Craig Wright begins landmark legal action to retrieve stolen coins

Dr. Craig Wright has begun legal action against the developers of BTC, BCH, BCH ABC and BSV over 111,000 stolen Bitcoin, according to an announcement by ONTIER.

The Bitcoin was lost when the private keys to two addresses were stolen in a hack on Dr. Wright’s network in February of 2020. In June, Dr. Wright sent letters informing the BTC and other developers of the theft and of their responsibility to avoid illegitimate transactions being entered onto the blockchain.

Now, Dr. Wright has taken the next step to get his coins back. His lawyers have sent formal letters before action to the developers of BTC, BCH, BCH ABC and BSV. In a press release from ONTIER, the lawyers advising Dr. Wright in his various legal actions, they announce the ‘ground-breaking’ legal proceedings on behalf of Tulip Trading Limited, a Seychelles company primarily owned by Dr. Wright. The release says:

The action will, for the first time, examine the nature and extent of legal duties conferred upon and owed by developers resulting from the control they exercise over their respective blockchains.

The letters request that the developers enable Tulip Trading to regain access to the Bitcoin on the grounds that they owe the owners of Bitcoin legal duties under English law due to the “high level of power and control” that they exercise over their blockchains. The press release says that they will be arguing for both tortious and fiduciary duties. A tortious duty is typically one associated in cases of negligence, which requires a claimant to prove that the defendant owed them a duty of care in carrying out acts which could reasonably be foreseen to cause harm. A fiduciary duty is stricter still and is imposed on those who have undertaken to act on behalf of others in a way which creates a relationship of trust and confidence.

According to the press release, the value of the claim today is over £3.5 billion.

“As a victim of theft of some serious magnitude, Tulip Trading is seeking recovery of its access to and control of its digital assets from those in a position to remedy its loss. The fact that someone has stolen Tulip Trading’s digitally-held private Bitcoin keys does not prevent developers from deploying code to enable the rightful owner to regain control of its bitcoin.”

Dr. Wright is one of many people who have lost control of their digital assets as the result of hacks such as the one which took place in February. The law already prohibits knowingly dealing in or otherwise assisting with the misappropriation of stolen goods, so it would be surprising if the law would refuse to step in on established grounds (tortious and fiduciary duties) purely because the property in question is stored on a blockchain. It also does not seem a satisfactory state of affairs if blockchain developers—whose activities determine and influence the behaviour of every person who are trusting that the blockchain is being administered in good faith and with care—are exempt from the well-established fiduciary duties which are enforced in similar circumstances.

The case should give much-needed clarity on this point and hopefully provide additional protection for the many people relying on the competence and good-faith of blockchain developers.

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.

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