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EXPLAINED: How Florida Biz Dispute May Hold Key To Identity Of Elusive Bitcoin Founder Satoshi Nakamoto

A statue of Bitcoin's unknown creator was recently unveiled in Hungary.  The case in Florida involves two parties none of whom denies that they were behind the creation of Bitcoin and the tech that supports it

A statue of Bitcoin's unknown creator was recently unveiled in Hungary. The case in Florida involves two parties none of whom denies that they were behind the creation of Bitcoin and the tech that supports it

Many people have been said to be Satoshi Nakamoto since the emergence of Bitcoin, but the identity of the creator of the blockchain tech has remained unknown

A trial is underway in a Florida court that could potentially gift the world a newly-minted billionaire, who would be vaulted straight into the top-20 of the rich list by virtue of ownership of close to USD 70 billion worth of Bitcoins, the original cryptocurrency. It’s a different matter though that the identity of Bitcoin’s creator, the person or persons known as Satoshi Nakamoto, has never been revealed and that if the trial does solve the question there could still be the issue of actually accessing those Bitcoins.

What Do We Know About The Identity Of The Bitcoin Founder?

Satoshi Nakamoto is the pseudonymous and unknown mother, or father, figure of the cryptocurrency community. That they have stayed incognito seems just like it should be. After all, the decentralised ledger, the so-called blockchain, that the person or persons known by that name first proposed in a white paper in 2008 packs the potential to revolutionise how the world does business and moves money by doing away with the need for a third-party entity to supervise transactions. It is a system founded on a lack of a central authority.

But poetics aside, the name or identity of Satoshi Nakamoto is also linked with a hefty fortune, as an account linked to it is said to hold close to a million Bitcoins as also other cryptocurrency that were created when the original Bitcoin was hived off — via forks of the initial cryptocurrency — to launch new avatars. Understandably, therefore, people following either the messiah or the money have for years now tried to unravel the mystery figure behind the moniker.

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In the early days it was speculated that Nakamoto was a reclusive genius living in Japan, but phrases, words and spellings used by him, her, or them, in their first communications with the cryptocurrency community — before they completely disappeared around 2011 — suggested that Nakamoto was either a Brit or somebody living in one of the Commonwealth countries.

In mainstream media and internet fora, the quest to find Nakamoto has thrown up multiple contenders, neither of whom though has been conclusively proven to be The One. Which means that the search is still open, and the chance that any of the closest claimants could eventually turn out to be the real Satoshi Nakamoto perhaps cannot be entirely dismissed.

Significantly, Craig Steven Wright, the computer science specialist who is being sued in the Florida partnership dispute, was revealed in a 2015 article in Wired to be Satoshi Nakamoto, only for the magazine to subsequently disown the claim. But while all the remaining people said to be Nakamoto have vigorously rejected the speculation, Wright has never denied the talk even though his claims have been pooh-poohed as being fraudulent while he has himself failed to come up with conclusive proof to establish his identity as the creator of Bitcoin.

What Is The Trial About?

To be sure, the trial is not directly about the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto but goes into whether Wright had a partnership with the deceased computer scientist David Kleiman. Neither side denies that Wright was involved in the creation of Bitcoin. What the Kleiman family is out to establish is that a partnership existed between the two and the duo had worked together on penning the blockchain white paper, thus giving birth to the Bitcoin cryptocurrency.

The Kleiman family now want Wright to hand over the half of the Bitcoins he would be holding (if he is indeed Satoshi Nakamoto), which are worth in the upwards of USD 60 billion. But 51-year-old, Australian-born Wright, who lives in London, says he created Bitcoin all by himself and had never taken any help from or partnered with Kleiman, who died in 2013.

Wright is reported to have acknowledged that while Kleiman was a close friend, they had never struck a partnership and, hence, he owes no Bitcoins that he may own to the Kleiman family. But the big question is whether the Florida case will lead to the revelation of Satoshi Nakamoto’s identity, even though this is not the first legal action involving Wright that revolves around the topic.

What Would Be The Conclusive Proof Of Such Claims?

In April this year, a London court allowed Wright to serve a copyright infringement lawsuit against the operator and publisher of the bitcoin.org website, who, or which entity, goes by the name of Cobra.

Reports said that Wright is seeking, in this lawsuit, that bitcoin.org take down the 2008 white paper even as he alleges that Cobra is wrongfully controlling the website. Reports say that if Wright can establish that he is Nakamoto, it could have “significant short term price impacts" on a cryptocurrency known as Bitcoin Satoshi Vision (BSV), with which he is “heavily associated" and endorses as “the real Bitcoin".

“The case will turn on whether the court is satisfied that Dr Wright did indeed author — and owns the copyright in — the white paper and, therefore, that he is Satoshi Nakamoto," news agency Reuters quoted Simon Cohen, a lawyer at Ontier, the firm representing Wright.

When Satoshi Nakamoto went incommunicado in 2011, he or they left control of the open-source code that undergirds the Bitcoin architecture to software engineer Gavin Andresen, who was among the key figures behind the development of the cryptocurrency. When Wright staked claim to the Nakamoto identity, Andresen had initially backed his statements, but later said he may have been fooled.

Wright had declared in 2016 that he would prove he was indeed Satoshi Nakamoto by moving some of the Bitcoin registered under that ID, which would show that he had access to the cryptographic keys to the Nakamoto Bitcoin account. However, he could not deliver on that claim, saying in a blog post (now deleted) that, “I do not have the courage. I cannot."

But for all the critics, naysayers and doubters, the undeniable proof that anybody claiming to be Satoshi Nakamoto has to supply is the ability to access the stash of Bitcoins linked to that account. In fact, Cobra, the secret operator of bitcoin.org, had pointed it out in so many words. “We’ve been threatened to take down the Bitcoin white paper by someone who obviously isn’t the inventor of Bitcoin (if he was, that would make him the 25th richest person in the world, which he obviously isn’t)," Cobra had told Reuters in an email, pointing to the value that the Nakamoto Bitcoins represented at the time.

All this means that the entire cryptocurrency community, and the wider world, is looking to the Florida lawsuit to see if it finally surfaces unquestionable proof as to the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, whose nine-page white paper created a trillion dollar product and a platform that everybody from food delivery firms to financial services are now seeking to adopt.

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first published:November 17, 2021, 09:34 IST