Today the UK appellate court decided to uphold Dr. Wright’s appeal in the database rights case. The judges only agreed that Dr. Wright should be allowed to argue that the Bitcoin file format is sufficiently well-defined to receive copyright protection under UK law. Importantly, the appellate decision does not address the question of whether the Bitcoin file format should receive copyright protection and whether that copyright belongs to Dr. Wright. The appellate judges are merely allowing Wright to make that argument in the UK High Court.
In addition to the copyright Bitcoin file format, Dr. Wright claims to own the copyright for the Bitcoin whitepaper and the database rights for the Bitcoin blockchain. He brought this lawsuit against 13 individual Bitcoin developers and 13 other defendants—whom he refers to as the BTC partnership—on the grounds that their use and development of the Bitcoin blockchain violated his copyright claims and database right claims.
There are several issues with Dr. Wright’s claims. First, there is no such thing as the “BTC partnership.” It is an entity that Dr. Wright has made up to serve his own interests. The Bitcoin blockchain is a decentralized network that anyone is free to use and develop. At no point has there been any formal partnership between the developers named in the case.
Second, the Bitcoin file format, the Bitcoin whitepaper, and the Bitcoin database were all created by Bitcoin’s pseudonymous creator Satoshi Nakamoto. Wright has claimed to be Satoshi since at least 2016 without providing a shred of evidence to back up this claim. The Bitcoin software is free and open source developed and distributed under the MIT license by its authors. That means that everyone has been granted permission to use, modify, and distribute the software. It is unconscionable that someone who claims to be the author of an open source program would allege copyright infringement against the people benefiting from its open source license. But even so, those copyright claims would belong to Satoshi Nakamoto. As such, Dr. Wright must prove that he is Satoshi Nakamoto before the courts can make a decision on the three primary claims named in the lawsuit.
Today’s appellate ruling says nothing on the subject of whether the defendants in the lawsuit violated Dr. Wright’s copyright or database rights. These issues will be decided at a full trial, but only if Dr. Wright first demonstrates that he is Satoshi Nakamoto in a trial of only that issue in early 2024. We are extremely confident that Dr. Wright will fail to prove that he is Satoshi, just as he has failed to produce any evidence to back up this claim for the last 7 years. If Dr. Wright cannot prove that he is Satoshi Nakamoto, his central copyright and database rights will never be tried in court and this appellate decision will have had no effect whatsoever on the outcome of the lawsuit.
Although the defendants are confident that Dr. Wright will fail to demonstrate he is Satoshi Nakamoto, the fact that the UK courts are allowing his arguments to be heard at all is extremely concerning not just for the crypto community, but the entire world. It sets a dangerous precedent where developers can be sued for violating the file format of open source software that someone else claims to have created. The world runs on open source software and these lawsuits will surely have a chilling effect on the willingness of volunteer software developers to contribute to these vital projects. Dr. Wright’s arguments are fundamentally weak, but the Bitcoin Core developers must launch a vigorous defense against them to protect their right to work on open source software without fear of legal harassment from individuals like Dr. Wright who weaponize the court system for their own personal gain.