The Oslo District Court has ruled: Magnus ‘Hodlonaut’ Granath’s Twitter campaign against Dr. Craig Wright did not amount to unlawful defamation in Norway. Round one of Granath v Wright is over: attention now turns to the parallel defamation case in the United Kingdom, which is set to be heard next year.
Getting to this point took a two-week trial in which lawyers painstakingly took the court through Hodlonaut’s social media war against Dr. Wright—whereby Granath called him among other things a ‘fraud’ and ‘mentally ill’ as well as inviting other people to join in (including a particularly vile Telegram group formed solely to bully the perceived enemies of BTC). The court also heard testimony after testimony describing Dr. Wright’s activities in the years before Bitcoin was released to the public: former business associates testified that Dr. Wright had pitched them the idea of Bitcoin pre-2008, and would often discuss the idea of trustless transacting and global digital cash—ideas central to Bitcoin before it was anywhere near the public domain. Dr. Wright’s cousin, Max Lynam, testified that he and his father had run Bitcoin’s earliest node and mined the earliest coins.
At the end of the day, however, the court found that Granath’s tweets did not amount to defamation in part because Dr. Wright is a public figure within the Bitcoin community who has made a controversial assertion which must be subject to criticism, and therefore Granath’s campaign did not impact his right to privacy. Additionally, the court ruled that Granath’s tweets were mere value judgments in line with overall level of discourse on Twitter. Notably, the Judge said she had not taken a position on whether or not Dr. Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto in reaching her judgment, though she found that Granath had some factual basis for his tweets owing to the public discussion and media perception of Satoshi’s identity.
Halvor Manshaus, Partner at Schjødt, Dr. Wright’s Norwegian firm, said:
“Regrettably, the court found after a broad assessment taking into account that Dr. Wright is a public figure in the Bitcoin community, that Granath’s communications were not defamatory in a legal sense, and that they did not breach his right to privacy. We do not agree with the court’s assessment. Private citizens should enjoy the same protection on Twitter as on other media platforms.
“Anonymous online bullying and harassment risks having a chilling effect on meaningful debate and the civil exchange of views and opinions. Individuals should not be dissuaded from seeking to challenge persistent and pervasive online mistreatment or intimidation. We have reviewed the court ruling, and after discussing with our client today it is clear that the ruling from the District Court will be appealed.”
The ruling is a narrow escape for Granath, who very nearly veered into a car wreck of his own making. The Oslo lawsuit was brought against Dr. Wright by Granath, in the hopes that he could force the issue of whether his Twitter campaign was lawful into the Norwegian legal system and pre-empt any suit that Dr. Wright might file in the United Kingdom. It didn’t prevent Dr. Wright from being able to sue Granath in the U.K. for defamation, meaning Granath would now face two lawsuits over his tweets.
Being faced with the sworn testimony from professionals disconnected from the crypto sphere who were adamant that Dr. Wright was working on Bitcoin pre-2008 must have seemed like a very bad omen for Granath. Whether Granath ever addressed himself to the question of whether Dr. Wright was a fraud or simply regurgitated allegations he’d read elsewhere can’t be said for sure, but he can’t have expected Dr. Wright to produce so many witnesses who could give first-hand accounts of Dr. Wright working on Bitcoin and associated concepts before the project was ever public knowledge.
Even with Granath having avoided liability, it’s hard to pick out any winners here. In combing through Granath’s sustained attacks on Dr. Wright, the ugly side of the Bitcoin community was illuminated in excruciating detail. Tweets from Granath and his online cohort calling Dr. Wright and others mentally ill, scammers, pedophiles; invitations from Granath for others to join in on ‘Craig Wright is a fraud’ week; and a telegram group set up to coordinate attacks on the ‘enemies’ of BTC with a particular focus on their leadership.
These spoke for themselves, but they were also juxtaposed with testimony from autism expert Dr. Ami Klin, who told the court that Dr. Wright’s autism diagnosis would have made the bullying land especially close to home for him. If not defamation, it’s difficult to picture anybody condoning the behavior of Granath and the bullies he amassed against Dr Wright. Indeed, none of Granath’s own witnesses would endorse his campaign and the language used within it when asked on the stand.
Granath now has confirmation that his tweets did not amount to defamation in Norway. But in truth, this is just round one of an extended bout: in addition to any appeal in Oslo, Dr. Wright will face Granath again in the U.K. next year over the same campaign. Interestingly, a similar Twitter rampage by BTC blogger Peter McCormack was found to be defamatory in the U.K. courts earlier this year.
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