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The Additional Documents in COPA v. Wright

[Recommend my two-volume book for more reading]:

BIT & COIN:  Merging Digitality and Physicality

On December 20, 2023, Judge Mellor, who presides the trial of COPA v. Wright, handed down a pretrial judgment to adjourn the trial from the originally scheduled January 15, 2024, to February 5, 2024.

A three-week adjournment of the trial does not seem to be such a significant change, especially considering that the case was filed in April 2021 and has been pending for well over 2.5 years.

However, what is significant is the cause behind this adjournment.

In September 2023, Dr. Wright reported that he had discovered additional documents (now referred to as “Additional Documents” in this case’s court proceedings) that better support his Satoshi identity claim. Due to the significance of the new documents, which would require thorough digital forensic investigation to establish their authenticity (or lack thereof), Dr. Wright requested the court to (1) admit the Additional Documents into the trial and (2) allow additional time for the parties to prepare in view of the Additional Documents.

The gist of the December 20, 2023 judgment is that Judge Mellow permitted both applications by Dr. Wright, but with certain restrictions and only a limited adjournment of three weeks.

What are the Additional Documents?

The Additional Documents discovered by Dr. Wright in September 2023 include the following:

  1. A Samsung USB drive contained an image of a drive that Dr. Wright had used when he worked at BDO (2004-2009) (“the BDO Drive”);
  2. A USB drive labeled “MyDigital USB drive” containing documents omitted from previous disclosure; and
  3. A LaTeX file believed to be the source of the original Bitcoin whitepaper.

Why are the Additional Documents important?

The BDO Drive and the LaTex file are of special importance among the above three. If genuine, they are far more important than the documents included in the previous disclosure and also more important than the newly discovered MyDigital USB drive.

What makes them special is not the content itself but the particular nature of these files (their function and purpose, how they were created and kept), making it far easier to establish their authenticity.

Dr. Wright had previously submitted numerous documents as evidence. There is no lack of relevant information in the evidence. If one chooses to believe just a few of those documents, he will find more than enough evidence to prove that Dr. Wright is Satoshi.

The difficulty, however, is in establishing the documents’ authenticity. Being digital, those documents are subject to all kinds of potential changes in an active working environment. The changes can be intentional or unintentional, imaginary or real, but they cast enough doubt to undermine their authenticity regardless.

In the world of digital evidence, it is dimensionally easier to sow seeds of doubt than to cultivate the truth. It is an inherent asymmetry that bears its weight on Dr. Wright in this case.

Without a truth layer, the digital nature is subject to too many variables and unknowns. Any document can be put under suspicion with imaginary possibilities to distract a factfinder from objective probabilities and destroy his confidence in the document (for the matter of psychology-bearing possibilities versus objective Bayesian probabilities, see “Mathematical proof that Craig Wright is Satoshi“).

Dr. Wright’s own admission

From an evidentiary viewpoint, the Additional Documents are so important that Dr. Wright admitted to the court that, without the Additional Documents, he did not have high confidence in proving his identity using the previous documents only.

In Dr. Wright’s 6th witness statement, he stated the following: ‘….the Identity Issue cannot fairly be determined with those documents being before the Court. Therefore, I ask the Court to adjourn the trial and give revised directions to the adjourned trial, as set out in the Application.’

It is not that the previous documents are useless (as gleefully gathered and proclaimed by certain social media observers opposing him), but that Dr Wright believed the Additional Documents were so much more useful that he was willing to admit the weakness of the previous documents so that he could get the Additional Documents accepted by the judge into the trial. In that, it is a success. But whether the documents are genuine and truly useful, and weather the three-week adjournment gives sufficient time to properly investigate and present the Additional Documents, are different questions.

So what’s so special about the BDO drive?

The BDO drive is an image of a drive used from 2004 to 2009.

Although the USB drive itself was bought in 2015/16, the image contained in the USB drive was that of a hard drive Dr. Wright used from 2004-2009.

An image is a complete copy of a hard drive with built-in file structural features to maintain integrity and authenticity. After creating an image of a hard drive, it is impossible to edit individual files within the image without damaging the integrity or changing the image’s metadata (thus rendering the entire drive forensically useless for legal or investigative purposes). In other words, if the image file is altered or forged, there will likely be clear and convincing traces left for detection by a forensic expert.

In addition, a USB drive is a single physical object. Establishing the chain of custody is far easier, especially when it is kept offline.

This contrasts sharply with regular digital files, the authenticity and the chain of custody of which must be established separately for each file.

The BDO Drive, therefore, casts the evidence in a very different light.

At this point, before the trial, we don’t know either of these two things:

(1) What exactly is in the BDO Drive?

(2) To what degree can the image’s authenticity be verified or discredited?

Therefore, any conclusion one wishes to reach can only be speculative and should be avoided.

What we do know is the following:

Dr. Wright himself identified 97 documents that he deemed relevant. These documents were selected by first applying a keyword screening and then being personally reviewed by Dr. Wright himself. The following is a partial list of the keywords used for screening:

Satoshi Nakamoto
digital cash
electronic cash
proof of work
distributed database
cryptographic proof
digital tokens
trusted third parties

What’s so special about the LaTex file?

LaTex is a document preparation system for high-quality typesetting, particularly suited for technical and scientific documents. It’s not a word processor like Microsoft Word or Google Docs, but rather a markup language that describes the content and structure of a document.

It has come to light that the PDF version of the published Bitcoin whitepaper was produced from a LaTex file.

Dr. Wright claims that he has possession of that original LaTex file.

