A UK court will hear the case of Dr. Craig Steven Wright, who claims to be the Bitcoin inventor Satoshi Nakamoto.
The Australian computer scientist argues that the Bitcoin file format should be protected under UK copyright law. He will now get the chance to make his case before a judge.
Who is Craig Wright?
Dr. Craig Steven Wright is an Australian computer scientist with a storied history of associating with the Satoshi Nakamoto pseudonym.
Speculation that Wrights was the inventor of Bitcoin first started circulating in 2015 following investigations by Wired and Gizmodo. However, shortly after it ran the story, Wired reported that Wright may have faked clues identifying him with Nakamoto.
In the years since then, Wright himself has publicly claimed he wrote the Bitcoin whitepaper with the participation of two other men – Dave Kleiman and Hal Finney.
When asked to weigh in on the matter ChatGPT listed Wright as one of its top three guesses at Nakamoto’s identity. Proffering the statistical likelihood of different candidates being the inventor of Bitcoin, the chatbot said Nick Szabo is the most likely person to be behind Bitcoin, followed by Hal Finney and Craig Wright.
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No Proof Without Nakamoto’s PGP Key
While Dr. Wright continues to insist that he played a role in the foundation of Bitcoin, many doubt his claims.
Skeptics point out that the real Satoshi Nakamoto could confirm their identity by providing a message verified with Nakamoto’s PGP key. No public messages verified in this way have appeared since 2010.
Satoshi Nakamoto’s PGP Public Key (Source: Nakamoto Institute)
Attempting to Copyright Bitcoin
Starting in 2019, Wright has made multiple attempts to claim ownership of copyrights to the Bitcoin file format, the Bitcoin whitepaper, and parts of the Bitcoin database. But he has had little success so far.
For example, the U.S. Copyright Office dismissed Wright’s claims and suggested that no one could register a copyright for Bitcoin.
In a press release published at the time, it stated:
“In a case in which a work is registered under a pseudonym, the Copyright Office does not investigate whether there is a provable connection between the claimant and the pseudonymous author.”
Craig Wright Has Better Luck in the UK
While he appears to have given up his attempts in the U.S., apparently, Wright thinks that U.K. intellectual property law could be more favorable to his cause. And he has had some success in British courts.
In 2021, Wright won a case against the operator of bitcoin.org. The pseudonymous operator known as Cobra was ordered to pay Wright’s legal fees and take down the Bitcoin white paper hosted on their website.
However, Wright’s victory was largely symbolic, and the court only ruled in his favor by default after Cobra failed to present a defense. Under U.K. law, defendants can’t present a legal argument anonymously without a court order.
To this day, Nakamoto’s white paper remains freely available on bitcoin.org. It is unknown whether Cobra ever paid the legal costs ordered by the court.
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Court Set to Consider Bitcoin Copyright Claim
In 2022, Wright once again attempted to claim ownership of Bitcoin copyrights.
The lawsuit names a list of defendants it identifies as “Bitcoin Core.” Twenty-five individuals and corporations are listed as collective members that Wright alleges control the Bitcoin network. These include a number of high-profile Bitcoin developers as well as companies such as Block Inc, Chaincode, and Coinbase.
Initially, Judge Edward James Mellor dismissed the claim. According to Judge Mellor, even under the assumption that the claimant is Satoshi Nakamoto, he has failed to satisfactorily identify a specific “work” that would be subject to a copyright claim.
However, this week, an appeals court overruled the initial judgment.
The case is now expected to go to trial in early 2024. But Wright is still a long way from victory.
Victory Hangs on Proving Identity of Satoshi Nakamoto
Commenting on the appeal ruling, the Bitcoin Legal Defence Fund (BLDF) noted that Wright had won his day in court. But his chances of success are slim unless he can prove that he really is Satoshi Nakamoto.
Moreover, the Bitcoin file format, whitepaper, and database are all open source and distributed under a free software license by Satoshi Nakamoto. Even if Wright proves, he is the real Nakamoto, his claim still stands on shaky ground.
In the words of the BLDF, it is “unconscionable that someone who claims to be the author of an open source program would allege copyright infringement against the people benefiting from its open source license.”
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