On September 12, the Granath v Wright trial begins in Oslo, where Twitter troll Magnus Granath will try to convince the court that his targeted social media campaign against Dr. Craig Wright was lawful and not defamatory.
But Granath v Wright is about far more than a simple defamation trial. It’s about the ability of the bullied to fight against the bullies, and whether the right to freedom of speech extends to the targeted harassment of an individual by anonymous trolls and the collective effort by powerful, shadowy commercial interests to destroy the reputation of Dr. Wright and Bitcoin itself.
Magnus ‘Hodlonaut’ Granath and Dr. Craig Wright
On one side is Magnus Granath, otherwise known under his Twitter pseudonym Hodlonaut. He’s the plaintiff in next week’s trial. Hodlonaut is an advocate of BTC and in particular, second layer solutions. So much so that before he became famous for hounding Dr. Wright on Twitter, he gained some measure of fame for a much milder social media campaign: the Lightning Torch project, which encouraged users to celebrate Lightning Network’s ability to enable cheap, fast transactions on top of networks like BTC.
In March of 2019, he targeted a series of highly personal tweets at Dr. Wright. One tweet said:
“I have nothing but contempt for trash like Roger, Faketoshi, PedoCalvin and all their enabling scum.”
“Craig Wright is a very sad and pathetic scammer. Clearly mentally ill. Everything about him induces deep cringe. I suffer from obviousness fatigue after still having to read posts arguing why he isn’t Satoshi.”
He also created a hashtag—#CraigWrightIsAFraud—to spread his message and encourage the rest of Twitter to do the same.
Other than that, not much is known about Granath the person other than what his Twitter activity says about him.
Which brings us to the defendant. Dr. Wright is a computer scientist, businessman and inventor best known for inventing Bitcoin and authoring the Bitcoin white paper, which sets out his original vision for Bitcoin as trustless, purely peer-to-peer electronic cash. These things have drawn ample negative attention to Dr. Wright, much of it vitriolic.
Some of the vitriol can be attributed to personal vendettas against Dr Wright. For example, he recently won a defamation action in England against blogger Peter McCormack over vicious harassment not unlike that which was perpetrated by Granath. Investors in BSV—the revival of Bitcoin as originally described in the white paper—have also filed a ground-breaking class action suit against a group of exchanges which are accused of colluding to delist BSV from their platform, distorting competition in the U.K. and hindering Bitcoin SV’s ability to gain popularity. The exchange’s founders have been outspoken about their disdain for Dr. Wright, some of them explicitly sharing Granath’s tweets while delisting BSV.
Craig Wright is not Satoshi.
Anymore of this sh!t, we delist! https://t.co/hrnt3fDACq
— CZ 🔶 Binance (@cz_binance) April 12, 2019
However, it’s hard to tell where personal clashes and cynical cash grabs end and where commercial warfare begins. The proliferation of BTC in Satoshi’s absence has meant that the incumbent leaders in the ecosystem rely on the continued misapprehension that BTC reflects the vision made famous in the Bitcoin white paper, and so success for Dr. Wright spells failure for them. For example, his outing as Satoshi Nakamoto led to a lawsuit—Kleiman v Wright—being filed against him in Florida valued at tens of billions of dollars. Dr Wright successfully defended that case, but it later emerged that plaintiff’s attorneys pursued the case on behalf of Ava Labs, a blockchain company which sees the return of Satoshi Nakamoto—and the real Bitcoin—as an existential commercial threat. At one point in Kleiman, Roche Freedman convinced their client to turn down an enormous $3bn settlement offer from Dr. Wright so that the case could proceed to trial: the main plaintiff in that case, Ira Kleiman, was ultimately awarded nothing.
In the same vein, the Crypto Open Patent Alliance was formed by Twitter’s Jack Dorsey along with well-known BTC advocates and others aligned against Dr. Wright’s vision for Bitcoin for the sole purpose of suing him in England for a declaration that he did not author the white paper, despite the English High Court already recognizing his copyright in it. Its members are some of the most powerful corporations in crypto and beyond, including Coinbase (NASDAQ: COIN), Block (NYSE: SQ), Kraken, MicroStrategy (NASDAQ: MSTR) and Blockstream. Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta (NASDAQ: META) is the latest admission.
