A computer expert who claims to have invented the digital currency Bitcoin has been awarded just £1 in damages after he gave ‘deliberately false’ evidence in a High Court defamation case.
Australian Dr Craig Wright, purportedly Bitcoin creator ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’, sued blogger Peter McCormack for libel over a series of tweets in 2019 that alleged his claim to be the enigmatic inventor was fraudulent.
In a ruling on Monday, Mr Justice Chamberlain concluded the tweets, and a video discussion broadcast on YouTube where Mr McCormack made similar claims, had caused ‘serious harm’ to Dr Wright’s reputation.
But the High Court judge limited Dr Wright’s damages to £1 after he put forward a ‘deliberately false’ case over being disinvited from academic conferences because of the tweets until days before the libel trial in May.
In the tweets made between March and August 2019, Mr McCormack, a podcaster specializing in content about cryptocurrencies, alleged that ‘Craig Wright is not Satoshi’ and is ‘a fraud’.
Australian Dr Craig Wright (pictured), purportedly Bitcoin creator ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’, sued blogger Peter McCormack for libel over a series of tweets in 2019 that alleged his claim to be the enigmatic inventor was fraudulent
Amid complaints from Dr Wright’s solicitors, he tweeted in response: ‘Let’s go to court.’
In the lead-up to the libel trial, Dr Wright initially argued that he had been invited to speak at numerous conferences after the successful submission of academic papers for blind peer review, but that 10 invites were withdrawn following Mr McCormack’s tweets.
This included alleged potential appearances at events in France, Vietnam, the US, Canada and Portugal.
But Mr McCormack submitted evidence from academics challenging Dr Wright’s claims which were dropped from his case at the trial in May.
Dr Wright later accepted that some of his evidence was ‘wrong’ but that this was ‘inadvertent’, Mr Justice Chamberlain said.
The judge noted that there was ‘no documentary evidence’ that Dr Wright had a paper accepted at any of the conferences identified in the earlier version of his libel claim, nor that he received an invitation to speak at them except possibly one and nor that any invitation was withdrawn.
In a ruling on Monday, Mr Justice Chamberlain concluded the tweets, and a video discussion broadcast on YouTube where Mr McCormack (above) made similar claims, had caused ‘serious harm’ to Dr Wright’s reputation
Dr Wright’s explanation for abandoning this part of his case because the alleged damage to his reputation from the ‘disinvitations’ was outside England and Wales ‘does not withstand scrutiny’, the judge added.
He concluded that ‘Dr Wright’s original case on serious harm, and the evidence supporting it, both of which were maintained until days before trial, were deliberately false’.
Lawyers for Mr McCormack argued at trial that his tweets were made in ‘flippant and light-hearted terms’ and were in response to posts by Calvin Ayre, a Canadian businessman, ‘goading others into accusing Dr Wright of being a fraud’.
They also claimed there were ‘numerous other individuals who had posted the same allegations about Dr Wright’, Mr Justice Chamberlain explained in his ruling.
Lawyers also ‘relied upon attempts by Dr Wright to sell the rights to his life story as showing that he had not been hurt by the controversy surrounding his claim to be Satoshi and indeed was trying to exploit that controversy for gain’, the judge said.
But the High Court judge limited Dr Wright’s damages to £1 after he put forward a ‘deliberately false’ case over being disinvited from academic conferences because of the tweets until days before the libel trial in May (stock image of bitcoin)
Mr Justice Chamberlain concluded that although the tweets were ‘flippant in tone’ they came from ‘a well-known podcaster and acknowledged expert in cryptocurrency’.
‘They were unequivocal in their meaning. Many people who read them would have known that there was a lively debate about whether Dr Wright was Satoshi, but some of them must have been influenced by reading Mr McCormack’s trenchantly expressed contribution to that debate,’ the judge continued.
‘The fact that he was willing to state his views so brazenly in response to threats of libel proceedings is likely to have made those who read them more, not less, likely to believe them.’
But the judge said that Dr Wright’s pre-trial case over the serious harm to his reputation made it ‘unconscionable’ that he should receive ‘any more than nominal damages’.
The judge said the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto was not an issue he had to determine in his ruling as Mr McCormack had earlier abandoned a defense of truth in his case.
CoinDesk reported that Dr Wright’s lawyers distributed a statement which read: ‘I intend to appeal the adverse findings of the judgment in which my evidence was clearly misunderstood.’