Who is Satoshi Nakamoto? The mysterious inventor of bitcoin is a well-known figure in the cryptocurrency world, but his true identity is unknown.
However, British blogger Peter McCormack was sure of one thing: the answer is not Craig Wright.
For years, Wright, an Australian computer scientist, has 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 attempted to prove he is Satoshi in 2016, months after his name first surfaced – has led to a series of legal battles, some of which continue.
One of them came to a Pyrrhic conclusion in London this week, when McCormack was found to have caused serious damage to Wright’s reputation by repeatedly claiming that he is a fraud and is not Satoshi.
But Wright, 52, won nominal damages of £1 after a High Court judge ruled he had given “deliberately false evidence” to support his libel claim.
For reasons of cost, McCormack did not offer a defense of truth – where the defendant in the case attempts to show that the allegations are substantially true – as Justice Chamberlain ruled that a claim made in a YouTube video discussion was defamatory, while a series of tweets repeating the fraud claims were ruled to have caused serious damage to Wright’s reputation.
“Because he [Wright] presented a knowingly false case and knowingly presented false evidence until days before trial, he will recover only nominal damages,” the judge wrote.
McCormack’s defence, moved to a much narrower footing, was that the video and tweets did not cause serious damage to Wright’s reputation. Wright claimed that his reputation had been seriously damaged by the tweets because he had been disinvited from 10 conferences, which meant that academic papers to be presented at those events had not been published.
McCormack submitted evidence from conference organizers challenging Wright’s claims. Those claims were subsequently dropped from Wright’s case at trial in May.
The judge was sharp. He said: “Dr Wright’s original case of serious harm and the evidence supporting it, both of which were maintained until days before the trial, were deliberately false.”
Wright, who lives in Surrey and is chief scientist at blockchain technology firm nChain, said he had brought the case “not for financial reward, but for the principle and to make others think twice before trying to impugn my reputation”. .
And the lawsuits keep piling up. Wright has other pending lawsuits. He has brought a defamation case against a Norwegian Twitter user, Marcus Granath, who has also accused the Australian of being a fraud. Granath recently failed in an attempt to have the case thrown out.
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 descendant of the white paper.
The Crypto Open Patent Alliance (Copa), a non-profit organization that supports cryptocurrencies, is seeking a declaration from the Supreme Court that Wright is not the author of the white paper. The suit alleges that Wright falsified evidence produced to support his claim that he is Satoshi. Wright, who denies Copa’s allegations, failed in an attempt to have the case dismissed last year.
It was more legal back and forth before that. In 2020, Wright lost an attempt to sue Roger Ver, an early bitcoin backer, for calling Wright a fraud on YouTube after a judge ruled that the proper jurisdiction for a lawsuit would be the United States. One year later, Wright won a copyright infringement claim against the anonymous operator and publisher of the website bitcoin.org for publishing the white paper. Wright won by default after bitcoin.org’s publisher, who goes by the pseudonym Cobra, refused to speak in their defense.
In the US, Wright won a case in December that spared him having to pay out a billion in bitcoins to the family of David Kleiman, a former business partner. Kleiman’s family had claimed that he was a co-creator of bitcoin with Wright, and were therefore owed half of the 1.1 million bitcoins “mined” by Satoshi.
The case was closely watched in anticipation that if Wright lost, he would have had to move those bitcoins – seen as the 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 sit on the bitcoin blockchain, a decentralized ledger that records all bitcoin transactions.
Satoshi published the cryptocurrency’s basic text – Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System – on October 31, 2008 and communicated via email with the currency’s early supporters before it disappeared in 2011.
Carol Alexander, professor of finance at the University of Sussex Business School, says Wright can prove he is Satoshi by using the so-called private keys – a secure code consisting of a hexadecimal string of numbers and letters – which will unlock access to bitcoins.
“The only way for Wright to prove that he is SN would be to make a transaction with some of the original bitcoin,” she said.
Wright is adamant that he will not do this, saying that private keys do not prove ownership or identity. There are few other Satoshi candidates. In 2014, a Japanese-American man, Dorian S Nakamoto, was named by Newsweek as the creator of bitcoin and immediately denied any link to the digital currency. More informed speculation has centered on Nick Szabo, an American computer scientist who designed BitGold, seen as a conceptual precursor to bitcoin. But he too has denied claims that he may be Satoshi.
Meanwhile, Justice Chamberlain left open a question that remains unanswered. “The identity of Satoshi is not among the issues I have to determine,” he said.