Craig Wright Will Be Able to Fight Bitcoin Copyright Claim in UK After Winning Appeal

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

AccessTimeIconJul 21, 2023 at 7:32 p.m. UTC
Updated Jul 22, 2023 at 11:39 a.m. UTC

Craig Wright, who claims to be Bitcoin inventor Satoshi Nakamoto, will be able to argue his case that the Bitcoin file format should receive copyright protection under UK law after a bench of three UK judges accepted his appeal to a previous court denial, according to a court filing.

On Feb 8. 2023, a UK Court dismissed Wright's plea that 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 (26 in total) associated with Bitcoin, including developers and several entities 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.

"This ruling means the judges only agreed that Dr. Wright should be allowed to argue that the Bitcoin file format is sufficiently well-defined to receive copyright protection under UK law," said a statement from the Bitcoin Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit set up by former Twitter chief Jack Dorsey to assist developers facing lawsuits, including 13 in this case. "The decision does not address the question of whether the Bitcoin file format should receive copyright protection and whether that copyright belongs to Dr. Wright."

Whether Wright is indeed Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto will be determined at a trial slated to begin in January 2024. 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.

The issues about copyright protection "will be decided at a full trial, but only if Dr. Wright first demonstrates that he is Satoshi Nakamoto in a trial of only that issue in early 2024," the Bitcoin Legal Defense Fund statement said. The Defense Fund also cautioned that "the fact that the UK courts are allowing his arguments ... sets a dangerous precedent where developers can be sued for violating the file format of open source software that someone else claims to have created."

Lawyers for Wright said he was "pleased" with the outcome, and acknowledged the high stakes of the case.

"This significant ruling ... enables Dr. Wright to advance his claim for copyright in the Bitcoin File Format which potentially affects all future use, and marketing, of Bitcoin and will prove to be a crucial development in intellectual property law,” Damon Parker, a partner at U.K. law firm Harcus Parker, said in a statement.

UPDATE (July 22, 11:39 UTC): Adds quote from Wright's lawyers.

Elizabeth Napolitano contributed reporting


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Amitoj Singh

Amitoj Singh is a CoinDesk reporter.