Home Crypto News News Compound Lawsuit: Are the DAO’s VC Backers Actually General Partners Liable for COMP Token Holders’ Losses?

Compound Lawsuit: Are the DAO’s VC Backers Actually General Partners Liable for COMP Token Holders’ Losses?

Josh Adams
Published October 31, 2023 12:32 PM
Giuseppe Ciccomascolo
Verified by Giuseppe Ciccomascolo
Share on
Key Takeaways
  • Three investors are suing nine VC firms behind Compound DAO.
  • They argue they sold unregistered securities, and are responsible for losses.
  • The case raises big questions about both DAOs and securities laws.

A class action lawsuit  is asking if major venture capital (VC) firms that invested early in cryptocurrency Compound (COMP) could be legally responsible for losses suffered by everyday investors.

The lawsuit was filed in December 2022 against 9 big VC investors, including famous Silicon Valley firms like Andreessen Horowitz and Bain Capital Ventures. Together, these firms own over 50% of the Compound tokens that give voting power over the Compound Decentralized Autonomous Organization (or Compound DAO).

The VCs Named in the Lawsuit

The specific VC firms named as defendants in the case  are:

  • Andreessen Horowitz
  • Bain Capital Ventures
  • Polychain Capital
  • Paradigm
  • Gauntlet Networks
  • Digital Currency Group
  • Accomplice
  • Scalar Capital
  • Coinbase Ventures

Together these 9 firms hold a majority stake in Compound, controlling the DAO’s critical decisions. The lawsuit argues this level of influence makes them potentially liable. COMP, the token associated with the DAO, crashed  significantly in 2021 and has not recovered.

Compound DAO, like others, functions on blockchain technology and smart contracts rather than centralized control. However, with major venture capital firms owning a significant share of voting tokens, the “decentralized” nature of the DAO is up for debate.

The plaintiffs argue  these VCs were not just passive investors, but actively pushed and promoted Compound to pump up demand and make their stakes more valuable. They claim the VCs had influence over Compound’s decisions and worked to get the tokens trading on popular crypto exchanges like Coinbase.

The key allegation is that the VCs should be treated like general partners in a partnership. In partnerships, individual partners can be personally liable for debts and misconduct of the overall partnership entity. Here, the plaintiffs say liability for losses should extend from Compound to the major VCs behind it.

VCs Tried to Junk the Case

The VCs tried to get the case thrown out early on. They said they were just regular investors, not actively involved in illegal activity. But on September 21 , the judge, William H. Orrick, said  there was enough evidence of the VCs’ control and promotion of Compound to let the case move ahead for now.

In one of the cases cited by the defendants, Underwood v. Coinbase Global Inc ., a New York judge permanently dismissed  it in February. The reason for the dismissal was that the judge found Coinbase to be a secondary marketplace, thus absolving it from any liability in soliciting investments. 

COMP Price, the token from Compound DAO.
COMP’s price crashed in 2021. Source: CoinMarketCap.

However, Judge Orrick, presiding over the Compound suit, took a different stance. He argued that the plaintiffs in the Compound case have convincingly asserted that the partner defendants actively engaged in soliciting the sale of cryptocurrency assets. They are not merely peripheral participants, as was the case with Coinbase in Underwood.

“The allegations support the partner defendants’ control over the solicitations or others making solicitations on their behalf and at their direction,” Judge Orrick said.

An Argument over Securities Laws

A major dispute is whether securities laws, which normally apply to stocks and bonds, can extend partnership-based liability to cryptocurrencies like Compound tokens (COMP). The VCs say the law does not allow this, but the judge decided it was too early to dismiss the case on those grounds.

The lawsuit faces lots of legal hurdles before major investors would actually have to pay damages. But it represents a new legal threat for large crypto investors, who can no longer assume decentralization always limits their responsibility. 

To date, DAOs have had a limited interaction with the law, so how the case pans out is largely theoretical. But it puts pressure on VCs to carefully consider how much control and influence they exert over crypto projects. 

Was this Article helpful? Yes No