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The key in COPA v. Wright

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

BIT & COIN:  Merging Digitality and Physicality

The trial of COPA v. Wright is set to start in mid-January 2024. (UPDATE: The trial has now been rescheduled to start on February 5, 2024. Also, see a follow-up article on the case: The Additional Documents in COPA v. Wright.)

The case has a unique significance. For the first time, the central issue of a lawsuit involving Dr. Craig S. Wright is the truth itself (Satoshi’s identity), rather than derivative matters such as property rights and defamation.

COPA (Crypto Open Patent Alliance), a coalition of some of the most powerful companies in the cryptoverse, wants the court to declare that Dr. Wright is not Satoshi.

COPA focuses on negative evidence showing incidences where they believe Dr. Wright failed to prove he is Satoshi.

Dr. Wright is expected to present positive evidence that he is indeed Satoshi.

The trial has not started, so one should not reach any conclusion about this case. But now is a good time to discuss some key issues in the case. Many will say that the ‘key’ in this case is the private keys Craig holds for the Satoshi coins, but that’s a separate matter.

Consolidation of the identity issue

To understand this case, it is important to note a twist of the identity issue. Because the identity issue is recognized as a common issue in several co-pending cases, it is consolidated into COPA v. Wright to be tried first. Other cases are temporarily stayed, awaiting the outcome of COPA v. Wright. See an introduction on Cases co-pending with COPA v. Wright and a summary of Cases involving Dr. Craig Wright’s Satoshi identity.

The consolidation of the identity issue significantly impacts the dynamics of COPA v. Wright.

Even though all cases are broadly related to the identity issue, they are different from a legal point of view.

In COPA v. Wright, Dr. Wright is the defendant. Therefore, COPA bears the burden of proof to prove that Dr. Wright is not Satoshi.

In other cases, however, Dr. Wright is the plaintiff, so he bears the burden of proof that he is Satoshi.

In litigation, who bears the burden of proof is critical. If the identity issue is not consolidated, it would essentially be tried twice in two different sets of cases with different parties and different kinds of burden of proof. Therefore, the judge’s decision to consolidate the identity issue makes sense.

However, the consequence of consolidation is that in COPA v. Wright, both parties will bear the burden of proof.

From the judge’s point of view, the court’s first decision is whether COPA has met the burden to prove Dr. Wright is not Satoshi. If yes, the case is over because a proof of negative necessarily vanquishes a positive claim. But if COPA fails to prove that Dr. Wright is not Satoshi, then the inquiry goes to a different level to ask whether Dr. Wright has made his case to prove he is Satoshi. This second step is necessary only because the identity issues have been consolidated.

If Dr. Wright wins a positive verdict on identity, the judgment will carry over to the other cases to become the basis for the property disputes.

However, if COPA fails on the negative claim, and Dr. Wright also fails on the positive claim, then it will be up to the judge to decide whether Dr. Wright’s identity claim is to be tried again in the subsequent property cases. The judge will not allow another trial based on the same evidence. However, a new trial is possible if material new evidence is presented by Dr. Wright (even then, it is the judge’s discretion to allow a new trial).

Note that COPA isn’t merely seeking to prove that Dr. Wright is probably not Satoshi (the ‘preponderance of the evidence’ standard) but wants to persuade the court to have an injunction issued against Dr. Wright, meaning that Dr. Wright would not be allowed to assert that he is Satoshi in the future. For that, the court will likely require ‘clear and convincing evidence’. That is a quite high order. Anything short of that will mean COPA has not fully achieved its goal. Dr. Wright’s failure to positively prove he is Satoshi does not automatically result in a verdict that COPA wants, although they would understandably claim a victory.

However, the flip side of the coin is also true. COPA’s failure to achieve its litigation goal does not mean Dr. Wright wins on the identity issue. Dr. Wright has a different goal. Ideally, he wants the case to come out precisely the opposite: the court would announce that Dr. Wright is Satoshi based on the preponderance of evidence. However, COPA losing its case does not automatically result in what Dr. Wright wants.

That’s where the difficulty with this case lies for Dr. Wright. Because he has accepted the judge’s decision to consolidate the identity issue, he now takes on the burden of proof beyond what he would have needed as a defendant. But it is also the right decision because otherwise, he will have to do the same in the other cases anyway, and it would be a waste of the court’s resources and everyone’s time.

