Who is Satoshi Nakamoto? The mysterious inventor of Bitcoin is a well-known figure in the cryptocurrency world, but his true identity is unknown.
But British blogger Peter McCormack was sure of one thing: the answer is not Craig Wright.
For years, Wright, an Australian computer scientist, claimed to be Satoshi, the pseudonymous author of the 2008 white paper behind Bitcoin.
Wright’s claim to be the inventor of the digital asset – he first tried to prove he was Satoshi in 2016, months after his name first appeared – has led to a series of lawsuits, some of which they continue.
One of them came to a bitter end in London this week when McCormack was found to have caused serious damage to Wright’s reputation by repeatedly claiming that he was a fraud and not Satoshi.
But Wright, 52, won nominal damages of £1 after a High Court judge ruled that he had given “deliberately false evidence” in support of his defamation claim.
For reasons of costs, McCormack did not offer a defense of truth – where the defendant in the case tries to show that the allegations are substantially true – as Mr Justice Chamberlain ruled that a statement made in a YouTube video discussion, is defamatory, while the series of tweets repeating the allegations of fraud are believed to have caused serious damage to Wright’s reputation.
“Why he [Wright] made a willfully false case and presented willfully false evidence until days before trial, he will only recover nominal damages,” the judge wrote.
McCormack’s defense, shifted on a much narrower basis, was that the video and tweets had not caused serious damage to Wright’s reputation. Wright claims his reputation was severely damaged by the tweets, as he was suspended from 10 conferences, meaning academic papers due to be presented at those events were not published.
McCormack presented evidence from conference organizers that disputed Wright’s claims. Those claims were then thrown out of Wright’s case at trial in May.
The judge was scathing. He said: “Dr Wright’s original case of serious harm and the evidence in support of it, both of which were sustained until days before the trial, were willfully false.”
Wright, who lives in Surrey and is chief scientist at blockchain technology firm nChain, said he filed the lawsuit “not for financial reward, but for principle and to make others think twice before trying to impugn my reputation “.
And the lawsuits keep piling up. Wright has other cases pending in the high court. He filed a defamation suit against a Norwegian Twitter user, Markus Granat, who also accused the Australian of being a fraud. Granat recently failed in his attempt to dismiss the case.
Wright is also suing two cryptocurrency exchanges in a lawsuit that claims a digital asset called Bitcoin Satoshi Vision (BSV), which he supports, is the true successor to the white paper.
The Crypto Open Patent Alliance (Copa), a non-profit organization that supports cryptocurrencies, is seeking a declaration from the high court that Wright did not author the white paper. Her case alleges that Wright falsified evidence provided to support his claim that he was Satoshi. Wright, who denies Coppa’s allegations, failed in his bid to have the case dismissed last year.
Before that, there was more legal back and forth. In 2020, Wright lost an attempt to sue Roger Ver, an early Bitcoin supporter, for calling Wright a scammer on YouTube after a judge ruled that the appropriate jurisdiction to sue would be the US. One year later, Wright won a copyright infringement lawsuit against the anonymous operator and publisher of the bitcoin.org website for publishing the white paper. Wright won by default after the bitcoin.org publisher, who goes by the pseudonym Cobra, refused to speak in their defense.
In the US, Wright won a case in December that saved him from having to pay a multibillion-dollar sum in bitcoins to the family of David Kleiman, a former business partner. Kleiman’s family claimed that he co-created Bitcoin with Wright and therefore owed them half of the 1.1 million Bitcoins “mined” by Satoshi.
The case was closely watched with the expectation that if Wright lost he would have to move those bitcoins – seen as a sword-in-the-stone test that would prove Satoshi’s true identity. These coins are now worth $25bn (£21bn) at the current price of around $23,000 and reside on the Bitcoin blockchain, a decentralized ledger that records all Bitcoin transactions.
Satoshi published the cryptocurrency’s seminal text – Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Monetary System – on October 31, 2008, and communicated via email with the currency’s early proponents before disappearing in 2011.
Carol Alexander, professor of finance at the University of Sussex’s business school, said Wright could prove he was Satoshi by using so-called private keys – a secure code consisting of a hexadecimal string of numbers and letters – which would unlock access to bitcoins.
“The only way Wright can prove he’s SN is to transact some of the original bitcoins,” she said.
Wright is adamant he won’t do that, saying private keys don’t prove ownership or identity. There are several other candidates for Satoshi. In 2014, a Japanese-American, Dorian S. Nakamoto, was named by Newsweek as the creator of Bitcoin and promptly denied any connection to the digital currency. More informed speculation centers around Nick Szabo, an American computer scientist who designed BitGold, seen as a conceptual predecessor to Bitcoin. But he also denied claims that it could be Satoshi.
Meanwhile, Mr Justice Chamberlain left an open question that remains unanswered. “Satoshi’s identity is not among the questions for me to determine,” he said.