For eight years, Craig Wright claimed to be Bitcoin's elusive creator Satoshi Nakamoto. On Monday, under intense heat in a UK courtroom, a trial began that would finally settle the matter.
Flanked by his legal team, Wright appeared at ease during opening arguments, leaning back in his chair and crossing one leg over the other. This calm was belied by the risks of the trial, which has major ramifications for the future of Bitcoin, and by the forceful rhetoric of the plaintiff's lawyer, Jonathan Hogg, who called Wright's Satoshi Hood claim a “brazen lie.”
The lawsuit Wright faces was brought by the Crypto Open Patent Alliance, a non-profit consortium of cryptocurrency and technology companies. COPA claims that Wright's recent history of filing intellectual property lawsuits — based on his claim to be the inventor of Bitcoin — has had a “chilling effect” on Bitcoin, pushing developers away. To prevent him from hindering Bitcoin development further, he is asking the court to issue a declaration that Wright is not Nakamoto.
Nearly three years after filing the lawsuit, COPA today had its first opportunity to state its case against Wright at trial. Since Wright first claimed to be Nakamoto in 2016, he has “terrified” Bitcoin developers, Hough said. “COPA made this claim to put an end to this behavior,” Hogue said.
Unlike some recent cryptocurrency lawsuits, such as the fraud trial of Sam Bankman Fried, founder of bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange FTX, which has become a piece of public theater, Cuba v. Wright The case attracted little attention. A small group of photographers gathered outside the courtroom on Monday; Inside, a handful of reporters and cryptocurrency watchers jostled for the limited seats available. But the case has the potential to be of great importance.
Three related lawsuits previously filed by Wright, in which he seeks to assert intellectual property rights over Bitcoin, will be bound by the ruling. If the COPA Act succeeds, Wright will have a difficult time moving forward with these claims. If Wright wins, and is successful in his own cases afterward, he will be free to act as Bitcoin's gatekeeper, deciding who is allowed to work on the codebase and under what conditions the system can be used.
The risks are “very high,” says a representative of the Bitcoin Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit that funds the defense of Bitcoin developers in a separate lawsuit filed by Wright, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of legal retaliation against Wright.
The relevant opening arguments provided an early indication of both COPA's strategy for dismantling Wright's claims—in short, to discredit through forensic analysis the body of documentary evidence presented by Wright—and Wright's intended approach to countering accusations of forgery.
The bulk of Hogg's opening speech focused on the ways in which Wright allegedly falsified or manipulated documentary evidence that, if reliable, would point to him being Nakamoto. Among various allegations, Hough-Wright is accused of turning back the clock on his computer to make documents appear as if they were created before Bitcoin existed, deleting files and altering other files on the hard drive whose contents he entered into evidence, and attempting to fabricate new evidence. After experts in forensic document analysis identified problems with the existing materials.