As the decentralized world of blockchain continues to grow, tokenized assets have caught the eye of investors and regulators alike. Tokenized assets may be fungible or non-fungible. Fungible tokenized assets are interchangeable and indistinguishable such as Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies (“Crypto”). Non-fungible tokens (“NFTs”) are unique tokens that are non-divisible and cannot be replaced because each token has a unique value. Tokenized assets result from taking a tangible asset (such as real estate, paintings, and precious metals) or an intangible asset (such as a digital picture or a YouTube video) and converting the asset ownership into a digital token on a blockchain. This process is known as tokenization. By taking a real-world asset and making a digital representation, it creates a broader investor base, geographic reach, and a reduction in transaction times. Moreover, placing the digital token on a blockchain ensures no single authority can erase your ownership in the tokenized asset.
While tokenized assets can allow for a broader base of investors, like the Crypto market, the NFT market lacks clear regulations from the regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”). Moreover, state regulatory bodies have yet to issue guidance on the tokenized asset market.
The current legal framework was not designed to regulate and guide the creation and trade of digital assets. Moreover, the question of what category an NFT falls into depends on the particular asset that was tokenized. For example, the CFTC has stated that renewable energy credits and emission allowances are commodities as defined by the Commodity Exchange Act. However, the SEC has stated that depending on the facts and circumstances of a given NFT, it might be considered an investment contract under the Howey test, which would cause the NFT to be regulated under the Securities Act of 1933 and Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The legal uncertainty within the NFT market led SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce to recently state that guidelines would help provide the public with an understanding of how the SEC is approaching these issues. The lack of a clear regulatory framework has made investors susceptible to fraud, and it allows for bad actors to avoid domestic and international anti-money laundering laws.
Additionally, there is no standardized set of rights that accompanies an NFT since the seller determines what rights follow the NFT. Therefore, sellers and buyers alike should understand the limitations that a transfer, assignment, or license may have on the NFT.
While tokenized assets allow for quick cross-border investment and increased liquidity of real-world assets, investors are left without a clear regulatory framework and, at times, not knowing what rights follow the purchase of an NFT. As the decentralized world of blockchain continues to grow, it is imperative that investors and businesses use common sense, sound legal advice, and diligence to navigate this market. Given the lack of legal certainty, attorney legal opinions on these assets will likely immunize any reasonable use.
 Tokenization: Opening Illiquid Assets to Investors, BNY Mellon (June 2019), https://www.bnymellon.com/us/en/insights/all-insights/tokenization-opening-illiquid-assets-to-investors.html.
 What is asset tokenization?, Hedera, https://hedera.com/learning/what-is-asset-tokenization#:~:text=Asset%20tokenization%20is%20the%20process,either%20digital%20or%20physical%20assets.&text=Asset%20tokenization%20could%20convert%20ownership,0.0002%25)%20of%20the%20property (last visited Feb. 3, 2022).
 William de Sierra-Pambley, Tokenization: Opportunity and Regulation, Finding a Balance, Sheppard Mullin (Oct. 18, 2021), https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/tokenization-opportunity-and-regulation-5158893/.
NFTs: Key U.S. Legal Considerations for an Emerging Asset Class, Jones Day (April 2021), https://www.jonesday.com/en/insights/2021/04/nfts-key-us-legal-considerations-for-an-emerging-asset-class.
 Sarah Wynn, SEC’s Peirce says agency guidance on nonfungible tokens needed, Roll Call (Jan. 25, 2022), https://rollcall.com/2022/01/25/secs-peirce-says-agency-guidance-on-nonfungible-tokens-needed/.
NFTs: Key U.S. Legal Considerations for an Emerging Asset Class, supra note 11.
Tags: Assets, cryptocurrency, Joseph Pastore, Securities, Tyler Rutherford
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