It’s been years since Dr. Craig Wright has found himself in the middle of litigation against critics and digital asset fraudsters alike. The filings were more than about vindicating the Bitcoin creator’s much-maligned reputation, they were about Satoshi Nakamoto finally laying legal claim to what is rightfully his and putting an end to conflicted competitors from attacking him with lies for commercial reasons.
Now in 2022, many of those cases are in clean-up mode. Others that are still pending have the potential to enormously change the way people think about digital assets and the legal rights associated with them.
Dr. Wright’s lawsuit against the anonymous Twitter user and Bitcoin.com maintainer Cøbra is a good example of a case in clean-up mode. Dr. Wright filed the suit in 2021 to enforce his copyright in the Bitcoin white paper: Cøbra was hosting it on Bitcoin.com and had refused Dr. Wright’s request to cease his infringement. Despite initial bluster about defending Bitcoin, Cøbra ultimately was unwilling to reveal his identity to argue the case, leading to the English High Court recognizing Dr. Wright’s copyright and ordering Cøbra to replace the paper with a notice explaining that court’s decision.
Now all that’s left is to decide how much of Dr. Wright’s legal costs should be borne by Cøbra. As the losing party, the default assumption is that Cøbra should pay all of Dr. Wright’s costs. However, Cøbra is trying to fight this presumption again without revealing his anonymity.
This proved a highly unusual situation: neither side’s lawyers could find any precedent in which an unidentified party to proceedings had tried to take an active role in them. Dr. Wright’s lawyers argued that this has to be impermissible: concerns include money laundering risks in accepting money from anonymous parties and, more importantly, a violation of the principles of open justice. Should Dr. Wright have had to argue against somebody who wasn’t even willing to put their name to their own legal case?
The English High Court said no, ruling in favor of Dr. Wright and ordering that unless Cøbra submitted to identification, he would not be able to make submissions in the case.
The urge to duck Dr. Wright extends even to those who filed suit against him. The Crypto Open Patent Alliance (COPA) made a lot of noise when it was founded in 2021, claiming that it would be protecting the digital asset industry from patent trolls. Instead, all they’ve done is ask the U.K. High Court for a declaration that Dr. Wright is not the author of the white paper.
However, COPA has since been doing everything it can to put off a showdown in court. On the eve of a case management conference that would have kickstarted the journey to trial, COPA’s lawyers wrote to the Deputy Master managing the case and asked that he recuse himself. This meant the conference was pushed back to September, which in turn pushed the window for trial all the way out to the first half of 2024—a full three years since COPA’s filing.
2022 also saw the next chapter written in Dr. Wright’s efforts to defend his reputation against vicious online critics, many of whom came out of the woodwork after Dr. Wright had to admit before a U.S. judge that he’s Satoshi Nakamoto under penalty of contempt. The slate of lawsuits filed by Dr. Wright against specific people and companies within the digital asset industry were often analyzed as though they are a deliberate continuation of Dr. Wright’s emergence as Satoshi Nakamoto in 2015, when media outlets Wired and Gizmodo revealed that a joint investigation had led them to believe that Dr. Wright is the elusive inventor of Bitcoin. The now-infamous reveal might have set the wheels in motion for Dr. Wright’s current legal skirmishes, but it’s forgotten—or intentionally omitted—that those outlets announced that Dr. Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto without his consent and against his wishes. Now, Dr. Wright is putting an end to these camps who are attacking him with lies for commercial reasons.
Case in point is the ruling made by the English High Court that blogger Peter McCormack’s series of tweets calling Dr. Wright a fraud, scammer, and more amounted to defamation. Dr. Wright sued in libel over 14 tweets published by McCormack as well as words spoken by him in a YouTube video between March and October 2019. Dr. Wright was only able to recover £1 (USD1.05) of damages from McCormack (on top of the more than £100,000 ($105,244) McCormack already owes Dr. Wright), thanks to uncertainty over the evidence Dr. Wright had submitted concerning conferences he was allegedly disinvited from as a result of McCormack’s tweets. It’s also worth noting that McCormack’s attempt to get the court to waive all the other damages—estimated at £1 million (US$1.2 million)—was turned down, which means that he still owes Dr. Wright in addition to losing on all counts.
On the other hand, the Oslo District Court in Norway examined similar (though arguably more vicious and more concerted) statements made by Magnus ‘Hodlonaut’ Granath against Dr. Wright—the defendant in this case—and found that they did not meet the standard for defamation in that jurisdiction. Granath had used his pseudonymous Twitter account to launch attacks on Dr. Wright, calling him ‘mentally ill’ and a ‘fraud’ while inviting others to pile in. Granath may even have gone as far as coordinating larger-scale attacks on Dr. Wright, BSV, and other projects he didn’t like from a Telegram group designed solely to bully leaders within the industry. Granath and Dr. Wright are set for a rematch after a Norwegian judge granted Dr. Wright the right to appeal that September 2022 ruling.
And though the Kleiman v. Wright saga hasn’t moved much over the course of the year (Ira Kleiman is still trying to get last year’s loss at trial appealed), a scandal has emerged elsewhere, which sheds light on the true nature of the various attacks aimed at Dr. Wright. Roche Freedman, the firm who are advising Kleiman and many other supposed plaintiffs with an axe to grind against digital asset companies, was forced to fire one of its named partners Kyle Roche after he was caught admitting that many of the firm’s lawsuits were designed to boost Ava Labs, one of the firm’s crypto clients in which the partners have a significant financial stake. This is done by using the discovery phase of the firm’s lawsuits to glean as much information on the industry and its players as possible and by drawing the regulatory attention of Ava Labs and its competitors.
Maybe the most consequential of Dr. Wright’s lawsuits are currently being considered before the U.K. Court of Appeal. Tulip Trading Limited, the Seychelles-based company of Dr. Craig Wright, lost access to £3 billion ($3.16 billion) worth of digital assets following a hack on his home network. In response, it filed against 16 blockchain developers, arguing that in their capacity as controllers of their respective networks they owe TTL legal duties to help it regain access to its lawful property.
The English High Court dismissed the claim on the basis that there was no serious issue to be tried in Dr. Wright’s claims. However, the U.K. Court of Appeal has taken the case: if it accepts Dr. Wright’s appeal, the question will get the benefit of a full trial.
If successful at trial, it would mark a sea-change in digital assets like no other. The long-standing assumption that if somebody steals your Bitcoin that’s tough luck will be replaced by an expectation that the law will step in the same way it would in virtually any other context involving stolen or lost property.
It wouldn’t be the first time that Dr. Wright has been involved in precedent-setting litigation, and it likely won’t be the last.
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