To the public, one benefit of consolidation is that it is less likely to have another ambiguous outcome of the case. Had the identity issue not been consolidated, the plaintiff (COPA) may have failed to prove a negative to win an injunction, but the court may nevertheless announce that it is not its duty to decide whether the defendant (Dr. Wright) is Satoshi positively. With the identity issue consolidated, however, the court must seek an answer to both the negative and positive claims.

Each party has its own case. I will focus on COPA’s case below.

COPA’s particulars of claim (POC)

COPA’s case is based on alleging that Dr. Wright has had various opportunities and made various attempts to prove his claim to be the author but on each occasion has failed to do so, and therefore he is not Satoshi. 

In the particulars of claim (POC), COPA alleges four specific occasions:

  • the ‘Sartre message’;
  • the ‘BlackNet Abstract’;
  • the ’12 March 2008 Kleiman email’; and
  • the ‘SSRN Submission’.

Please see the Judge’s pretrial decision for details of these pleadings.

Let’s look more at COPA’s case:

The COPA strategy

Knowing that it is hard to prove a negative positively, COPA focuses on painting this picture:

Wright has behaved so badly that he can’t possibly be the Satoshi the world wants.

The case is not pleaded and set up that way explicitly. COPA asks the court to declare that Wright is not Satoshi who created Bitcoin. But their experienced trial lawyers know it’s hard to prove a negative. It is much easier to paint a picture of Wright being such a dishonest person that he can’t possibly be Satoshi.

In more general terms, COPA’s trial strategy is to create an appearance of Dr. Wright’s culpability of a scandalous nature (such as fraud or deception) and then use it to discredit (impeach) him and his evidence.

To that end, COPA will need to create the following diversion and confusion:

(1) cause the court to confound ‘an act by a person as an identity‘ with ‘an act by the person to prove the identity‘; and

(2) further cause the court to confound ‘defect in a specific piece of evidence to prove the identity‘ with ‘sufficiency in disproving the identity‘.

The above two must work in tandem.

Concerning the above #1, when a person naturally acts as himself (with an identity as a matter of fact), even if he makes a mistake or commits a misrepresentation in what he does and says (note, in Dr. Wright’s case, he will offer rebuttals to explain there was no misrepresentation in the first place, but that’s a different defense and not the point here), there is no specific deception no intent of deception designed to prove his identity falsely. The person is not acting to prove his identity but rather acting as the identity (his own self-aware identity). Any error or misrepresentation (if any) in his act has its own character but is not an identity fraud. This is especially true when the person has other evidence of equal or higher quality to prove his identity.

However, if the above distinction #1 is confounded, an intent to deceive, specifically identity fraud, is inferred from an association and imputed to the person (Dr. Wright in this case) even if he did not have such intent at all.

Concerning the above distinction #2, it is common knowledge in logic that a defect in one piece of evidence to prove a positive is not equal to sufficient proof of a negative. This is especially true when there is other evidence to prove the positive. Again, it is necessary to confound this distinction in order to impute culpability. The goal is to impeach (discredit) Dr. Wright as a witness.

But in the COPA case, Dr. Wright isn’t merely a witness who testifies but the very identity in question. Many pieces of evidence might come from or at least relate to Dr. Wright, but their credibility does not wholly rely on Dr. Wright himself as a witness. For example, if Dr. Wright presents a credit card payment record that a bank record can verify, the credibility of that evidence is in the thing itself.

COPA’s goal, therefore, must be broader. COPA will need to extract culpability of a scandalous nature from Dr. Wright’s acts and impute it into all evidence presented by Dr. Wright now. 

For this purpose, COPA’s POC includes four separate occasions in the past and questions many documents presently submitted by Dr. Wright. COPA will try to extract the necessary culpability from these occasions and documents and impute it to Dr. Wright and all his other evidence.

Although the case is complex and involves large volumes of documents and other evidence, COPA must rely on a simple strategy. It is a strategy of a poison pill, the potency of which is mostly psychological rather than logical. 

