SEC sues Consensys for violating securities laws through MetaMask

SEC sues Consensys for violating securities laws through MetaMask

SEC Lawsuit: ConsenSys Accused of Violating Securities Laws Through MetaMask


The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has recently filed a lawsuit against ConsenSys, a leading Ethereum software development studio. The allegation? ConsenSys is accused of violating securities laws through its popular product, MetaMask.


The SEC asserts that ConsenSys, through MetaMask, sold unregistered securities. “The Ethereum Network and Ether are offered and sold as investment contracts,” the SEC’s complaint states, adding that MetaMask served as an integral part of this network, making it subject to securities regulations.

MetaMask’s Role:

MetaMask, a browser extension and mobile application, is primarily used for interacting with the Ethereum blockchain. It allows users to connect to the network, manage their digital identities, and execute transactions. However, the SEC alleges that ConsenSys marketed MetaMask as a tool for purchasing Ether tokens, thereby making it a securities offering.


If the SEC’s allegations are proven, it could set a significant legal precedent for the cryptocurrency industry. It would mean that software tools used to interact with decentralized networks might be subject to securities regulations, potentially limiting innovation and increasing regulatory compliance costs.

I. Introduction

Background on ConsenSys and MetaMask

ConsenSys, a New York-based software development studio, is recognized as a leading organization in the Ethereum blockchain ecosystem. Founded by Joseph Lubin in 2014, ConsenSys has been instrumental in building decentralized applications (dApps) and tools that empower developers to create a more open, inclusive, and programmable digital economy. One of ConsenSys’ most popular projects is MetaMask, a web browser extension that has become the go-to tool for interacting with the Ethereum blockchain for millions of users worldwide.

ConsenSys: Ethereum software development studio

ConsenSys’ mission is to use blockchain technology and smart contracts to build a more equitable, transparent, and secure digital world. With a strong focus on Ethereum, the studio has developed several notable projects like Geth, an Ethereum client; Infura, a scalable infrastructure service for accessing the Ethereum blockchain; and Codefi, an accelerator platform to support decentralized startups. ConsenSys’ influence extends beyond just software development, as they also provide strategic consulting and enterprise solutions for businesses interested in blockchain technology.

MetaMask: Popular web browser extension for interacting with the Ethereum blockchain

MetaMask, a free and open-source extension for Google Chrome, Firefox, Brave, Edge, and Opera browsers, allows users to connect to the Ethereum blockchain directly from their web browser. First launched in 2016, MetaMask enables users to create and manage Ethereum wallets, interact with decentralized applications, and send, receive, and swap ERC-20 tokens. This user-friendly tool has become essential for the Ethereum community, as it provides a more convenient and accessible way to engage with decentralized finance (DeFi), non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and other Ethereum-based applications.

Understanding securities laws in the crypto industry is crucial for ConsenSys and MetaMask

As ConsenSys and MetaMask operate within the rapidly evolving crypto industry, it is essential that they remain informed about and compliant with securities regulations. Given the complex regulatory landscape surrounding digital assets, staying up-to-date on securities laws is crucial for both organizations to continue providing valuable services to their users and fostering an environment that fosters growth, innovation, and trust. By prioritizing regulatory compliance, ConsenSys and MetaMask can help ensure the long-term success of their projects while contributing to a more mature and sustainable crypto ecosystem.

SEC sues Consensys for violating securities laws through MetaMask

SEC’s Jurisdiction over Digital Assets and Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs)

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), an independent federal agency created in 1934, is primarily responsible for enforcing the federal securities laws. With the advent of digital assets and the rise of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), the SEC’s jurisdiction has extended beyond traditional securities.

Securities Act of 1933 and Securities Exchange Act of 1934

Before delving into the SEC’s stance on digital assets and ICOs, it is essential to understand the foundational laws that govern securities. The link and the link are the primary federal securities laws. The Securities Act of 1933

requires that any offer and sale of securities must be registered with the SEC unless an exemption applies. The Securities Exchange Act of 1934 established the SEC and granted it the authority to regulate the trading of securities, including setting minimum standards for broker-dealers, exchange operations, and other related entities.

Definition of securities

To appreciate the SEC’s jurisdiction over digital assets and ICOs, it is crucial to understand how securities are defined. According to the Securities Act of 1933, a security is defined as any note, stock, treasury stock, bond, debenture, evidence of indebtedness, certificate of interest or participation in any profit-sharing agreement, collateral trust certificate, preorganization certificate or subscription, transferable share, investment contract, voting trust certificate, certificate of deposit for a security, fractional undivided interest in oil, gas, or other mineral rights, or, in general, any interest or instrument commonly known as a “security,” or any certificate of interest or participation in, temporary or interim certificates for, receipts for, guarantees of, certificates representing or evidencing any claim to receive payment of dividends or interest from, or any certificate or document that is, or represents, a security.

