On May 18, tens of thousands of Bitcoiners returned to the Miami Beach Convention Center for the world’s largest Bitcoin conference. Over the course of 3 days, attendees were able to hear talks from some of the world’s most influential Bitcoin advocates, including two sessions featuring the Bitcoin Legal Defense Fund’s Chief Legal Officer Jess Jonas.
The Legal Defense of Bitcoin
On Friday morning, Jonas delivered a keynote presentation on the conference’s Enterprise Stage on the subject of “The Legal Defense of Bitcoin.” During the talk, Jonas described the purpose of the BLDF and explained the implications of two court cases brought against Bitcoin Developers in the UK.
These lawsuits, which Jonas described as an “existential threat to Bitcoin and open source,” have been brought against a total of 13 Bitcoin Core developers by Craig Wright or entities controlled by Wright. Although these lawsuits are nominally about Bitcoin, Jonas made the case that they have “grave implications” for open source software and fundamental human rights such as the freedom of speech.
“The reason why it’s so critical that we band together to help the developers mount a strong defense is because the ramifications of this case go far beyond Bitcoin,” Jonas said. “If [Wright’s firm] Tulip Trading is successful, it would have a chilling effect not just on Bitcoin development, but on the development of all open source software that we use in our day-to-day lives.”
Wright has a long history of litigating against organizations and individuals in the Bitcoin community and Jonas acknowledged that it would be easy to dismiss the lawsuits in the UK as “absurd.” But this, she said, would be a devastating mistake. “This whole thing seems far-fetched, but if you don’t pay attention to this and you don’t talk about it, then we will lose,” Jonas said. Instead, she made the case that it was critical for the Bitcoin community to rally behind the developers who have given so much of their time and energy to help build a world-changing force for good.
“This is not a problem for one or two individuals to carry,” Jonas said. “It’s the community’s problem and it takes engagement from the entire community to fight it. The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”
The Role of Bitcoin Core Maintainers and the Path Forward
On Saturday, Jonas participated in a panel featuring Bitcoin maintainer Gloria Zhao and Lightning maintainer Niftynei that was moderated by Steve Meyers, the developer behind the Bitcoin Dev Kit. The subject of the panel was “The Role of Bitcoin Core Maintainers and the Path Forward,” and featured a wide-ranging discussion on the role of maintainers and the legal threats faced by developers working on Bitcoin applications.
The role of Bitcoin maintainers is frequently misunderstood by the media and even many non-technical Bitcoin advocates, which has led to false accusations that maintainers “control” the Bitcoin network. The reality, of course, is that Bitcoin is a decentralized network where no individual(s) or organization(s) have ultimate authority over how the network is used. “We don’t have any power to update your nodes,” Zhao said. “Only the users decide what code they’re going to run as part of this decentralized network. We are all part of the decision-making process.”
Nevertheless, critics and enemies of Bitcoin have frequently misrepresented the function of maintainers to launch baseless attacks against Bitcoin developers. Tulip Trading, for example, has launched a lawsuit against 12 Bitcoin Core developers in the UK on the grounds that these developers owe a fiduciary duty to the network’s users. This claim is based on the false argument that Bitcoin Core maintainers control the network and a lack of clarity about what, exactly, maintainers do.
While the notion that Bitcoin maintainers control the network is clearly absurd to anyone who understands Bitcoin, the UK courts recently decided that the question of whether “the decentralized governance of Bitcoin really is a myth” is a serious issue worthy of a court trial. As Jonas detailed during the panel, the outcome of this trial has far-reaching implications for open source software development and requires the Bitcoin developers to mount a vigorous defense.
“When we think about the future of Bitcoin, there is really only a future if people continue building it,” Jonas said. “If the threat of litigation for doing this work is so great, people won’t open themselves up to that liability. We’re here to fight for them so there can be a future for Bitcoin and a future for open source development.”