An English court has barred Cøbra from making arguments on costs in Dr. Craig Wright’s copyright claim against him unless he first identifies himself to the court, in response to what the judge called an ‘unprecedented’ situation.
Indeed, the ruling comes as a result of a highly unusual set of facts. Cøbra, the pseudonymous operator of the Bitcoin.org website who was successfully sued by Dr. Wright for copyright infringement over his hosting of Wright’s Bitcoin white paper, was attempting to challenge Dr. Wright’s entitlement to legal costs—without identifying himself to the court. In response, Dr. Wright filed an application for an order that unless Cøbra identifies himself, he should not be allowed to make submissions to the court.
Assuming Cøbra doesn’t appeal (which he cannot do without identifying himself), Dr. Wright will now be able to seek payment for his full legal costs without input from the defendant or detailed assessment by the court. Before this latest order, Dr. Wright was seeking costs of £574,857.42 plus interest.
Simon Cohen, managing associate at ONTIER LLP, said in a statement:
“We welcome this important decision by the English Court, which reaffirms the sanctity of our open justice system. Whilst there are some, limited, situations where a party can be anonymised to the public, there are no circumstances in which a party can participate in proceedings whilst maintaining their anonymity in the face of the Court.”
Cøbra will do anything to stand up to Satoshi—except face the music
Cøbra’s refusal to identify himself was a theme in the lead-up to Dr. Wright’s victory, thanks in large part to Cøbra. When he first heard from Dr. Wright’s lawyers, asking him to cease the copyright infringement by taking the paper down, Cøbra sought to curry public support by saying he was willing to martyr his anonymity if that’s what it took to “defend Satoshi’s whitepaper.”
You're wrong if you think you can bully me you creepy loser. If I have to give up my pseudonymity to defend Satoshi's whitepaper, arguably the most important paper of the 21st century, then so be it. https://t.co/YpqXlD8DlP
— Cøbra (@CobraBitcoin) April 22, 2021
The bluster proved hollow, with Cøbra refusing to show up in court to challenge the case. Dr. Wright received a full judgment as a result. Cøbra was forced to take down the white paper and host a notice on the bitcoin.org website notifying visitors of the judgment.
No. I didn't show up because defending against nonsense is a waste of time.
Aren't you happy? You finally got a "win". You should all be celebrating, but instead, you seem annoyed.
— Cøbra (@CobraBitcoin) May 18, 2021
With Dr. Wright victorious, all that remained to be decided was whether Cøbra should pay Dr. Wright’s costs and if so, how much. It was at this point that Cøbra decided he wanted to participate, appointing a specialized costs attorney and filing points of dispute with the court.
Shaman Kapoor, arguing for Dr. Wright on behalf of ONTIER LLP, argued that it is an elementary point that a party to a proceeding must identify itself if it wants to be involved in those proceedings, and that the position was no different than it was during the substantive part of the lawsuit: Cøbra is not permitted to make submissions anonymously. Among the concerns were potentially money laundering risks of accepting payments from a totally anonymous party.
Cøbra’s attorneys on the other hand characterized the order being sought by Dr. Wright as “a Draconian order preventing the defendant from being heard.” They argued that there’s nothing in the U.K. Civil Procedure Rules which require a party to identify themselves when serving points of dispute.
In making their arguments, neither party could find any precedent in which an unidentified party to proceedings had taken an active role in them. Cases involving an unidentified party are typically of the criminal kind, where the unknown person is not taking part in the proceedings whatsoever. Here, however, was a unique situation where Cøbra threw the towel in during the most important part of the proceedings and then came back at the eleventh hour to challenge Dr. Wright’s claimed costs.
The judge agreed with Dr. Wright:
“In my view, it is plain that a party is expected to identify themselves when first actively involved in the proceedings. That requirement is clear from the rules concerning the commencement of a claim and the filing of a response to that claim.”
Without such identification, the judge ruled, it could not be said that the party in question had submitted to the jurisdiction of the court:
“Absent that information, there is no way that the court, for example, could sanction the defendant in the various ways provided for by the rules.”
The judge granted permission for Cøbra to appeal the decision, but acknowledged that such an appeal is unlikely to happen as that, too, would require Cøbra to identify himself.
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