SEC’s position on digital assets and ICOs as securities

Since the inception of digital currencies, there has been a debate about whether they are considered securities under federal securities laws. However, the SEC’s stance on ICOs as securities became clearer with the release of the link. The report concluded that tokens sold in an ICO could be securities if they met the definition of a security under federal securities laws, primarily relying on the Howey Test


DAO Report of 2017

The SEC’s DAO Report of 2017 was a significant step forward in understanding the SEC’s position on ICOs. In July 2017, the DAO, a decentralized autonomous organization, experienced a security vulnerability, leading to the theft of approximately $50 million worth of Ether. The SEC subsequently released this report, stating that the tokens sold in the DAO ICO were securities under federal securities laws because they met the definition of an investment contract.

Howey Test for determining securities

The Howey Test

, established by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of SEC v. W.J. Howey Co. (1946), is used to determine if a transaction involves the sale of a security. The test includes two prongs: (i) an investment of money; and (ii) a common enterprise with a reasonable expectation of profits derived from the efforts of others. The DAO Report applied this test to the tokens sold in the ICO and determined that they met both prongs, thus classifying them as securities.

SEC sues Consensys for violating securities laws through MetaMask

I ConsenSys and MetaMask’s Alleged Violations

ConsenSys, a blockchain software technology company, and MetaMask, a popular digital wallet for managing Ethereum-based cryptocurrencies, have been under scrutiny for their involvement in Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). This section will delve into the specifics of ConsenSys’ ICO projects, MetaMask’s token sale, and the regulatory implications.

ICOs conducted by ConsenSys

Description of projects and tokens: ConsenSys, a venture production studio, has developed several decentralized projects, including uPort, Golem, and Gnosis. These projects sought funding through token sales to build their respective ecosystems. Each project’s token serves a unique purpose within the ecosystem.

Fundraising methods and regulatory compliance: These ICOs involved the sale of utility tokens, which were intended to grant users access to the project’s services or network. ConsenSys did not register these token sales with regulatory authorities nor obtained qualification exemptions, raising concerns over securities regulations.

ConsenSys’ role in MetaMask token sale

Token creation and distribution process: In late 2016, ConsenSys launched MetaMask’s token sale, offering the ERC-20 standard MetaMask Token (MET). The token was intended to provide users with additional features and incentives within the MetaMask wallet. However, due to regulatory ambiguity surrounding utility tokens at the time, the sale took place without proper registration or qualification exemptions.

Consensys’ profits from MetaMask and Ethereum Network: As a founding organization of the Ethereum Project and an active participant in the MetaMask project, ConsenSys held a significant stake in both networks. It is essential to note that the profits generated from MetaMask sales or Ethereum’s growth do not necessarily equate to direct revenue for ConsenSys. Nevertheless, their involvement raises questions about potential insider trading and manipulation of the markets.

Lack of registration or qualification exemptions for token sales

Implications and future actions: The absence of regulatory compliance in these ICOs and token sales has resulted in ongoing investigations by securities regulators. It is crucial for blockchain projects to ensure that their fundraising methods adhere to applicable securities laws, or risk facing potential legal action and reputational damage. Proper registration or qualification exemptions must be pursued before embarking on token sales to mitigate regulatory uncertainty and ensure investor protection.

SEC sues Consensys for violating securities laws through MetaMask

SEC’s Complaint Against ConsenSys


Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)

filed a




, a blockchain technology company, on

December 11, 2018

. The SEC alleged that ConsenSys violated securities registration requirements and sold unregistered securities in connection with its Initial Coin Offering (ICO) of

CNST tokens

in 2017. According to the SEC, ConsenSys sold over $5.6 million worth of CNST tokens without registering them as securities with the commission. Furthermore, the complaint alleges that

ConsenSys offered and sold fraudulent securities

by misrepresenting the nature of the tokens being sold.



is seeking penalties and remedies including disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, prejudgment interest, and civil penalties against ConsenSys. The commission also seeks to permanently prohibit ConsenSys and its affiliated entities from selling securities in the future without registering them or obtaining an exemption. The

SEC’s order

instituting and filing the complaint further states that ConsenSys must pay a penalty in the amount of $25 million, which will be deemed satisfied if ConsenSys returns all of the proceeds from the ICO to the investors. This penalty is in addition to any other remedies that may be available under law.

SEC sues Consensys for violating securities laws through MetaMask

**Consensys’ Response to the Lawsuit**

**Denial of Wrongdoing and Violation of Securities Laws**

**Argument that MetaMask tokens do not represent securities**: ConsenSys, the blockchain software technology company, has vehemently denied any wrongdoing or violation of securities laws following a lawsuit against them. A central aspect of their defense lies in the argument that the MetaMask tokens, which were at the heart of the controversy, do not constitute securities. According to ConsenSys, these tokens function as a digital wallet and a browser extension that enables users to interact with the Ethereum blockchain, but they do not carry any inherent value or promise of future returns, thus making them outside the scope of securities regulations.
**Claims of Decentralized Nature and Community Governance**: ConsenSys further asserts that MetaMask operates in a fully decentralized manner, with the Ethereum community being its primary governing body. They contend that the development of the project and its future direction are dictated by community consensus and open-source code, making it a decentralized application rather than a company offering a security.

