The libel case between Bitcoin creator Dr. Craig S. Wright and online media personality Peter McCormack concluded this week with a finding in Dr. Wright’s favor. Yet the nature of the victory left many unsatisfied on both sides and looking forward to Bitcoin’s next legal installment in the hope of a more decisive outcome.
Far more than Dr. Wright’s personal reputation is at stake. Though he is often painted in the ‘crypto’ industry and mainstream media as “the man who claims to be Bitcoin’s inventor,” it’s important to remember that it was never Wright who initially made these claims. He was outed by two media publications at the end of 2015, and has come under relentless attacks from government agencies and groups seeking to exert control over Bitcoin since his name and face became known.
These groups understand that if the legendary “Satoshi Nakamoto” is a real and identifiable person, it threatens their control over Bitcoin’s protocol and ideological direction. The real Satoshi Nakamoto also has a valid IP claim to the Bitcoin transaction database since 2009, and Dr. Wright himself holds a collection of important patents covering many aspects of blockchain technology. Therefore, the constant legal attacks with coordinated online social engineering campaign are nothing more than attempts to discredit his character and potentially bankrupt him, stealing his intellectual property and thus regaining control over Bitcoin to suit their own purposes.
Dr. Wright has had no choice but to respond to these attacks, which initially meant admitting that he was indeed Satoshi Nakamoto and that Bitcoin’s governance had become corrupted. Proving his own claim to be Satoshi is now key to Bitcoin’s future, whether people agree with the tactics or not.
Next up: ‘Hodlonaut’
The next installment is likely a case between Dr. Wright and Norwegian Twitter influencer/troll Magnus Granath, aka Hodlonaut. That action was launched by Granath, intended to obtain a “negative declaration” to help eliminate a separate libel suit in the U.K. brought by Wright. However, in a landmark decision the English Court of Appeal ruled the two cases were sufficiently distinct enough for both to proceed.
The recent decision in the McCormack defamation case could possibly influence Granath/Hodlonaut’s cases in both jurisdictions. An English judge decided McCormack did, in fact, defame Dr. Wright, but also noted several examples where he’d found Wright’s supporting evidence to be questionable. The result was a ruling in Wright’s favor, but only £1 in damages awarded.
Dr. Wright’s supporters and enemy camps both claimed this result as a victory, though neither found it to be the killer blow that would silence the other side. Moreover, the result will likely be used by both sides in Granath’s case to influence the decision.
Satoshi’s long and winding legal road
A series of civil cases involving Dr. Wright has sucked up much of the oxygen in the Bitcoin/blockchain space. He has been both the plaintiff and the defendant in these cases, meaning many would still have happened whether he chose to be involved or not.
Notably, in the two most prominent cases—Ira Kleiman’s lawsuit and COPA’s copyright challenge—Dr. Wright has been the defendant. These two cases are also the ones that would do the most to prove Wright to be Bitcoin’s original creator: in the latter case, his opponents are seeking a positive declaration that Dr. Wright is not the author of the white paper, something the U.K. courts have already accepted. In the former case, both parties accepted that Dr. Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto—the question was whether he owed any of Satoshi’s coins to anyone else. Dr. Wright was victorious there, too.
– Ira Kleiman‘s failed attempt to acquire billions of dollars worth of early Bitcoins. This U.S. (Florida) trial by jury was a significant victory for Dr. Wright: the jury spent two weeks hearing evidence (from both sides) placing Dr. Wright at the creation of Bitcoin, but were not convinced anybody else was involved, as Kleiman had claimed. The case also included a tangential intellectual property issue involving Kleiman’s “co-defendant” W&K Info Defense Research LLC that went against Wright. However, the issue of W&K’s ownership and shareholders, and whether the company should have been involved in the case at all, is still unresolved. Kleiman’s lawyers previously failed in an attempt to start the whole trial again and have reportedly since requested an appeal.
– Dr. Wright’s suit against developer “Cobra,” where he sought to enforce his copyright as author of the 2008 Bitcoin white paper against the operator of BTC’s bitcoin.org site, who was hosting the paper without permission—another ruling in Dr. Wright’s favor, but by default judgment.
– Dr. Wright’s defamation action against McCormack, where the judge ruled in Wright’s favor but awarded only £1 in damages. McCormack had previously been ordered to pay more than £100,000 covering Wright’s legal costs in association with the former’s failed attempt to have the case delayed and his abandonment and attempted revival of his truth defense (that Dr. Wright was provably not Satoshi Nakamoto). McCormack had dropped this defense after the parties exchanged their evidence in the case, ensuring that the question would not be raised at trial.