Some questions immediately arise from this LaTex file: is the LaTex file really the source of the Bitcoin whitepaper? How does Dr. Wright establish the authenticity and chain of custody of the LaTex file? How does Dr. Wright prove that he did not reverse engineer the LaTex file?

Before the trial, we don’t know the exact answers. But the following is a highly relevant point to consider:

If the LaTex file is proven to be the genuine source of the Bitcoin whitepaper, then the date and the version history of the LaTex file may not even be critical due to the special relationship between a LaTex file and its output.

This has to do with the impracticality of reverse engineering the LaTex codes for certain types of file contents.

There’s something special about a LaTex file that makes it highly relevant to the evidentiary value. This is the matter of reverse engineering of a LaTex file from an output file (such as the published PDF version of the whitepaper). It is known to be very hard to reverse engineer LaTex code from an output file. The more complex and detailed the output file is, the harder it is to reverse engineer LaTex code to match it. Duplicating visual fidelity would require accurate text extraction and fine matching of layout, spacing, and mathematical equation rendering. Among them, mathematical equation rendering can be the most challenging aspect.

The Bitcoin whitepaper happens to have some quite sophisticated mathematical equations.

In addition, a document to may contain slight variations of the spaces between letters or lines in the Bitcoin whitepaper. Such variations may not be obvious to readers doing normal reading but are perceptible upon close examination. If this is the case with the whitepaper, it has “watermarks” that can only be reproduced by the original LaTex file.

As discussed above, if the LaTex file is proven to be the genuine source of the Bitcoin whitepaper, the date and the version history of the LaTex file may not be that important. Given the complexity of the whitepaper, especially the math equations and the secret watermarks, a case could be made that the very possession of a unique LaTex file that is able to precisely reproduce the whitepaper is evidence of the whitepaper authorship.

If the features of the LaTex file claimed by Dr. Wright turn out to be real, the implausibility of LaTex code reverse engineering will be highly in favor of him. The LaTex file could be strong digital document evidence to support Dr. Wright’s Satoshi claim, given the irony that we don’t have the benefit of the blockchain to support the history of the Bitcoin blockchain’s creation.

However, before the trial, we don’t know whether the LaTex file is really a genuine source of the Bitcoin whitepaper. If the LaTex file cannot be proven to be the source of the whitepaper, then all the characteristics of LaTex files are irrelevant because they prove nothing.

More about reverse engineering a LaTex file

Caveat: The following discussion is based on an unproven assumption that the LaTex file is really the genuine source of the Bitcoin whitepaper. If this assumption turns out to be untrue, then the discussion below would be only theoretical and has no relationship with the actual case before us.

The matter of reverse engineering the Bitcoin whitepaper’s original LaTex file will be contested in the trial as a critical issue.

As a general background, it is well-known that a LaTex file is difficult to reproduce without the original source code. The more complex and detailed the file is, the harder it is to reproduce. LaTex has 40 years of use by many users to demonstrate that point. Everyone who has experience with LaTex would agree with that fact.

But that general knowledge alone is not sufficient proof. There must be whitepaper-specific evidence to further provide support to a claim of infeasibility or impracticality of reverse engineering the LaTex file of the Bitcoin whitepaper.

It is important to note that here when we say “reproducing the whitepaper” we are not merely talking about duplicating a PDF document that has the same content with the same general layout. Rather we are talking about duplicating high-level visual fidelity that relies on fine matching of everything, treating the PDF as a high-resolution picture with details that may not matter to normal reading at all.

The existence of complex math equations is therefore a favorable factor to Dr. Wright. It is not about reproducing a math equation that has the same mathematical meaning (which would be easy), but the exact shapes and sizes of the letters and symbols, and their arrangement in precise patterns and relative positions.

And the secret watermarks, if substantiated, would be extremely strong evidence.

At the same time, the absence of any LaTex file anywhere in the world so far other than the one possessed by Dr. Wright to produce an output that closely matches the whitepaper also lends circumstantial evidence.

Evidence (if any) that many even tried but couldn’t would further bolster Dr. Wright’s claim.

Reversely, if COPA finds someone who actually reverse-engineers a LaTex file that reproduces a copy of the Bitcoin whitepaper as accurately as Dr. Wright’s LaTex file, it would have a straight refutation to Dr. Wright’s claim.

If (it is an “if” because we do not know now) the LaTex file can accurately reproduce the whitepaper, Dr. Wright would have at least made a prima facie case for his claim. It is up to COPA to prove he is wrong. But COPA must do it by actually reverse engineering such a LaTex file, rather than merely making theoretical criticisms of what Dr. Wright claims.

“Do what you say” is the standard here. Both parties should be held to such a standard. Otherwise, it may become theoretical arguments between the opposing technical experts.

Regardless, if COPA’s goal is to prove Dr. Wright is committing forgery with the LaTex file, it ought to bear the burden of proof with clear and convincing evidence.

We don’t know for sure how these will play out. We will have to wait and see what transpires in the trial.

At the same time, remember the court is dealing with real-life probabilities, not imaginary possibilities. The world has a real problem in this regard today. People’s inability to objectively assess Bayesian probabilities, along with the propensity to be carried away by imaginary possibilities, is a reason why the world is infested by all kinds of mind viruses.

Wait for the trial

No one should jump to a conclusion ahead of the trial. If you think the outcome is important, wait for the result of the trial.

Meanwhile, I care about the future of the genuine Bitcoin far more than the Satoshi identity. The issue of Satoshi’s identity is important only to the extent that it has an impact on the future of the genuine Bitcoin.

See my article “The Key in COPA v. Wright” for a larger context.

[Recommend my two-volume book for more reading]:

BIT & COIN:  Merging Digitality and Physicality