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Craig Wright Lied About Creating Bitcoin and Faked Evidence, Judge Rules

May 20, 2024 7:01 AM

Craig Wright Lied About Creating Bitcoin and Faked Evidence, Judge Rules

A UK judge has determined that Craig Wright forged evidence in a campaign to prove he is Satoshi Nakamoto, creator of Bitcoin, in a move that prevents him from bringing further lawsuits in the country.

Craig Wright walking down a sidewalk with a green and yellow overlay effect
Craig Wright arrives at the Rolls Building in London on February 23, 2024, for a hearing over the identity of the creator of Bitcoin.Photo-illustration: WIRED Staff; Lucy North/Getty Images

A judge in the UK High Court has ruled that computer scientist Craig Wright lied “extensively and repeatedly” and committed forgery “on a grand scale” in aid of a years-long quest to prove he is Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin.

In a written judgment published on May 20, Justice James Mellor ruled that Wright forged reams of documents in service of his charade. “It is clear that Dr. Wright engaged in the deliberate production of false documents to support false claims and use the Courts as a vehicle for fraud,” he wrote. “I am entirely satisfied that Dr. Wright lied to the Court extensively and repeatedly. All his lies and forged documents were in support of his biggest lie: his claim to be Satoshi Nakamoto.”

“Dr. Wright presents himself as an extremely clever person,” Mellor added. “However, in my judgment, he is not nearly as clever as he thinks he is.”

The judgment—the culmination of a six-week trial held earlier in the year—marks the end of a civil lawsuit launched by the Crypto Open Patent Alliance (COPA), a nonprofit consortium of crypto companies, against Wright. The organization asked the court to declare that Wright is not the creator of Bitcoin, to prevent him from carrying forward multiple separate lawsuits against Bitcoin developers and other parties founded on the claim.

Wright did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a statement posted to X, Wright said he intends to appeal the ruling.

In a winding cross-examination, Wright was presented with documents bearing hundreds of alleged indications of forgery. Wright justified the abnormalities with a fluency that implied extensive preparation, but failed to win over the judge. On March 14, the final day of the trial, Mellor delivered a rare snap verdict: “The evidence is overwhelming,” he told the courtroom. “Dr. Wright is not the person who adopted or operated under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto.”

The swift ruling demonstrated “how utterly unfounded each of [Wright’s] claims were proven to be,” says Paul Grewal, chief legal officer at crypto exchange Coinbase, a member of COPA. “Dr. Wright’s claims were shown not only to be false but utterly fanciful.”

In the weeks since the initial ruling, Wright has abandoned multiple lawsuits that were either connected to or built upon his claim to being the creator of Bitcoin.

On April 11, Wright dropped an appeal of a lawsuit in Norway against crypto influencer Magnus Granath—known by the pseudonym Hodlonaut—who in 2019 described Wright as a “pathetic scammer” in a post on X. (A parallel claim has been dropped in the UK.) A few days later, Wright killed another lawsuit in which his company, Tulip Trading, accused Bitcoin developers of violating their fiduciary duties by refusing to help the firm recover a large amount of bitcoin allegedly lost in a hack.

Three further lawsuits—in which Wright accuses Bitcoin developers, as well as crypto exchanges Coinbase and Kraken, of violating his intellectual property rights over Bitcoin—will be bound by the COPA ruling. These cases remain in place, at least temporarily, pending a possible appeal by Wright.

“We’ve seen a cascading effect from the pronouncement on a host of other litigations globally,” says Grewal. “For people outside of crypto, [all this] might sound cartoonish. But with Wright’s claims falling by the wayside, the community can exhale. We think it’s a real win.”

The ruling has also had implications for Bitcoin Satoshi Vision, or BSV, a separate cryptocurrency network created by Wright in 2018. The idea for BSV is to cleave “as closely as possible to Satoshi’s original design,” as the website describes it. In the days after the judge ruled that Wright is not Satoshi, the price of the BSV token fell by 40 percent.

“We will always value the contributions Dr Craig Wright has made as a leading expert on blockchain technology,” says Cyrille A. Albrecht, managing director at the BSV Association. “However, our focus is, and always has been, to promote and sustain the enterprise-grade evolution of the BSV blockchain.”

In declaring that Wright is not Satoshi, the judgment will prevent him from bringing further lawsuits in the UK. It was crafted, Mellor writes, to ensure that Wright would not “have any possible basis on which to threaten [developers] with copyrights or database rights stemming from the work done by Satoshi Nakamoto.” The judge will also decide at a later hearing whether to impose any specific injunctions upon Wright.

However, the geographical scope of the judgment is limited, leaving an opening for Wright to continue to pursue his claim to IP rights over Bitcoin in other legal jurisdictions.

The general principles of copyright are “harmonized” under an agreement adopted by the overwhelming majority of countries, says James Marsden, a senior associate at law firm Dentons, which means the COPA ruling is likely to be persuasive to other courts asked to address Wright’s claim to holding IP rights over Bitcoin. However, “copyright is territorial,” he says. “The courts of each country will analyze a copyright case on their own basis.”

In his testimony at trial, Wright also intimated that he could wield his trove of patents relating to blockchain technology to bring further claims against Bitcoin developers. A ruling that Wright is not the creator of Bitcoin would not prevent him doing so. “It’s very hard for any court to craft a judgment that prevents a committed party from repeating bogus claims,” says Grewal.

Granath, the defendant in the Norway libel case brought by Wright, imagines that Wright’s continued pursuit of his claim to being Satoshi will depend on the availability of funding.

The source of Wright’s funding came into question at trial. It is alleged by COPA that online gambling tycoon Calvin Ayre has financed Wright’s various litigations. At trial, Wright denied that Ayre had bankrolled his lawsuits. Ayre did not respond to a request for comment.

In March, Mellor placed a freezing order on $7.6 million of Wright’s assets to prevent him from taking measures to “evade the costs consequences of his loss at trial.” COPA has “a very powerful claim to be awarded a very substantial sum in costs,” the judge wrote.

“I think this is down to funding now, not Wright’s desire to continue to claim he is Satoshi,” says Granath. “I think the UK judgment makes any further lawfare based on Wright’s claims futile, meaning the will and rationality to fund him is not there anymore.”

For its part, COPA is hoping that the completeness of the judge’s findings against Wright—and the resulting damage to his credibility—will discourage him from pursuing further legal action, even if the option remains available to him.

“This was an extraordinary proceeding. It could not have sent a clearer message to Dr. Wright and anyone else paying attention,” says Grewal. “I’m not terribly worried about Dr. Craig Wright.”

Update 5/21/24 5:00 am EST: This story has been updated to include a comment from BSV.

Joel Khalili is a reporter for WIRED, covering crypto, Web3, and fintech. He was previously an editor at TechRadar, where he wrote about the business of technology, among other things. Before turning his hand to journalism, he studied English literature at University College London.
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