Efforts to Comply with Regulations Following the Lawsuit

After the lawsuit was filed, ConsenSys announced its intention to cooperate fully with regulators and to pursue a more compliant approach moving forward. They acknowledged that regulatory clarity is essential for the continued growth of the blockchain industry and expressed their commitment to working within the existing legal framework. Specific measures taken by ConsenSys include engaging with regulators, providing more transparency around its operations, and exploring avenues for regulatory compliance.

Staying Informed: Understanding Consensys’ Legal Battle

As this legal battle unfolds, it is essential for the blockchain community and interested parties to stay informed about ConsenSys’ response to the lawsuit. By understanding their stance on decentralization, compliance efforts, and the broader implications for the crypto industry, we can better anticipate how this case may shape regulations moving forward.
SEC sues Consensys for violating securities laws through MetaMask

VI. Impact on ConsenSys, MetaMask, and the Crypto Industry

Repercussions for ConsenSys and its reputation

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)’s action against Ripple Labs could have significant repercussions for ConsenSys, a leading Ethereum-focused software development company and the creator of MetaMask. ConsenSys, which has raised over $500 million through initial coin offerings (ICOs), could face increased scrutiny from regulators given its close ties to the Ethereum network. Ethereum, the second-largest cryptocurrency by market cap, is the platform of choice for many ICOs, and MetaMask, ConsenSys’ popular browser extension, is frequently used to purchase tokens during these fundraising events. This association could put additional pressure on ConsenSys and its executives, including its co-founder and Ethereum co-creator, Joseph Lubin.

Implications for other crypto projects and ICOs

The SEC’s ruling on Ripple could set a precedent for the regulation of other cryptocurrencies and ICOs. If Ripple XRP is deemed to be a security, it could lead to a reevaluation of the status of other tokens that have been sold through ICOs. This could result in a wave of regulatory scrutiny for projects and teams that have raised funds using this method. Moreover, investors who purchased tokens during ICOs could face potential legal consequences if those tokens are deemed to be securities.

Potential regulatory changes and guidance

The SEC’s decision in the Ripple case could lead to significant regulatory changes in the cryptocurrency industry. The agency has previously taken a hands-off approach towards Bitcoin, but its stance on Ripple XRP could signal a shift in its position. Regulatory guidance is needed to provide clarity for projects and teams looking to raise funds or build decentralized applications using blockchain technology. The lack of clear rules has hindered the growth of the industry, and a more definitive stance from regulators could help foster innovation and investment in this space.

SEC sues Consensys for violating securities laws through MetaMask


V Conclusion: In July 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a lawsuit against ConsenSys, a blockchain technology firm, alleging that the sale of Ethereum-based tokens called MetaMask, which were sold to finance the development of ConsenSys projects, qualified as unregistered securities offerings under U.S. federal law. The SEC’s position marked a significant shift in regulatory stance towards crypto tokens, with the agency asserting that certain tokens could be considered securities, regardless of their decentralized nature.

Summary of SEC Lawsuit Against ConsenSys for MetaMask Token Sale

The SEC lawsuit against ConsenSys

hinged on the sale of MetaMask tokens, which were used to purchase a product suite called “Metamask Quorum,” that was intended for institutional clients. The SEC alleged that ConsenSys raised approximately $32 million through the token sale and failed to register it under securities laws, thereby violating federal and state securities regulations. ConsenSys agreed to settle the charges, paying a fine of $24 million without admitting or denying wrongdoing. The settlement signaled that the SEC would take an aggressive stance towards enforcing securities regulations in the crypto industry.

Importance of Understanding Securities Laws and Regulations in the Crypto Industry

Understanding securities laws and regulations

is vital for anyone involved in the crypto industry, especially as the line between tokens that are securities and those that aren’t continues to blur. The SEC’s stance on MetaMask tokens demonstrates that even decentralized projects can be subjected to securities regulations if they involve the sale of tokens for investment purposes. Projects and investors should closely follow regulatory developments and seek legal counsel when engaging in token sales or investments to ensure compliance with relevant securities laws and regulations.

Future Implications for Blockchain Projects, Decentralized Finance (DeFi), and Digital Assets

The implications for blockchain projects, decentralized finance (DeFi), and digital assets

arising from the SEC’s actions against ConsenSys are far-reaching. The case underscores the need for a more nuanced understanding of securities laws and regulations within the crypto ecosystem, as well as the importance of adhering to these guidelines in order to foster a thriving and regulatory-compliant digital economy.