It won’t be easy for COPA, but they don’t have a choice. The stakes are too high (see below). COPA will spend unlimited money to hire the best lawyers to achieve its goal.

Therefore, I’d like to say outright that the key in COPA v. Wright is whether Dr. Wright’s team can help the judge avoid the above diversion and confusion and focus on the positive evidence.

Challenges facing the COPA strategy

Of the four occasions pleaded by COPA, only one (‘Kleiman email’) was arguably a special act by Dr. Wright to prove he is Satoshi. All three others, namely the ‘Sartre message’, the ‘BlackNet Abstract’, and the ‘SSRN Submission’, were just normal acts by Dr. Wright, being himself, as Satoshi. They were not special acts to prove his Satoshi identity. These two types are of different nature and must be treated differently.

Because the normal acts by Dr. Wright as Satoshi were not meant as active and positive proof that he was Satoshi, it is illogical to analyze and present those acts as if a defect in such acts could serve as negative proof that he is not Satoshi.

Let me use the following hypothetical story to illustrate this:

Oz has a piece of land, which he, for a period, has not properly attended to.

Tor takes advantage and occupies the land.

Oz later took notice and, on several occasions, stated publicly that he was the true owner of the land and gave notice to Tor. 

But while being the owner and acting as such, Oz told others stories of how he acquired the land in the first place and what he did on the land.

Tor goes to the court to sue Oz and asks the court to declare that Oz is not the true owner because some parts of the stories Oz told people are questionable. Tor presents evidence to the court that the dates in those stories told by Oz are wrong, some parts are untrue or inconsistent, and so on.

In response, Oz presents to the court a large amount of evidence and witnesses to show that he is indeed the owner of the land – all positively intended to prove his ownership in the court.  

Oz once had the official title of the land but says he has somehow lost it.

That’s the case of Tor v. Oz before the judge. If Oz could now find his official title paper of the land, it would become a very simple case. But let’s assume that Oz couldn’t produce the official title paper.

Now, if you were the judge, how would you decide? Will you focus on the actual evidence Oz presents that proves he’s the owner, or will you focus on Tor’s allegations that Oz previously told lies?

The COPA v. Wright trial essentially presents such a drama.

In three of the four incidences alleged by COPA, namely the ‘Sartre message’, the ‘BlackNet Abstract’, and the ‘SSRN Submission’, Dr. Wright was simply acting as Satoshi rather than trying to prove that he is Satoshi positively. Whether or not the ‘stories’ contained in Dr. Wright’s past acts are questionable has little to do with whether he really is Satoshi because those were not acts intended to prove that he was Satoshi.

Dr. Wright’s case is based on the evidence he now presents to the court to prove that he is Satoshi. The court’s focus should be the actual evidence Dr. Wright submits intending to prove that he is Satoshi, not on questionable elements in those incidents in which he just acted as Satoshi.

‘Kleiman email’ is a different kind

The ‘Kleiman email’ is different because it was submitted in a previous court proceeding as part of evidence to prove that Dr. Wright is Satoshi. Therefore, its authenticity is relevant in the case COPA tries to make. COPA alleges that the email was fake. Dr. Wright may either rebut COPA’s allegation by explaining the apparent discrepancies on technical grounds or admit it was not genuine and withdraw it from the evidence. 

If Dr. Wright fails to rebut COPA’s allegation and establish the email’s credibility, it would be a failed piece of evidence. But it is only one piece among many pieces of evidence, the rest of which Dr. Wright can still rely upon. 

However, COPA’s strategy is not merely to impeach that particular piece of evidence but to use it to impeach Dr. Wright himself. If COPA could further establish that Dr. Wright himself created and knowingly submitted a fake email as evidence (note this is a different matter from the authenticity of the email itself), it could have an impeaching effect on Dr. Wright’s credibility. This would carry far more weight than a merely untrustworthy piece of evidence.

But even then, it is not dispositive. It is just one of many pieces of evidence presented for the court to weigh and decide.

Forgery allegations

On October 24, 2023, Mr. Justice Mellor allowed COPA to amend its POC to plead forgery of a total of 50 additional documents submitted by Dr. Wright in the present case.

The forgery allegations potentially carry more weight than the several occasions in the past discussed above because they relate to some of the documents presently submitted as evidence by Dr. Wright.

