For years Craig Wright has claimed that he is the mythical figure who created bitcoin. But a legal bid by the Australian computer scientist to defend his assertion that he is Satoshi Nakamoto resulted in a pyrrhic victory and a tarnished reputation on Monday.
A high court judge ruled Wright had given “deliberately false evidence” in a libel case and awarded him £1 in damages after he sued a blogger for alleging that his claim to be the elusive Nakamoto was fraudulent.
“Because he [Wright] advanced a deliberately false case and put forward deliberately false evidence until days before trial, he will recover only nominal damages,” wrote Justice Chamberlain.
Wright had sued blogger Peter McCormack over a series of tweets in 2019, and a video discussion broadcast on YouTube, in which McCormack said Wright was a “fraud” and is not Satoshi. The issue of Nakamoto’s identity was not covered by the judge’s ruling because McCormack had earlier abandoned a defence of truth in his case.
Wright claimed that his reputation within the cryptocurrency industry had been “seriously harmed” by McCormack’s claims. He said he had been invited to speak at numerous conferences after the successful submission of academic papers for blind peer review, but 10 invites had been withdrawn following McCormack’s tweets. This included alleged potential appearances at events in France, Vietnam, the US, Canada and Portugal.
But McCormack submitted evidence from academics challenging Wright’s claims, which were then dropped from his case at the trial in May. Wright later accepted that some of his evidence was “wrong” but said that this was “inadvertent”, Chamberlain said in his judgment.
The judge noted that there was “no documentary evidence” that Wright had a paper accepted at any of the conferences identified in the earlier version of his libel claim, nor that he received an invitation to speak at them except possibly at one, and that any invitation was withdrawn.
Wright’s explanation for abandoning this part of his case because the alleged damage to his reputation from the “disinvitations” was outside England and Wales “does not withstand scrutiny”, the judge added.
He concluded: “Dr Wright’s original case on serious harm, and the evidence supporting it, both of which were maintained until days before trial, were deliberately false.”
Lawyers for McCormack had argued that his tweets were made in “flippant and lighthearted terms” and were in response to posts by Calvin Ayre, a Canadian businessman, “goading others into accusing Dr Wright of being a fraud”. They also claimed there were “numerous other individuals who had posted the same allegations about Wright”, Chamberlain explained in his ruling.
Chamberlain concluded that although the tweets were “flippant in tone”, they came from “a well-known podcaster and acknowledged expert in cryptocurrency”.
“They were unequivocal in their meaning. Many people who read them would have known that there was a lively debate about whether Dr Wright was Satoshi, but some of them must have been influenced by reading Mr McCormack’s trenchantly expressed contribution to that debate,” the judge continued.
“The fact that he was willing to state his views so brazenly in response to threats of libel proceedings is likely to have made those who read them more, not less, likely to believe them.”
But the judge said that Wright’s pre-trial case over the serious harm to his reputation made it “unconscionable” that he should receive “any more than nominal damages”.
Chamberlain found that McCormack’s comments in the video discussion, which included calling Wright a “liar” and a “moron” were defamatory, while the video and a majority of the tweets caused “serious harm” to Wright’s reputation.
In statement Wright said: “I intend to appeal the adverse findings of the judgment in which my evidence was clearly misunderstood. I will continue legal challenges until these baseless and harmful attacks designed to belittle my reputation stop.”