Granath’s actions have to be viewed against that background. Granath may hate Dr. Wright on a personal level, but given the former’s investment in BTC and its second layer solutions, his attacks on Dr Wright should be treated with suspicion.
It’s worth highlighting again the fact that despite Dr. Wright being cast as an aggressively litigious person, he is not the plaintiff in this action. It’s true that Dr. Wright first sent a formal letter to Granath in accordance with the U.K.’s Civil Procedure Rules, affording him the opportunity to retract his statements and warning him of potential legal action in the United Kingdom. Instead of complying with that letter, Granath immediately sought to block Dr. Wright’s access to the English courts by pre-emptively filing a lawsuit in Norway, asking that for a determination of the legality of his tweets.
This was purely tactical: EU law, to which the U.K. is still a party, requires any European court to decline jurisdiction over any matter which is currently the subject of legal action in another European jurisdiction. Granath’s hope was that he could file his Norwegian action fast enough that the U.K. court would have no choice but to throw out any potential action by Dr. Wright.
It didn’t work. Owing to the differences in the law of defamation between Norway and the U.K., the U.K. Court of Appeal ruled that Dr Wright could proceed with his defamation suit in the U.K., resulting in two parallel defamation claims between Dr. Wright and Granath.
Defamation in Norway
Under Norwegian law, people are protected from defamation under the Damages Compensation Act section 3-6a and the broader right to privacy, as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. These interests are opposed and must be balanced against the right to freedom of expression, also guaranteed under the ECHR.
In Norway, for a person to be liable under the tort act for statements they have made, the statements must be shown to be both defamatory and negligently made.
A statement which violates the honor or reputation of another will be defamatory. The degree to which a statement is defamatory will depend on the context in which they were made and the cumulative effect of multiple statements all saying the same or highly similar things.
Somebody accused of defamation can argue against liability by arguing that their statements were not unlawful or that the statements were true.
Determining whether the statement was unlawful requires a direct balancing of the infringement of the right to privacy against the right to freedom of speech. This will involve an assessment of whether the statements have any factual basis, the degree of the infringement, and the level of public interest in the statements.
Craig Wright submitted a crazy amount of evidence that he is Satoshi in my lawsuit. What’s your point? https://t.co/Y130Zaw7vy
— Peter McCormack 🏴☠️ (@PeterMcCormack) December 4, 2020
However, the truth of a statement is not a determinative factor. This is unlike English law, where if a party to a defamation action can prove that the alleged defamatory statement was true, it provides a complete defense. This is partly what doomed McCormack: he decided he was unable to field a truth defense and as a result, his statements were judged to be defamatory under English law. A true statement might still be unlawful due to the context or manner in which it is made.
Granath accepts that his statements were defamatory, but claims they were justified
Granath accepts off the bat that his social media statements calling Dr. Wright a fraud are likely to damage his reputation. His case is mainly that when weighed against his protected right to freedom of speech, the statements were not unlawful.
His filings spend an almost-perfunctory amount of time arguing that there is a strong factual basis for the truth of the statements, but points to vague and often debunked theories about forged documents pilfered from almost two million pages worth of documents submitted in the Kleiman v Wright case in Florida.
The real meat of Granath’s case though is his justification for his social media conduct. He says that the general public has a great interest in finding out whether the evidence Wright has provided of his identity is fraudulent (it should be noted that Wright has never set out to prove himself as Satoshi in the public domain, and was outed against his will by Wired & Gizmodo). According to Granath, he was the man to serve that public interest by tweeting in various configurations that Dr. Wright is a mentally ill fraud.
His argument contains some impressive sleight of hand: he claims that the ability for one to ‘express oneself about what one believes to be true’ is ‘at the core’ of freedom of speech. But this is self-evidently not true: putting questionable commercial motivations aside, that Granath personally believes something to be true is near-irrelevant to the question of whether it was defamatory. There is no protection against negligently spreading falsehoods simply because you believe them to be true by virtue of your own ignorance.
Dr. Craig Wright’s case
Before even getting to the specifics of Granath’s conduct, Dr. Wright and his team are arguing that Granath’s lawsuit does not meet the bare minimum standards required to pursue a dispute in Norway. Under Norway’s Disputes Act, the subject of any civil suit must contain legal interest—in other words, the claim must constitute an independent legal claim (as opposed to something more abstract) and the plaintiff must have a real need to receive a legal judgment on the issue. Dr. Wright’s case is that Granath’s central ask of the court—a declaration that his statements are lawful—does not meet the threshold. Rather, it is a sub-issue to the broader question of whether Granath is liable to Dr. Wright for damages.
