Bitcoin Royalty Descends on the Satoshi Nakamoto Trial


Bitcoin was invented by Satoshi Nakamoto, an enigmatic figure about whom almost nothing is known. Fifteen years ago, Satoshi brought the idea of an electronic cash system into being with the help of a small cast of oddballs. This week, some of those early collaborators—now crypto-celebrities in their own right—took to the witness box of a London courtroom. They had come to testify against an alleged imposter.

Since 2016, Australian computer scientist Craig Wright has claimed to be Satoshi. The claim is widely disputed, yet Wright has wielded it in a series of lawsuits against developers and others in pursuit of establishing intellectual property rights over Bitcoin. The stakes are high: If Wright succeeds, he could prevent developers from working on the Bitcoin codebase and dictate the terms of use for the system.

Earlier this month, a trial began in the UK High Court, the purpose of which is to challenge Wright’s claim to being the creator of Bitcoin. The case was filed by a consortium of crypto firms called the Crypto Open Patent Alliance, which is asking the court to declare that Wright is not Satoshi, thereby limiting his ability to found further litigation on the claim. COPA claims that Wright has fabricated his evidence and repeatedly changed his story as new inconsistencies come to light. It called on the early bitcoiners to help prove it.

Among those that testified were Adam Back, Mike Hearn, Martti Malmi, and Zooko Wilcox-O’Hearn, each of whom contributed to the early development of Bitcoin in their own way. With the exception of Hearn, who had a polished manner and dressed sharply, the witnesses had the air of technologists: softly spoken and somewhat awkward, but quietly authoritative. Earlier in the trial, Wright had faced a grueling seven-day cross-examination, in which he rejected hundreds of claims of forgery and misrepresentation. The evidence supplied by the bitcoiners, COPA hoped, would help dismantle his story.

In 2008, when Satoshi was finalizing the design of the Bitcoin system, they pitched the concept to a niche online community of cryptographers. Discussions about Bitcoin spilled into fringes of the web occupied by anarchists and libertarians, who relished in the idea of a monetary system divorced from the state.

From these two realms, a misfit band of supporters came together to assist Satoshi. They shared a belief, as Back described it in court, in technology as a “tool for positive change.” Some volunteered their advice, others their code, and others their labor. After Satoshi disappeared, in 2011, they carried Bitcoin forward.

The figures called upon by COPA to testify each made a distinct mark on Bitcoin. Back created a precursor technology called Hashcash (although Wright disputes its relevance) and corresponded with Satoshi as the Bitcoin creator drafted the white paper. Satoshi tasked Malmi with curating Bitcoin.org, which hosted educational materials. Hearn was one of the earliest contributors to the Bitcoin codebase. And Wilcox-O’Hearn was among the first to blog about Bitcoin, spreading the gospel. As Bitcoin grew, these early collaborators became themselves revered in crypto circles for their place in Bitcoin lore.



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