The burden of proof of such allegations is on COPA.

Because the alleged documents do not cover all the documents submitted by Dr. Wright, the forgery allegations do not change COPA’s strategy as described above, which is to impeach Dr. Wright as a witness and to discredit all evidence by questioning some of them. Therefore, merely proving that those particular documents are unreliable or untrustworthy is not enough. COPA must prove forgery.

Specifically, COPA needs to prove all of the following:

(1) the documents were indeed changed at some point in time;

(2) the changes were not a natural, accidental, or automatic process of document handling of a computer but rather intentional manual changes;

(3) the changes were made by Dr. Wright himself or another person under his instructions; and

(4) The changes were forged with the specific purpose of deceiving the court.

The totality of evidence

Dr. Wright’s team recently conducted a mock trial focusing on cross-examining him about the ‘fake evidence’ he submitted in the past, as alleged by COPA. The result was alarming, if not disheartening. It caused some misunderstanding and overreaction due to the fact that the mock trial focused on the above-discussed several pieces of adversarial evidence laid out in COPA’s particulars of claims (POC) instead of the bulk of the evidence Dr. Wright is presenting to the court for the upcoming trial.

Such a narrow focus of the mock trial is not an error because that is where the challenges are. However, estimating the case’s outcome based on an impression of such a mock trial likely exaggerates the risk of losing the case.

In the real trial, the court must consider evidence in its totality.

In a case where multiple pieces of evidence are presented, and some pieces are inconsistent with the rest of the evidence, the most scientific way to assess the truth is using an objective mathematical method such as Bayesian probability estimate (see Mathematical proof that Dr. Craig S. Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto). But I doubt the court is going to take a real mathematical approach. 

Regardless, however, if the judge is objective, his mind will actually perform an approximate Bayesian probability estimate anyway, whether he is conscious of doing that or not. That is how the human mind is designed to exercise judgment naturally, if not distracted, deceived, or perverted.

One should also be mindful that the court’s responsibility in this case is not to decide Satoshi’s character but rather to determine if Dr. Wright is Satoshi.

Stakes and prospects

The COPA case will have consequences for the development of the genuine Bitcoin (BSV). If COPA wins the case, many developers, entrepreneurs, and investors may be discouraged and dissuaded from BSV development. Those who have a true conviction of the technology and Satoshi’s vision will still stay, but the ecosystem as a whole will be weakened due to the negative impact on what developers, entrepreneurs, and real investors might think of BSV. Unlike coin-price speculators whose sentiment is of no long-term significance, these people’s outlook matters.

On the other hand, BSV already finds itself in a world that holds a judgment against it. People outside BSV believe Dr. Wright is part of a conspiracy to steal Satoshi’s coins and technology and BSV is fake technology only created to facilitate fraud. It has been the dominating environment in which BSV has been operating. Therefore, a court judgment against Dr. Wright probably will not make BSV’s environment much worse than it already is.

As a system and a movement, the genuine Bitcoin (BSV) can succeed without Dr. Wright being recognized as Satoshi. A name has its value, but the substance is of a greater value, which is in the man himself and the actual work he has done and continues to do.

More importantly, the foundation has already been laid, and the development of the real Bitcoin will not stop, regardless of Dr. Wright’s status and further involvement.

Put another way, Dr. Wright’s legal fights are one thing, nChain is another, and the BSV ecosystem is yet another. The system works. Participation is open. Developers, entrepreneurs, and investors can freely use the system to develop their own solutions for their own benefit, whether they love Dr. Wright or hate him, admire him, or despise him.

In comparison, COPA’s stakes in this case are much higher.

(1) In the long term, it may be an existential threat to the establishment represented by COPA companies if Dr. Wright wins. The genuine Bitcoin according to Satoshi’s vision threatens the centralized Internet as it presently is. The New Internet enabled by a universal and scalable blockchain according to Satoshi Vision will destroy a siloed and unscalable crypto vision of the Internet. The entire information industry’s business models will shift from a centralized monopoly model to a decentralized human capital model.