That preliminary point aside, Dr. Wright argues that Granath’s statements were clearly defamatory. The tweets, which mention Dr. Wright by name, give anybody reading them the impression that Wright is pretending to be someone he is not, were designed purely for the purposes of harassing him. The use of the #CraigWrightIsAFraud hashtag amounted to an invitation for others to join in on the harassment. Granath’s involvement in the Lightning Torch project and close alignment with the BTC community show his ulterior motive in attacking Dr. Wright and denigrating his work.
However, as both parties seem to agree that the statements were defamatory, the bulk of Dr. Wright’s case concerns negligence and unlawfulness.
He argues that the statements were part of a planned campaign against BSV and Dr. Wright, accusing him of criminal offenses without taking the care to provide any supporting evidence or factual basis. The publication of the tweets without that ‘reflects the perpetrator’s diligence’ in making the statement.
As for unlawfulness, Dr. Wright challenges Granath’s case by pointing out that Granath made the statements with no factual basis: the tweets were highly personal insults and did not refer to any evidence which would assist the reader in coming to their own conclusions about Granath’s accusations.
He also says that the statements themselves had no public interest.
“Crucially in this context, the statements are in reality harassing personal attacks unrelated to the underlying question of whether Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto,” according to Dr. Wright’s written submissions.
Additionally, they emphasize that Granath had no special role which might require his statements to have special protection. He is not a journalist. Nor is he fulfilling any kind of journalistic role. Quite the contrary, Granath launched the attacks from behind an anonymous Twitter account, purposefully concealing his identity and which prevented Dr. Wright from addressing his accuser directly.
Dr. Wright’s submissions also call it ‘particularly aggravating’ that Granath referred to him as mentally ill. Issues of health are themselves protected from undue publication by the ECHR, and in any case Dr. Wright is not mentally ill. Rather, Granath’s characterisation of Dr. Wright appears to be based on his well-documented autism diagnosis.
Dr. Wright leaves the amount of damages up to the court, but based on recent evidence, suggests the relatively meagre sum of 100,000 NOK (about £8.5k).
What does it all mean
Perhaps Granath’s attacks on Dr. Wright can be blamed on some kind of personal vendetta. Or—more likely than that—Granath is simply one of many anonymous cyber bullies wreaking havoc on social media without reservation, safe behind the anonymity of a Twitter handle. But considering the recent leaks concerning firm Roche Freedman and their self-admitted campaign to destroy Dr. Wright and BSV, it would be unwise to assume there’s nothing more at work behind the scenes.
And even if Granath was a lone actor trolling Dr. Wright for his own amusement, he’s playing a significant role in the wider war on BSV, whether that’s fully intentional or not. And he’s enjoying the benefits of doing so: Granath has received over $1 million in donations to support his case against Dr Wright, much of it coming from a single donor. Who might that be? It’s hard to imagine too many people being willing to anonymously donate such a massive sum to support a cyberbully cartoon cat’s online abuse of an Australian computer scientist.
But we’ve already seen big money move to target Dr. Wright specifically. Peter McCormack’s defense against Dr. Wright in the U.K. was funded entirely by Tether, whose ability to use its unbacked stablecoin to purchase and manipulate the price of BTC may be propping up large portions of the digital asset ecosystem. COPA is a league of crypto’s biggest financial interests gathered solely to sue Dr. Wright.
Next week’s trial
Next week’s trial will be run along those lines. Those who were let down by McCormack’s vastly reduced defence in his defamation trial against Dr. Wright may be in for some relief in Oslo. Dr. Wright is set to introduce a wide range of evidence in support of his own case: not only will he be testifying in court, he is expected to be introducing a number of documents and witnesses that can attest to Dr. Wright’s identity as Satoshi Nakamoto.
The trial will begin on Monday September 12 and is expected to wrap up on Thursday September 22. CoinGeek will be provided daily coverage live from the trial in Oslo.
Watch Granath vs Wright Satoshi Norway Trial Coverage Livestream Day 1:
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