Craig Wright Loses Bitcoin Copyright Claim in UK Court

The self-proclaimed author of the Bitcoin white paper claims Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash violate his intellectual property rights.

AccessTimeIconFeb 8, 2023 at 4:12 p.m. UTC
Updated Feb 9, 2023 at 9:14 p.m. UTC

The file format of the Bitcoin blockchain can’t be protected by copyright, a U.K. judge has found, ruling against self-proclaimed inventor Craig Wright.

Wright, who says he wrote the 2008 Bitcoin white paper under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakomoto, had sought to argue he should be able to block the operation of Bitcoin and the system that forked from it, Bitcoin Cash, because they breach his intellectual property rights.

Wright's claim was made against a host of defendants associated with Bitcoin, including several units of crypto exchange Coinbase. Wright claims the Bitcoin Satoshi Vision blockchain he created from another Bitcoin fork is the authentic blockchain behind the bitcoin cryptocurrency.

In a Tuesday ruling, Judge James Mellor said the file format of Bitcoin – the sequence of a header and list of transactions that together form a block – can’t be treated like a literary work because Wright can’t show how they were first recorded, a test known in copyright law as "fixation."

“I do not see any prospect of the law as currently stated and understood in the case law allowing copyright protection of subject matter which is not expressed or fixed anywhere,” Mellor said in a ruling for the High Court of England and Wales.

“It remains the case that no relevant 'work' has been identified containing content which defines the structure of the Bitcoin File Format,” although Wright and the two Wright-associated investment companies making the claim had been given “ample opportunity” to do so, Mellor added.

Claims concerning copyright to the 2008 white paper and whether Wright is really the author will be the subject of later rulings, the judge said.

Last week the U.K. Court of Appeal ruled that a claim by Wright's Tulip Trading against 16 Bitcoin developers should go to trial in London.

In a case heard in Oslo last year, multiple witnesses offered forensic evidence that documents supplied by Wright purporting to back up his claim to be Nakomoto contain discrepancies, such as fonts that weren’t available at the time.

CORRECTION (Feb. 8, 2023 16:50 UTC): BSV stands for Bitcoin Satoshi Vision.

UPDATE (Feb. 89 16:50 UTC): Clarifies the copyright case involves blockchains and not cryptocurrencies.


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Jack Schickler

Jack Schickler was a CoinDesk reporter focused on crypto regulations, based in Brussels, Belgium. He doesn’t own any crypto.