(2) Dr. Wright being recognized as Satoshi would not only mean BSV is the genuine Bitcoin, but also that the crypto industry’s champion project BTC loses its legitimacy for being no longer recognized as the genuine Bitcoin. The stake is far greater than identity; it is also about property rights. Dr. Wright as Satoshi would have property rights over much of the BTC database, including both the database content and file format, which are the subject of another related lawsuit depending on the outcome of the COPA case. This has consequences that COPA companies cannot accept. See an introduction on Cases co-pending with COPA v. Wright.

(3) With the genuine Bitcoin blockchain’s major architectural and value propositions as a universal base layer blockchain for the New Internet validated, other blockchains, along with their crypto assets, lose value. All other applications not already built on the Bitcoin blockchain will need to migrate. This could mean an end to the scam-infested cryptoverse as it is now. It will usher in a new IoV with a utility-based blockchain sphere.

And more. See my upcoming book “Bit & Coin – Merging Digitality and Physicality.”

Evidence and Anticipations

As far as the negative proof (that Dr. Wright is not Satoshi) is concerned, I believe COPA is unlikely to have a clear and straight win. But as far as the positive proof (that Dr. Wright is Satoshi) is concerned, it is hard to tell.

Based on the available evidence, I believe Dr. Wright should win (I try to be objective in my assessment as a nonrelated third party; see Mathematical Proof that Dr. Craig S. Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto). But it is a difficult case, partially due to the asymmetry of digital evidence (see below). COPA is making a titanic effort due to the high stakes. It is nothing to be sniffed at.

If you are betting on the outcome of the COPA case, bet with caution.

The asymmetry of digital evidence

The risk of confusion is high in the COPA case.

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.

This is because, 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“).

The difficulty of document authentication, in particular, will be painfully felt in the COPA v. Wright case. Digital chain of custody and authenticity are difficult to establish.

The case will highlight the inadequacy of digital humanity’s factual ground and cry for a blockchain solution (see further below).

The betting odds and information

It should be noted that the cryptoverse has largely bet against Dr. Wright since 2016, especially since 2018, well before the COPA case started.

Although not exact, the ratio between BTC and BSV coin prices can be viewed as an indicator of the betting odds, which have ranged between 300:1 and 1,000:1 in recent years, presently around 500:1. These are not the kind of odds that one may normally find in a horse race.

The crypto market in general has essentially reached a conclusion that Dr. Wright is absolutely not Satoshi. Not only that, the overall sentiment is that he is a fraud.

Nothing short of such a strong adversarial sentiment can explain the kind of lopsided betting odds for BSV vs. BTC the market is seeing.

It’s time for everyone to think about that conclusion. If you have really looked into the facts surrounding the case, and think that the winning odds for COPA and Dr. Wright are 500 vs 1, you should tell the whole world why you think that.

People are grossly misinformed. The outcome of this lawsuit may inject some good information into the public’s minds.

Outcome and reality

However, a court judgment is not the final seal over reality.

A COPA win may validate many people’s vindications against Dr. Wright, but it does not prove BTC is the real Bitcoin and BSV is not. That will need to be decided in the actual technological and business development.

On the other hand, even a straight victory for Dr. Wright may not change the minds of those who have their positions entrenched. A court judgment may inject some fresh information to reduce ignorance but will not be able to overcome pride, jealousy, greed, and instinct of self-preservation (due to entrenched economic interest). Any one of the four can be sufficient to motivate a person or group to disregard the truth. In the case of crypto versus Wright, all four elements coexist.

Nevertheless, one on the truth side has an objective advantage in a system that is not corrupt.

So may the truth prevail.

Humanity needs a timechain to preserve the truth.

Regardless of the outcome of this case, it will prove one thing with all the drama and exclamations:

The world desperately needs a timechain (blockchain) with a distributed time-stamping server with globally recognized immutability to preserve digital truth.

This case will vividly show how difficult it is to prove a record or document genuine.

In the past, the world has relied on human testimonies. But our society is quickly becoming so corrupt and cynical that it can no longer trust human testimonies, even the testimonies under oath bearing a man’s conscience. A provable and immutable global timechain is urgently needed, not to replace human conscience, but to protect and preserve it.

What irony, it is Satoshi’s own identity case that inadvertently proves how important his invention is.

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

BIT & COIN:  Merging Digitality and Physicality