Fairness, Efficiency and Insider Trading: Deconstructing the Coin of the Realm in the Information Age
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
Whether and how the federal securities laws should restrict insider trading is one of the most hotly debated topics in the securities law literature. Paradoxically, both the theoretical analysis and the legal rules concerning insider trading remain extraordinarily vague and ill-formed. What is the special character of insider trading that leads to this apparently irresolvable puzzle? In this Article, I argue that there is, in fact, nothing special about insider trading that creates this dilemma, but rather there is something special about the nature of information itself. Accordingly, this theoretical dilemma is not limited to insider trading regulation, but rather pervades all areas of intellectual property law.
In this Article, I situate insider trading regulation within the larger body of intellectual property law by discussing three potential allocations of the property right in valuable inside information. First, inside information could be treated as a public resource, meaning that a person in possession of inside information could not legally exploit that advantage for personal profit. Such a regime would forbid some or all insider trading by forcing the disclosure to the marketplace of inside information prior to trading. I argue that regulators should reject this alternative because, despite it's proponents' tendency to justify the rule in terms of fairness, this proposal is unlikely to foster fairness in any meaningful way.
Alternatively, the property right in valuable inside information could belong to issuers, as the producers of such information. I argue that regulators should reject this alternative because, despite its proponents? tendency to frame their arguments in terms of promoting informational efficiency, a legal regime treating inside information as the property of the issuer is unlikely to further that goal. In fact, such proposals assume an affirmative answer to a question that is fiercely debated in other areas of intellectual property law: does creating a property right in information producers incentivize additional production to the extent necessary to offset the social costs of excluding others from use of the information?
Finally, the property right in valuable inside information could reside with "outsider traders" (traders who possess inside information, but are neither insiders nor constructive insiders of the issuer). I argue that regulators should pursue this alternative because, although there is no need to encourage issuers to create valuable inside information, the need to encourage the dissemination of such information to the marketplace has been recognized for many years. Accordingly, I propose in this Article a system of federal securities regulation that would permit trading by corporate outsiders who did not receive their information in a tip from an insider or constructive insider. Such a system, I argue, provides the hope of filling in the gaps left by the current disclose or abstain system, by encouraging the reflection of material information in stock market price without disclosure of the actual inside information. At the same time, this proposal avoids the perverse incentives and negative impacts on market efficiency attendant in a system that permits insider trading by corporate employees.