UK court rules Craig Wright not Nakamoto, ending long-standing drama

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In a landmark ruling in the United Kingdom by Judge James Mellor on March 14, 2024, the court dismissed Australian computer scientist Craig Wright’s near decade-old claim of being Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous creator of Bitcoin (BTC).

The ruling came after a protracted legal battle between Wright and the Crypto Open Patent Alliance (COPA), a coalition of prominent cryptocurrency companies seeking to prevent Wright from asserting his purported ownership over the digital currency’s core intellectual property (IP).

COPA brought its case against Wright in 2023, alleging that he had repeatedly engaged in widespread document forgery to support his claims of being Nakamoto.

As a result, they sought injunctive relief to prevent Wright from further asserting his identity as the Bitcoin creator, which could have far-reaching implications for the cryptocurrency industry.

Closing arguments in the high-profile case began on March 12 in London, with COPA’s legal team presenting a scathing indictment of Wright’s credibility. The alliance’s legal team closed out by saying:

“Dr. Wright has been shown to have lied on an extraordinary scale. […] He has invented an entire biographical history, producing one tranche after another of forged documents to support it.”

In the end, Mellor’s ruling was strikingly unequivocal, noting that Wright had failed to provide any credible evidence to substantiate his claims of being Nakamoto. Moreover, he dismissed Wright’s assertions and supporting documents as unreliable, effectively ending his longstanding attempts to claim ownership over Bitcoin’s design IP. He closed out the proceedings by stating:

“Dr. Wright is not the author of the Bitcoin white paper. Dr. Wright is not the person who adopted or operated under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto in the period 2008 to 2011. Dr. Wright is not the person who created the Bitcoin system […] he is not the author of the initial versions of the Bitcoin software [either].”

The Satoshi Nakamoto mystery

Nakamoto’s identity has been a subject of intense speculation and debate within the cryptocurrency community for over a decade. This is especially true as the digital currency revolution has garnered increasing momentum over the years, with the industry’s total market capitalization nearly reaching $3 trillion in recent weeks.

While numerous individuals have claimed or been linked to Nakamoto’s identity over the years, Wright’s assertions have been among the most persistent and controversial.

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Wright first publicly made the claim in 2016, backing his assertion with what he purported to be cryptographic evidence. However, the information presented was met with widespread skepticism from the cryptocurrency community, with many experts questioning the validity of his evidence and pointing to inconsistencies in his accounts.

Despite the initial skepticism, Wright doubled down, presenting what he alleged to be additional evidence to support his identity as Nakamoto, including purported early Bitcoin coding samples, personal writings, and other materials that he claimed were from the early days of Bitcoin’s development.

However, independent investigations and analyses by various cryptography experts and researchers consistently cast doubt on the authenticity of Wright’s evidence. Many within the cryptocurrency community accused him of fabricating documents and engaging in a concerted effort to mislead the public about his involvement in the creation of Bitcoin.

The COPA lawsuit and Wright’s history of legal problems

As a result of Wright continuing to make a lot of unwanted noise and thereby putting Bitcoin’s future in jeopardy, the Crypto Open Patent Alliance — a coalition of prominent cryptocurrency companies including Coinbase, Block, Meta, MicroStrategy, Kraken, Paradigm, Uniswap and Worldcoin — was founded in 2020.

The alliance aimed to encourage and foster the adoption and advancement of cryptocurrency-related technologies while removing any legal issues stifling the ecosystem’s growth.

As noted above, in 2023, COPA filed its lawsuit against Wright and his associates, seeking injunctive relief to prevent him from further claiming to be Nakamoto. During the trial, COPA presented a wealth of evidence and expert testimony challenging the validity of Wright’s claims and the authenticity of the documents he had provided.

Forensic analysts and cryptography experts testified that many of Wright’s purported early Bitcoin materials showed signs of tampering and fabrication, casting further doubt on his assertions.

In addition to his legal issues with the COPA, Wright had also previously sued 13 Bitcoin Core developers, as well as a group of companies, including Blockstream, Coinbase and Block, for alleged copyright violations related to the Bitcoin white paper, its file format and database rights to the Bitcoin blockchain.

Wright’s lawsuits alleged that the developers and companies had infringed on his IP by using and modifying the Bitcoin codebase without permission. However, many in the cryptocurrency community argued that Wright’s claims were baseless, as the Bitcoin white paper and codebase had long been considered open-source and freely available for use and modification by anyone.

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Moreover, the Bitcoin Legal Defense Fund — established to support the defendants in Wright’s lawsuits — condemned his actions as “frivolous but effective” attempts to deter developers from contributing to the Bitcoin ecosystem. It argued that the lawsuits created an environment of fear and uncertainty, where developers risked being targeted with costly legal battles simply for working on an open-source system (Bitcoin).

Implications for the future of Bitcoin

Mellor’s ruling has far-reaching implications for the cryptocurrency industry and Bitcoin’s future. Dismissing Wright’s claims reinforces the digital asset’s decentralized nature, allowing its community to focus solely on the development and adoption of the currency without the looming threat of any more unfounded ownership claims.

Moreover, the ruling also serves as a cautionary tale against fraudulent attempts to undermine the broader cryptocurrency ecosystem. Therefore, looking forward, the focus within the Bitcoin community is likely to shift toward exploring new use cases and fostering greater mainstream acceptance rather than dealing with more legal entanglements.