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Bitcoin’s mystery man turns up in the law courts

The Law Society Gazette | | Michael Cross | Oct 14, 2021

Bitcoins mystery man - Bitcoin’s mystery man turns up in the law courts

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As far as his acolytes are concerned, the ministry on earth of Satoshi Nakamoto lasted just over two years.

During that time, from the end of 2008, ‘he’ - Satoshi is a male given name - published a brilliantly written white paper setting out the principles of a currency that could operate without a central authority. He also released the computer code to turn Bitcoin in to practice (written in the programming language C++) and engaged in web conversations about its debugging and development. The last public comment appeared in December 2010. Email exchanges with developers continued for a few months, but then Satoshi Nakamoto disappeared without trace. 'I’ve moved on to other things,' he wrote in April 2011.

His, or their, identity remains a mystery.

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At least that is the widely accepted version of history among the mixture of geniuses, visionaries, hard-headed entrepreneurs, gullible punters and outright rogues who make up the global Bitcoin community. However a series of actions in the English courts could rewrite the authorised version. They are being brought by Dr Craig Wright, an Australian academic and Bitcoin entrepreneur resident in England, who says that the identity of Satoshi is no mystery, because it is he. Wright has registered the US copyright of Bitcoin's founding white paper and the original computer code. In June this year the High Court granted default judgment against the website for infringement of his rights.

Wright is also taking vigorous action for defamation against those who dispute his claim. Judgment in a pre-trial review of one such action, against posts by a podcaster named Peter McCormack, resulted in a 256-paragraph ruling in the Queen's Bench Division earlier this month. Legal action is understood to be under way against another blogger.

Why, you may ask, does this matter? Surely Dr Wright has every right to defend his reputation, which has been subject to unquestionably vicious attacks. To quote Mr Justice Julian Knowles, Wright 'avers by way of innuendo the said words meant and were understood to mean that the claimant had fraudulently claimed to be Satoshi Nakamoto'. Not that there appears to be much innuendo in complained-of phrases such as: 'Craig Wright is a fucking liar, and he's a fraud; and he's a moron'. (McCormack admits publication.)

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The immediate answer is that anyone claiming, or admitting, to being Satoshi Nakamoto must accept responsibilities along with the kudos. A widely believed reason for 'Satoshi's' disappearance was the growing concern by law enforcement agencies in the use of Bitcoin to finance criminal and terrorist activity. These concerns have not gone away. The financial services authorities may also be interested: Satoshi's Bitcoin holding is in theory worth some $60bn. And HMRC is unlikely to ignore the sudden appearance of a multi-multi-billionaire apparently within its jurisdiction.

Wright is already contesting a lawsuit in the US over the ownership of a very large sum in Bitcoin; a trial opens in Miami next month.

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