Mapping the Future of Insider Trading Law: Of Boundaries, Gaps, and Strategies

42 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2013 Last revised: 4 May 2013

See all articles by John C. Coffee

John C. Coffee

Columbia Law School; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI); American Academy of Arts & Sciences

Date Written: March 2013


The current law on insider trading is arbitrary and unrationalized in its limited scope in a number of respects. For example, if a thief breaks into your office, opens your files, learns material, nonpublic information, and trades on that information, he has not breached a fiduciary duty and is presumably exempt from insider trading liability. But drawing a line that can convict only the fiduciary and not the thief seems morally incoherent. Nor is it doctrinally necessary. The basic methodology handed down by the Supreme Court in SEC v. Dirks and United States v. O’Hagan dictates (i) that a violation of the insider trading prohibition requires conduct that is 'deceptive' (the term used in Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934), and (ii) that trading that amounts to an undisclosed breach of a fiduciary duty is 'deceptive.' This formula illustrates, but does not exhaust, the types of duties whose undisclosed breach might also be deemed deceptive and in violation of Rule 10b-5. Many forms of theft or misappropriation of confidential business information could be deemed sufficiently deceptive to violate Rule 10b-5. More generally (and more controversially), the common law on finders of lost property might be used to justify a duty barring recipients from trading on information that has been inadvertently released or released to them without lawful authorization. Still, current law has stopped short of generally prohibiting the computer hacker and other misappropriators who make no false representation.

This article surveys possible means by which to rationalize current law and submits that the SEC can and should expand the boundaries of insider trading by promulgating administrative rules paralleling and extending the rules it issued in 2000 (namely, Rules 10b5-1 and 10b5-2). Specific examples are suggested.

At the same time, this article acknowledges that the goal of reform should not be to achieve parity of information and that there are costs in attempting to extend the boundaries of insider trading to reach all instances of inadvertent release. Deception, it argues, should be the key, both for doctrinal and policy reasons.

Keywords: insider trading, deception, deceptive device, Section 10(b), Rule 10b-5, agent, fiduciary

JEL Classification: A13, D63, D73, G18, H39, K42

Suggested Citation

Coffee, John C., Mapping the Future of Insider Trading Law: Of Boundaries, Gaps, and Strategies (March 2013). Columbia Business Law Review, 2013, Columbia Law and Economics Working Paper No. 439, ECGI - Law Working Paper No. 204, Available at SSRN:

John C. Coffee (Contact Author)

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