Inside the trial to prove Craig Wright’s claim he invented Bitcoin is a ‘lie’

Inside the trial to prove Craig Wright’s claim he invented Bitcoin is a ‘lie’
If Craig Wright wins he would have a legal claim on £3.1 billion worth of Bitcoin. Credit: Andrés Tapia
  • Coinbase and other crypto giants are trying to stop Wright from asserting he is Bitcoin inventor Satoshi Nakamoto.
  • Adversaries traded charges of deception and forgery in UK courtroom.
  • If the Bitcoin industry loses the case experts fear a crypto will be hurt by a 'chilling effect.'

Since 2016, Australian computer scientist Craig Wright has claimed that he is Satoshi Nakamoto, the inventor of Bitcoin.

Asserting he is the author of the iconic Bitcoin white paper, Wright has brought a raft of lawsuits against Bitcoin developers and community members — accusing them of libel, defamation, and copyright infringement.

But Wright is now in a position he’s never been in before — he’s a defendant in a trial having to prove under oath that he is indeed Satoshi.

‘Harassment campaign’

The Cryptocurrency Open Patent Alliance, a group that includes MicroStrategy, Coinbase, and Jack Dorsey’s Block, is enraged by Wright’s “harassment campaign” against developers.

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Now Copa, as it’s known, is suing Wright in a UK court. Their objective: to prevent Wright from asserting ownership of the Bitcoin white paper.

This would also block him from invoking copyright infringement of Satoshi’s works and make claims against his adversaries “null and void effectively,” George Morris, a partner at law firm Simmons & Simmons, told DL News.

“This is the first time that someone has brought a case against him. And they’ve done it in quite a clever way — they’ve essentially said, Wright doesn’t own copyright in this white paper and we’re asking the courts to confirm that others are allowed to use it,” Morris said.

‘Dr Wright’s claim to be Satoshi is a lie, founded on an elaborate false narrative and backed by forgery of documents on an industrial scale.’

—  Copa lawsuit

Copa argues Wright’s campaign is an “existential threat” to Bitcoin because if he wins, developers may fear the litigious risks of working on code for the cryptocurrency’s blockchain.

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“If Wright prevails in his claim, it could bring fundamental parts of the Bitcoin community to a standstill,” Paul Grewal, Coinbase’s chief legal officer, wrote in an editorial.

“None of us who care about the promise of crypto and the urgent need to update the financial system can stand for that.”

Should Wright win this trial, he would also have a legal claim on £3.1 billion worth of Bitcoin in wallets belonging to Satoshi, Copa said.

Copa’s lawyers didn’t mince words in its lawsuit. “Dr Wright’s claim to be Satoshi is a lie, founded on an elaborate false narrative and backed by forgery of documents on an industrial scale,” they said in legal filings.

Wright has denied repeatedly that he forged anything — in some cases blaming hackers and associates he says were trying to frame him.

Proof in the pudding

Wright was born in 1970 and raised in Brisbane, Australia, and now lives in the UK.

After writing his dissertation on the “quantification of information systems risk,” he earned a PhD from Charles Sturt University in Australia.

A self-described “autistic savant” with a high IQ and “severe deficit in social skills,” he also says he has other degrees in theology, geography, and maths.

Before he became interested in crypto, Wright worked in information security.

Bitcoin fork

He went on to found a series of companies, including nChain in 2015, intended to “unleash [blockchain] technology and its intended purpose — preserved in the Bitcoin fork known as Bitcoin Satoshi Vision.

Under nChain, Wright has been quietly amassing hundreds of blockchain patents.

But Wright’s low profile came to an end in late 2015 when tech publications Wired and Gizmodo published parallel investigations into the possibility that he was Satoshi.

Craig Wright image

The next year, Wright said he was Satoshi, and ever since has offered up numerous pieces of what he says are proof.

He has signed messages with what were apparently keys from the earliest Bitcoin blocks in front of developers and journalists. He produced a blog presenting cryptographic data to back up his claims.

Wright has also written that his autism makes it impossible for him to lie.

Armed with these assertions, Wright has filed more than a dozen lawsuits on three continents against developers, the exchanges Coinbase and Kraken, and many others.

Craig Ayre, who founded the online gambling platform Bodog, paid $570m for a controlling interest in nChain last year. He is widely thought to be funding Wright’s litigation and they have teamed up on lawsuits before, Bloomberg News reported.

Under cross-examination by Copa’s legal team, however, Wright said that Ayre is not his backer, and that he is funding his trial with a loan.

Bitcoin white paper

The Copa trial is ongoing, running from February 6 to mid-March.

Copa isn’t seeking monetary damages but rather a declaration from the court that Wright is not the author of the Bitcoin white paper.

It is also asking the judge to prevent Wright from making those claims in future.

British judgments are typically respected and enforced by other authorities worldwide.

Wright’s barrister, Anthony Grabiner, told the London court that it’s ‘striking’ no one else has credibly stepped forward as Satoshi.

The civil trial hinges on the authenticity of documents that Wright says prove he is Satoshi. In the UK system, it will be up to a judge and not a jury to make that decision.

Copa is arguing that Wright has not proved he is Satoshi. If he were, he could simply produce the private key associated with Bitcoin’s earliest blocks.

Instead, Copa’s barrister Jonathan Hough says, he’s produced a stream of forged or doctored documents.

Under cross-examination, Wright has repeatedly denied that he forged or manipulated documents. “But I AM Satoshi!” he exclaimed on the witness stand under cross-examination.

When pressed by Hough on why he hasn’t produced Satoshi’s private key, Wright has argued that would compromise his security, and insisted that the keys aren’t good proof of his identity anyway.

His legal team argues that he has provided clear evidence that he wrote the Bitcoin white paper and created the cryptocurrency.

His barrister, Anthony Grabiner, told the London court that it’s “striking” no one else has credibly stepped forward as Satoshi.

DL News reached out to Wright’s law firm, Shoosmiths, but they do not comment on ongoing cases.

Bizarre proceedings

At other times in the trial, proceedings have verged on the bizarre.

Wright’s expert witnesses included his sister Danielle DeMorgan, who told the court that she thought his claims are credible, as he had an affinity with Japanese culture, and once went to a park dressed as a ninja.

Still, there’s a lot at stake in the Copa trial. The issue of Wright’s identity as Satoshi forms the basis for other intellectual property trials in the same court — one with Coinbase and Kraken, and one with Bitcoin core developers.

More than that, should the group lose its suit, Wright would become the public face of Bitcoin. A win would also help him promote the rival BSV fork that he supports along with Ayre.

This all runs counter to what Satoshi intended with the decentralised, open-source design of Bitcoin.

But it’s Bitcoin’s design that will see it remain impervious to any one individual asserting day-to-day control over its operations, even with a court ruling backing them, said Daniel Seely, a lawyer for Freeths.

“Given that Bitcoin has been in existence for 15 years and has maintained a persistent — if volatile — market presence, all without the benefit of a public face, it seems unlikely that even if a legal conclusion is reached about the identity of its founder that will have any immediate impact on Bitcoin itself,” Seely said.

Joanna Wright is a regulatory correspondent at DL News. Reach out to the author at joanna@dlnews.com.

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