Verdict Law

VERDICT: Peter McCormack liable for defamation on all counts

The verdict is in: Peter McCormack is liable for defamation over his social media campaign claiming that Dr. Craig Wright’s claim to the Satoshi Nakamoto name is fraudulent. Further, the judge agreed with Dr. Wright’s case that McCormack’s defamatory tweets had caused serious harm to his reputation in the United Kingdom with respect of all 15 publications complained of.

For Dr. Wright, it’s a moment of vindication. He has battled against a wave of disparagement and harassment following his outing as Satoshi Nakamoto in 2015, a wave in which McCormack played a sizeable role. Rather than meet these critics on social media, Dr. Wright wanted to face them in court, where he’d be free to defend himself in a definitive, concrete way—and give McCormack the opportunity to either retract his statements or attempt to stand by them under oath and in a courtroom.

That having happened, the verdict amounts to a decisive stamp of approval for Dr. Wright and a warning to anyone who wants to try their luck in attacking his identity as Satoshi Nakamoto.

Initially, McCormack appeared eager to get sued by Dr. Wright. In one of the tweets included in the lawsuit, McCormack called Dr. Wright a fraud before asking: “when do I get sued?” However, after the lawsuit was filed and as the trial drew closer, McCormack lost his nerve. Before the parties were due to exchange the evidence they would be relying on in court via discovery, McCormack filed a last-minute motion to push the exchange back. This was denied, and after discovery concluded and both parties had seen the evidence on the table, McCormack and his funders decided they would no longer be able to defend the case.

McCormack did revive his case at the last minute, but with a vastly reduced defense. The blogger would no longer argue that his tweets were true, which would have provided him a complete defence to Dr. Wright’s claim.

Though a total victory for Wright, the outcome may still be a disappointment for Bitcoin’s inventor. This would have been a prime opportunity to face his disparagers in a court of law where his evidence can be properly assessed—evidence which McCormack himself admitted there was a ‘crazy’ amount of. McCormack’s decision to drop his defense of truth pre-empted that, forcing the trial to focus on whether Dr. Wright’s reputation had really been harmed by his tweets.

Nonetheless, the timing of McCormack abandoning his truth defense and losing his financial backing—coming after having seen Dr. Wright’s evidence—points in one clear direction.

As for reparations toward Dr. Wright, the judge ordered that McCormack is liable to pay a nominal amount of £1 in damages toward Dr. Wright, on top of the more than £100,000 worth of costs already paid. According to the judgment, the chief reason for the nominal damages was the judge’s uncertainty over the evidence Dr. Wright had given over conferences he had allegedly been disinvited from as a result of McCormack’s defamatory tweets. Thus, despite acknowledging that Dr. Wright had made out his case with respect to all 15 of McCormack’s publications, the Judge reduced the damages to £1.

That Dr. Wright has Asperger’s is well-documented and has been a constant point of contention in his various legal battles. Concerned about how his affliction might be perceived by a jury in the United States, Dr. Wright successfully fought to have expert psychological evidence testifying to how his Asperger’s can affect how he is understood admitted in Kleiman v Wright. The evidence, given by Dr. Ami Klin, was clear that Dr. Wright’s condition means that he has a tendency to be over-precise in his statements which sometimes leave others confused. The testimony which was accepted by the court, though the issue was not put before the U.K. court here—but given Justice Chamberlain’s comments regarding Dr. Wright’s evidence, it might be something raised in the inevitable appeal.

The next step is to ascertain costs: Dr. Wright has already recovered almost £110,000 from McCormack in pre-trial costs. As for the trial itself, the prevailing part will generally be entitled to recover their full costs off the loser. However, this presumption is open to challenge by McCormack.

What’s more likely to happen next is a long and arduous appeals process will kick off. Though there is nothing substantive for Dr. Wright to appeal, it seems likely that an appeal relating to Justice Chamberlain’s vast reduction in damages will be forthcoming.

Regardless, that Dr. Wright was able to come away with a complete ruling that Peter McCormack defamed him by calling him a fraud should offer some comfort, and serve as a warning to other potential attackers that lies will not stand up in court.

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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