– Two cases involving Twitter troll Magnus Granath/Hodlonaut and Dr. Wright. One of those is the upcoming Norway case, which Granath initiated to obtain a “negative declaration” that he had not defamed Dr. Wright by calling him a fraud on Twitter, in an effort to pre-empt a separate action by Dr. Wright in the U.K. However, judges have determined that both cases should proceed. This case has been complicated by summary decisions and appeals, including a failed attempt by Granath to have the UK case thrown out, resulting in an order to pay Wright £303,000 in legal costs.
– A lawsuit by the Crypto Open Patent Alliance (COPA) against Dr. Wright, which challenges Dr. Wright’s authorship of the 2008 Bitcoin white paper. This case is the current “big one” that observers hope will settle the issue of Satoshi Nakamoto’s true identity one way or another. It also involves several Silicon Valley big-hitters since COPA includes Jack Dorsey’s Block/Square (NASDAQ: SQ), Meta (NASDAQ: META) (formerly Facebook), Coinbase (NASDAQ: COIN), Kraken, Michael Saylor’s MicroStrategy (NASDAQ: MSTR) and Blockstream (inventors of the centralized Lightning Network) as members. The COPA case is not set to go to trial until early 2024, at least.
All these cases have also involved several procedural challenges, summary judgments, arguments over evidence and jurisdiction, formal statements, and side issues. Each of these has been thoroughly reported in ‘crypto’ technology industry media and thus clouded the narrative. Casual observers and vocal commentators have frequently confused summary judgments for final verdicts, opinions for orders, and the differences between civil and criminal law (for the record, none of these cases is a criminal case).
Any one of these cases should have helped settle the Satoshi issue for everyone—but so far have not, with both sides claiming victories each time. They have avoided opportunities for Dr. Wright to present slam-dunk evidence to support his claim to be Satoshi Nakamoto, and judges have cautioned that Satoshi’s identity was not the issue being decided.
Until such evidence exists, presented under oath and accepted by non-Bitcoin observers, Wright’s Satoshi identity will forever be open to challenges and accusations. Although it is all unrelated to BSV’s technology and projects in the BSV ecosystem, there is an impact.
What does all this mean to the BSV ecosystem?
Many who work daily to build startups in the BSV ecosystem would prefer to focus on the benefits Bitcoin could bring to the digital economy. They would prefer not to face constant online trolling, ill-informed opinions, and coordinated disinformation campaigns. The conversation should be about technology, streamlining processes, expanding user bases, profits, and ultimately a more useful and secure digital economy for everyone.
Fortunately, the decision-makers who matter most are not anonymous accounts on Twitter. They’re groups like the IEEE and IPv6 Forum, who understand networks and are curious to hear more about what Bitcoin can do. They’re enterprise users and government departments who realize the world needs a more secure and verifiable way to process and store data than the Internet we have now. These decision-makers are far more influential than glib social commentators, and this is reflected in Dr. Wright’s invitations to present his ideas before technical bodies and their conferences.
If ongoing legal actions are the price to ensure these ideas get heard, then everyone should agree they are necessary despite the occasional frustration.
Like blockchain technology itself, we’d prefer BSV’s legal issues to be “like plumbing”—something that’s necessary, but which also fades into the walls and isn’t the main discussion topic. Instead, in this sense, BSV often feels like blockchain’s Pompidou Centre. Newcomers researching the original Bitcoin’s superior technology are confronted with an external wall of complication that dominates the conversation about it and through which they must pass to see what creative people are doing inside.
The wider blockchain industry is locked in a giant format war to win the hearts and minds of governments and large enterprise users, whose decisions will ultimately decide which (or if any) chain become the world’s universal source of truth. Despite claims that the world economy can accept various competing platforms running on different blockchains, most of them (including Bitcoin) would only reach their true potential if it is used and trusted by everyone.
How to process and conserve data for centuries into the future is a highly technical affair that even those decision-makers have trouble understanding fully. So, for better or worse, decisions may be made on the outcomes of court trials and political emotions rather than technology.
New to Bitcoin? Check out CoinGeek’s Bitcoin for Beginners section, the ultimate resource guide to learn more about Bitcoin—as originally envisioned by Satoshi Nakamoto—and blockchain.