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SEC launches initial strike on decentralized finance with lawsuit against Uniswap

Uniswap Labs, a team based in Brooklyn and main developer of the same-named protocol, recently received a Wells Notice. This is a document from the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that signals an intent to prosecute.

The decentralized finance (DeFi) giant Uniswap Labs has expressed readiness to fight SEC, even implying a readiness to go to court. However, this situation signals the continuing struggle between SEC and the crypto industry which has been going on for years.

SEC’s expanding reach into crypto innovations

The actions of the SEC aren’t surprising. Prior to this, the SEC had already litigated against American exchanges Coinbase and Kraken.

The industry is quite knowledgeable about the term Wells Notice, mainly because Coinbase received one before the SEC’s lawsuit came into play. However, this action signifies a significant step up in the SEC’s legal actions against crypto.

The ongoing lawsuits by the SEC against Coinbase and other entities and their consistent refusal to offer clarity or a route for lawful registration within the US have led Uniswap to determine that this is merely the latest political maneuver targeting those at the forefront of blockchain technology. This sentiment was expressed in a blog post where Uniswap announced the Wells Notice.

The SEC has primarily targeted centralized entities such as Coinbase, Kraken, and Ripple for major crypto cases. Taking legal action against an organization like Uniswap, which backs a decentralized protocol, is a new development.

For a comparable situation, consider the SEC’s case against LBRY, a company that created a decentralized alternative to YouTube. LBRY faced shutdown after a long appeal process with the US securities authority.

The SEC claimed that LBRY sold unregistered securities through a utility token launch. Initially, the SEC demanded $22 million in fines, however, they reduced it to $111,000, recognizing the company’s financial difficulties.

The ongoing legal actions against the creators of Tornado Cash, both in the US and the Netherlands, serve as a defining moment. They question whether developers are liable for the potential misuse of their self-executing code upon making it publicly accessible.

Insights on SEC’s approach to Uniswap

Bill Hughes, who serves as senior counsel and director of global regulatory matters at Consensys, shared an insightful view with CoinDesk about the matter.

He mentioned that the SEC is quite ingenious in spotting rule breaches. One likely problem could be that Uniswap Labs controls the most significant access point to the Uniswap protocol through uniswap.org.

Then, there’s the issue of the UNI governance token. This was first offered to users to give them some say in the governance of the protocol, but there’s a chance it could be misinterpreted as a securities offering.

Contrary to possible fears, Hughes reassures that the SEC is unlikely to pursue cases against Uniswap token holders or users. According to him, if you find yourself among such individuals and feel somewhat alarmed, it’s essential to take a moment, breathe, and regain your composure.

He elaborated further on X, stating that if the SEC had any intention of suing you, they would reach out via email requesting a phone conversation. However, the absence of such communication should be a clear indication that you should remain calm.

Regardless of the situation, according to Hughes, this might be the largest action the SEC takes against the DeFi industry. He believes that the SEC’s approach has been to file a lawsuit against a firm in one category before moving on to another.

When we examine the legal activity in the world of cryptocurrency, a clear pattern emerges. Law firms often first bring a lawsuit against Coinbase and then follow up with a similar suit against Kraken.

The intentional and careful way they do this appears methodical and strategic. This pattern might suggest that other decentralized exchanges, or DEXes, could be the next targets.