the world who may already be working with governments on their lottery initiatives and many other companies who have no presence in the United States may now be looking to establish a foothold and ultimately a major presence in the U.S. Similarly, U.S. casino and gaming operators already licensed, may sense the opportunity for foreign investment and the injection of new capital, new expertise and a more global platform.

Rimon and its interdisciplinary team of experienced gaming transactional, e-Commerce, payment, privacy, technology and marketing lawyers have their eye on this new development that has the potential to energize the data-intensive, multi-billion dollar online gambling industry in the U.S. market. Joe Rosenbaum, Ramsey Hanna and Joshua Marker have authored a Client Alert which you can read here:  U.S. Federal Government Reverses its Stance on Online Gaming.