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How are cryptocurrencies and digital assets legally defined?

Legal Definition of Cryptocurrencies and Digital Assets

In the world of finance, the advent of cryptocurrencies and digital assets has revolutionized investment strategies and customer-centric activities. They have redefined traditional fiscal systems with their unique characteristics, such as decentralization, cryptographic security, and reliance on blockchain technology. This article explores the legal definitions of cryptocurrencies and digital assets.

What are Cryptocurrencies?

Cryptocurrencies, also known as virtual currencies or digital currencies, are types of digital assets. They function as a medium of exchange, utilizing cryptographic techniques for secure transactions, control of additional unit creation, and verification of asset transfers. The most well-known example of a cryptocurrency is Bitcoin, but there are thousands of such currencies existing today, ranging from Ethereum and Ripple to lesser-known ones like Dogecoin and Cardano.

Legal Definition of Cryptocurrencies

The legal definition of cryptocurrencies varies significantly from one jurisdiction to another. Cryptocurrencies have not been universally recognized as a form of “money” or “currency” in the traditional sense. They are generally viewed as assets, the value of which can fluctuate greatly.

For instance, in the United States, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) categorizes cryptocurrencies as property for tax purposes. As such, they’re subject to capital gains tax regulations. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) classifies cryptocurrencies as a type of value that substitutes for currency.

In contrast, in the European Union, a European Court of Justice ruling validates Bitcoin and other digital currencies as a currency and not a commodity for tax purposes. However, the European Central Bank defines cryptocurrency as a type of unregulated digital money that is issued and controlled by its developers and used and accepted by members of a specific virtual community.

What are digital assets?

Digital assets are all forms of digital data, whether they’re cryptocurrencies, digital art, emails, datasheets, or digital securities. They encompass any data that exists in a binary format and comes with the right to use. They can also be transferred across digital platforms, bought, sold, and, in most cases, exert a form of value.

Legal Definition of Digital Assets

In legal terms, a digital asset is broadly defined by the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act as “an electronic record in which an individual has a right or interest.” This definition excludes underlying assets or liabilities in any electronic document or record, such as traditional assets with electronic title documents.

As with cryptocurrencies, jurisdictions may have different legal definitions for digital assets. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) considers digital assets as securities if they meet the definition of an “investment contract” under federal security laws.


The advent of cryptocurrencies and digital assets has blurred the lines between traditional financial instruments and the digital world. Their legal definitions continue to evolve with advancements in the field. It’s essential for traders, investors, and regulators to comprehend these definitions in their respective jurisdictions to navigate the complex landscape of crypto regulation and investment strategies effectively.