Bitcoin’s status as a form of unregulated virtual money doesn’t mean it’s not subject to US currency laws, a federal district court has found. In a published decision from August 6th, Judge Amos Mazzant ruled that the SEC’s case against an alleged Bitcoin Ponzi scheme master could go forward. Trendon Shavers, the accused, had argued that the court didn’t have jurisdiction to prosecute Bitcoin-related crimes under existing securities law. According to him, “no money ever changed hands” — just Bitcoin, which he asserted was not actually a currency.
Mazzant, however, disagreed. “It is clear that Bitcoin can be used as money,” he wrote (PDF). “It can be used to purchase goods or services, and as Shavers stated, used to pay for individual living expenses.” While only a limited number of places let you purchase goods with Bitcoin, it can also be exchanged like any other currency. “Therefore, Bitcoin is a currency or form of money, and investors wishing to invest in [Shavers’ company Bitcoin Savings & Trust] provided an investment of money.”
The court’s decision adds to a growing body of policy and law that says Bitcoin is a currency. Earlier this year, the US Treasury Department’s Jennifer Shasky Calvery called companies that deal in Bitcoin and other virtual currencies “a financial institution” that had “the same obligations as any money services business.” Later, a California court attempted to shut down the Bitcoin Foundation on the grounds that it was operating an unlicensed “money transmission” business. Abroad, a Thai Bitcoin company was shut down after trying to get licensed as a currency, but not because the government disagreed with its assessment — Bitcoin was a kind of money, the Bank of Thailand agreed, but existing laws didn’t provide a framework to correctly regulate it.