It’s been more than five months since Jack Dorsey and Square’s Crypto Open Patent Alliance (COPA) embarked on legal proceedings against Dr. Craig Wright over his copyright ownership over the Bitcoin whitepaper. But despite being celebrated by some corners of the crypto industry as a fatal challenge to Dr. Wright’s fight to reclaim the whitepaper, we’ve heard almost nothing from COPA while Wright continues to stack victories.
Whether or not COPA is as ready to face Dr. Wright in court as they made out to be has yet to be seen. COPA did file an amended claim form this week, which suggests their action has made very little progress.
In light of that, what is the actual purpose of COPA? Why would COPA make such a show of beginning proceedings against Dr. Wright, and then go utterly silent? There are answers to these questions, and depending on how clued in you are to the war on Bitcoin, they might surprise you.
Crypto Open Patent Alliance
COPA, an acronym for the Cryptocurrency Open Patent Alliance, is a recent invention from Square, the payments company controlled by Jack Dorsey. It was founded in September 2020, officially as a “non-profit community of like-minded people and companies formed to encourage the adoption and advancement of cryptocurrency technologies and remove patents as a barrier to growth and innovation.”
As you may know, intellectual property and in particular patents are an important subject in digital assets and what place they should have in protecting intellectual property has become a highly politicized. The contrast between what groups like the Open Invention Network (OIN) claim to be about (protecting open source software from patent aggression) and the scope for those groups to be used by its controlling members in the same way as a patent troll might should also have tipped you off that when an organization says it’s about protecting innovation and software development from intellectual property laws, it likely only means concentrating patent power to the benefit of a select few corporate giants. COPA is not an exception.
Though both involve Square, COPA differs from OIN in some key ways. Whereas OIN’s public focus is on fighting software patent trolls and reducing patent aggression, COPA goes much further. To COPA, patents are the roadblock to digital asset innovation, or so they say. Because of this, all COPA members must agree to pool their digital asset-related patents together in a shared patent library, similar to OIN. However, one distinction is that members of COPA must commit not to use their digital asset patents against others, other than in defense of themselves or the COPA community against patent aggressors.
Unfortunately one person’s patent aggressor is another person’s freedom fighter. And when you amass commercial and patent power while leaving it up to a central group to determine who is and isn’t worthy of protection, either from COPA’s patent library or from other COPA members, that central group begins to look a lot like the patent hoarding trolls they claim to be opposed to.
Who is directing COPA?
You need only look at the COPA’s upper membership to see the problem. One would expect an Alliance aimed at protecting digital asset innovators to be broadly representative of the industry, but instead COPA was founded and is being filled by a closely aligned group of companies with more or less the same dogmatic approach to Bitcoin and blockchain.
Start with Square, the founding company of COPA. Square makes no secrets about its allegiances within the digital asset space: Jack Dorsey, Square’s founder and CEO of Twitter, is an outspoken advocate for BTC and Square itself regularly promotes its BTC purchases as the most pertinent part of its balance sheet. Their enthusiasm for BTC is ideological: Dorsey is on record as saying that BTC is ‘probably’ the best native currency of the internet and ‘built by everyone’ despite BTC being technically incapable of serving as a currency. Looking at the appreciation in value of BTC since Square began purchasing it, it’s obvious why they’re so excited to have BTC on their balance sheet and it isn’t because of its use as a currency.
Or look at the second founding member, Coinbase. As one of the largest exchanges in the world, Coinbase is hopelessly dependent on the price of BTC, to the point that the threat that Satoshi Nakamoto returns with his fortune and tanks the price of BTC was listed as a disclosed impact on their business in the company’s S-1 filing. Not only that, Coinbase is now in bed with the stablecoin crowd, which at this point seem designed solely to artificially inflate the price of BTC to the enrichment of any company in a position to be taking fees on increased trading volume caused by speculators and naïve investors.
There’s Michael Saylor’s MicroStrategy, whose much-publicized purchasing of BTC beginning 2020 was so notable that there are suggestions that MicroStrategy’s plan was to turn itself into a surreptitious BTC ETF. Saylor and Microstrategy have already been busted by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for falsely reporting company profits to inflate its value. What career pump-and-dumper Michael Saylor is supposed to contribute to COPA’s stated mission is anyone’s guess.
Given that a clear pattern is emerging in COPA’s members, you won’t be surprised to hear that Blockstream is another. Blockstream’s entire existence depends not only on the success of BTC, but the failure of its competitors: the company sells sidechain products to address the flaws inherent in the BTC protocol that their centralized protocol developers created in the first place.
It’s never been about copyright
There’s a slim chance you might look at COPA and its membership and think their ideological commonalities are coincidental. After all, BTC is the most well-known digital asset currently.
However, consider this: the first and only action ever taken by COPA came shortly after its formation, to attack the copyright held in the Bitcoin white paper by Dr. Craig Wright. Dr. Wright’s claim isn’t patent-based, and Dr. Wright hadn’t taken action against COPA or any of its members, so why on earth would a months-old organization which claims to be concerned with software patents go out of its way to attack Dr. Wright, let alone as its debut move? Notably, the last bit of activity on any of COPA’s social media pages is the April 12 announcement that they were launching a legal action against Dr. Wright.
COPA is a weapon that gets aimed at whoever its controlling members—Square, Coinbase—want it to be aimed at. COPA seems constituted solely to attack Dr. Wright and the Bitcoin he created.
When you think back to the rapturous applause from those who were against Dr. Wright using the courts to assert his ownership over the white paper after COPA announced it was suing him, and then look at the total silence and inactivity to come from COPA since, you are seeing a critical reminder to question where your narratives are coming from, and to always check whether the people who say have the best interests of you or the innovators around you really do.
It may finally be time for COPA to get moving in court, as indicated by the amended claim form filed this week. The most significant of the amendments? To make clear that it isn’t COPA generally suing Dr. Wright. They are now explicitly bringing the claim on behalf of Square, Kraken, MicroStrategy and Coinbase.
A curious selection, don’t you think?
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