BTC protocol maintainer Samuel Dobson steps down: ‘Now is the right time to go’

Another of “Bitcoin” Core’s code maintainers has stepped down, leaving the exclusive development group with possibly just three or four members. Samuel Dobson announced his resignation on Twitter, saying, “now is the right time to go.” His announcement follows that of fellow maintainer Jonas Schnelli in October.

BTC Core is the group responsible for the upkeep of the reference protocol that drives BTC, the largest digital currency by trade volume and market cap. Its name (and reputation) in the public eye as simply “Bitcoin” is challenged by BSV, the only protocol that still follows the original rules and vision set by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008-9.

In a thread posted on December 10, Dobson acknowledged he had been a BTC Core maintainer for three years and said he no longer had time to dedicate to the project as he completes his Ph.D. He also thanked entrepreneur John Pfeffer of Pfeffer Capital and “GitHub sponsors” for financially supporting his work on BTC Core. 

The timing of both resignations is interesting. Schnelli resigned just days before the start of the Kleiman v Wright “Satoshi trial” and Dobson just days after its verdict. We should note that no public statements are suggesting either resignation was linked to the trial. However, Dr. Craig S. Wright has previously warned that code maintainers for digital asset/blockchain networks are legal fiduciaries, and as such may be liable for thefts and other losses that occur on their networks.

Dr. Wright has also sent letters before action threatening lawsuits against the developers of BTC, BCH, BCH-ABC (now called eCash), and even BSV. He seeks to recover some 110,000 Bitcoins stolen from his company, Tulip Trading, in a hack that occurred in February 2020.

The Wright stuff

Dr. Wright is now sitting in a more comfortable position following this recent verdict in the Kleiman v Wright lawsuit, which found there was no partnership in Bitcoin’s creation. The case and trial produced a wealth of sworn evidence testifying that Wright created Bitcoin alone.

Other possible actions against developers include copyright claims over ownership of Bitcoin’s transaction database, which is used (at least up to July 2017) by all four of the blockchain networks listed above. Without the right to use this database, Bitcoin-based networks would either cease to operate or be forced to negotiate a license fee with Dr. Wright. As part of any licensing fee, Dr. Wright has insisted his terms would include that blockchains other than BSV stop using the name “Bitcoin.”

Any of these issues would create significant headaches for developers involved with these projects except BSV.

Major changes to BTC’s protocol rules (set in the BTC Core code) include SegWit (2017) and Taproot (2021) have altered the way BTC transactions function—particularly with regards to the cryptographic signatures that legally verify the transaction chain, and level of “privacy” in the amount of information each transaction reveals.

Researcher Angela Walch from the St. Mary’s University School of Law and the UCL Centre for Blockchain Technologies described protocol developers as legal fiduciaries in her 2018 paper, “In Code(rs) We Trust: Software Developers as Fiduciaries in Public Blockchains.” Both developers and transaction processors (miners) could be held liable for thefts, asset losses, and other illegal activities, Walch said. In other words, this means they would be obligated to take steps to rectify them or face enforcement action.

Dr. Wright looks set to put these claims to the test soon, and to some, it would appear that BTC Core developers would rather not face those obligations.

How many BTC Core maintainers could you fit in a Lambo?

While anyone is free to be a “Bitcoin developer” and write potential code for inclusion in BTC Core’s protocol, only the “maintainers” have committed access to formally save it in the source code.

An article posted in Coinmarketcap’s “Learn” section recently listed BTC Core’s current code maintainers as: Wladimir van der Laan (lead maintainer), Pieter Wuille, Marko Falke, Michael Ford, Samuel Dobson, and Jonas Schnelli. Schnelli resigned in October, and Falke’s current status is unclear—meaning there may currently be only three or four code maintainers left at BTC Core.

It could be challenging to fit four men in a Lambo, but they could easily fit into a sedan. The point of this is that code maintainers have ultimate authority over what changes are made (or not made) to the protocol and thus BTC’s rules.

Given that BTC aspires to be a global monetary network that could usurp even the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency, this is an immense amount of power concentrated in the hands of a few people. Despite frequent claims of “decentralization,” peer-reviewed approval processes, and other checks and balances (all self-defined), influence over BTC’s functional policies is remarkably concentrated.

Less talked about the role of those developers’ sponsors and supporters. As in politics, financial support is transactional, and donors would be highly likely to have opinions on how BTC should work.

For the record, Coinmarketcap also has this description of BSV on its pages:

“BSV differs from other versions of Bitcoin in its adherence to the original Bitcoin protocol and focus on realising the vision for the Bitcoin network outlined in the Bitcoin white paper and other known Satoshi Nakamoto writings. Unlike BTC, which now primarily functions as an investment or store of value asset, BSV aims to offer a scalable and usable blockchain platform for efficient payments and distributed data applications for consumer, enterprise and government users.”

BSV protocol developers (the Bitcoin SV Node team) have set the basic rules for how Bitcoin transactions should function “in stone” to guarantee future compatibility. Maintenance of the code itself is in the hands of the Bitcoin Association, a Swiss not-for-profit industry association.

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EthereumFTX and Tether—who have co-opted the digital asset revolution and turned the industry into a minefield for naïve (and even experienced) players in the market.

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