Bitcoin Royalty Descends on the Satoshi Nakamoto Trial

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 who 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.

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, 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.

In witness statements submitted to the court ahead of the trial, the bitcoiners provided accounts in support of COPA’s case. Back detailed a 2008 email exchange in which Satoshi appeared to be unfamiliar with a proposal by cryptographer Wei Dai. In his own written evidence, Wright had described Dei’s work as an inspiration for Bitcoin. Malmi contested Wright’s timeline of the correspondence between him and Satoshi and Wright’s description of technical arrangements relating to the forum. Separately, he asserted that Satoshi embraced the term “cryptocurrency,” contrary to Wright’s account. In his statement, Hearn recounted a dinner in 2016 at which he posed questions to Wright that he believed Satoshi would be able to answer. Some of Wright’s responses were “in the general area, but garbled;” others were “only slightly better than Star Trek-style technobabble.” Wilcox-O’Hearn simply testified Satoshi never sent him any bitcoin, as Wright has claimed he did.

In the course of Wednesday and Thursday, the bitcoiners took to the witness box to be cross-examined on the contents of their statements by Wright’s legal counsel, Lord Anthony Grabiner and Craig Orr.

Grabiner pressed Hearn on the quality of his recall with respect to the dinner, about which the court had received a contradictory account from one of Wright’s witnesses. Hearn acknowledged a level of haziness, but insisted he remembered “the important parts” in which he asked about Bitcoin. Grabiner proposed that Wright’s responses had been stilted because he was wary of the possibility Hearn had an ulterior motive for his questioning. At the time Hearn worked for a company, R3, that Grabiner claimed could be considered a competitor to nChain, a firm with which Wright was associated. Hearn rejected the claim: “I didn’t know anything about Wright’s work,” he said. “I still don’t.”

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