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Coinbase Challenges SEC’s Proposed Definition Change: An Organic Response to Regulatory Overreach

Coinbase, the renowned cryptocurrency company, has joined the ranks of firms pushing back against the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) proposed alteration to its definition. The SEC’s public comment period concluded on Tuesday, marking the culmination of a reopened process initiated in April. The regulatory body had previously announced its intent to broaden the scope of its definition of an exchange to encompass decentralized finance (DeFi) and cryptocurrencies.

The SEC’s decision to reopen the comment period was driven by SEC Chair Gary Gensler’s acknowledgment of the need to address concerns raised by various market participants, especially those in the crypto space. Gensler emphasized that numerous crypto trading platforms already fall under the existing definition of an exchange and are thus obligated to comply with securities laws.

However, tensions escalated last week when the SEC filed a lawsuit against Coinbase, accusing the platform of operating as an unregistered exchange and offering unregistered securities. In response, Coinbase penned a letter to the SEC, citing Supreme Court rulings and contending that the agency’s regulatory authority does not extend to banning an entire industry without explicit congressional authorization.

On Tuesday, Coinbase took a firm stance against the SEC’s endeavor to encompass DeFi and crypto within its updated definition of exchanges, which also encompasses traditional financial market makers. The company expressed particular concern over the potential impact of the proposal on decentralized exchanges (DEXs). Coinbase argued that applying the proposed rule to DEXs would impose an impracticable requirement.

In its letter, Coinbase shed light on the process of creating a DEX, highlighting that software developers typically write code and publish it on a public, permissionless blockchain. This code, accompanied by governance tokens, enables holders to modify select elements of the DEX going forward. The company emphasized that the proposed rule fails to account for the unique characteristics and operational dynamics of DEXs.

Coinbase is not alone in its criticism of the SEC’s proposed exchange definition. The Blockchain Association, DeFi Education Fund (DEF), Paradigm, and Republican members of the House Financial Services Committee have all voiced concerns and called for the withdrawal of the proposal. Paradigm argued that DEXs, particularly those employing automated market maker mechanisms, operate without intermediaries and utilize algorithms to facilitate transactions, making the proposed rule ill-suited for their decentralized nature.

Tavonia Evans of the National Policy Network of Women in Color in Blockchain urged the SEC to provide explicit guidance on the proposed rule’s applicability to DEXs that do not facilitate crypto-to-fiat transactions. Meanwhile, Miller Whitehouse-Levine, CEO of DEF, succinctly summarized the sentiment shared by many: the proposed rulemaking implies that crypto businesses must centralize, cease operations, or exit the United States.

The Blockchain Association, Paradigm, and Coinbase also raised concerns regarding the SEC’s adherence to the Administrative Procedures Act during its regulatory process. They argued that the proposed rule change lacks clarity, leaving the range of activities it encompasses unclear and underscoring the need for comprehensive economic analysis, broad industry engagement, and a thorough examination of the SEC’s statutory jurisdiction.

In essence, Coinbase’s decision to challenge the SEC’s proposed definition change is emblematic of a broader resistance to regulatory overreach. By highlighting the potential negative consequences for DEXs and demanding a more thorough and inclusive regulatory approach, Coinbase and other industry stakeholders strive to preserve the innovative potential of decentralized finance while ensuring compliance within a sensible regulatory framework.

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