Securities Law Prof Blog

Editor: Eric C. Chaffee
Univ. of Toledo College of Law

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Nickerson on Direct Listing

Benjamin Nickerson has posted The Underlying Underwriter: An Analysis of the Spotify Direct Listing on SSRN with the following abstract:

In April 2018, music streaming giant Spotify disrupted the traditional initial public offering model and became a publicly traded company through a novel process known as a direct listing. Eschewing standard Wall Street practice, Spotify did not raise new money through the offering and instead simply made its existing shares available for purchase by the public. Spotify worked throughout 2017 and 2018 alongside legal counsel and investment banks and in communication with the Securities and Exchange Commission to facilitate the unorthodox approach. Major technology companies are now adopting a similar approach.

In recognition of these developments, this Comment has two aims: to shed light on the statutory contours of a direct listing and to contribute to the legal understanding of underwriter liability. As this financial innovation unfolds, an important question remains: Who is liable as an “underwriter” in a direct listing for purposes of liability under Section 11 of the Securities Act? This Comment argues that the investment banks Spotify retained as financial advisors qualify as statutory underwriters notwithstanding language in the registration statement to the contrary. By walking through the precise statutory elements of a direct listing and by calling attention to latent liabilities in the process, this Comment seeks to set forth a path for future technology unicorns to follow the Spotify playlist.

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