Bitcoin, defamation and jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal confirms stay in Wright v Ver.

The background in Wright v Ver [2020] EWCA Civ 672 is the mysterious history of Bitcoin and its creator, ‘Satoashi Nakamoto’. “Satoshi Nakamoto” is the pseudonym used by the person, or persons, who developed Bitcoin. On 31 October 2008 an academic paper was published under the name of Satoshi Nakamoto titled “Bitcoin: A peer to peer electronic cash system”. The academic paper described the manner in which the electronic cash system operated. Dr Craig Wright, claimant and appellant, is a national of Australia who now lives in Surrey. He has lived in the UK since December 2015 after emigrating from Australia. He also became a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda in 2017. He is a computer scientist with a particular interest in cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin. Dr Wright says that he is Satoshi Nakamoto.

Roger Ver, defendant and respondent, is a bitcoin investor and commentator on bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Mr Ver was born in California, and raised in Silicon Valley. He moved to Japan in 2005. In 2014 he renounced his US citizenship and became a citizen of St Kitts & Nevis, although he continues to live in Japan. Mr Ver does not accept that Dr Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto.

The judgment does not address whether Dr Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto.

Dr Wright claims that he was libelled by Mr Ver in a YouTube Video posted on the Bitcoin.com YouTube channel on about 15 April 2019, a tweet containing the YouTube Video posted on Mr Ver’s Twitter Account on 3 May 2019, and a reply on Mr Ver’s Twitter Account posted on 3 May 2019 some 8 minutes after the tweet from Mr Ver. The defamatory meaning of these publications is said to be that Dr Wright “had fraudulently claimed to be Satoshi Nakamoto, that is to say the person, or one of the group of people who developed Bitcoin”.

Never more (data produced were broken down over periods) than 7 of the total YouTube views were in the UK. 7% of Mr Ver’s Twitter followers are in the UK. By judgment dated 31 July 2019 Mr Justice Nicklin found that England and Wales was not clearly the most appropriate place in which to bring the libel claim in this action and made a declaration that the Court had no jurisdiction to hear the claim.

The Court of Appeal, Dingemans LJ leading, agreed. Brussels Ia is not engaged. The jurisdictional test is section 9 of the Defamation Act 2013 – I previously discussed it in Sadik v Sadik: ‘A court does not have jurisdiction to hear and determine an action to which this section applies unless the court is satisfied that, of all the places in which the statement complained of has been published, England and Wales is clearly the most appropriate place in which to bring an action in respect of the statement.’

At 56 Dingemans notes that after Brexit, the Act’s reach will increase.

The first instance judge had argued inter alia that the evidence showed that Dr Wright was putting down roots in the UK and that would increase the reputational interests that Dr Wright had in this jurisdiction but that could not displace the global reputation that he enjoyed.

Dr Wright’s counsel submitted that the judge had set Dr Wright an impossible task by requiring him to adduce evidence of actual harm to his reputation in each candidate jurisdiction, and concluding that in the absence of such evidence Dr Wright could not satisfy the jurisdictional test. Further it was submitted that the judge had wrongly failed to carry out a comparative assessment as to whether each candidate jurisdiction was appropriate for the claim, and therefore failed to carry out the task mandated by s9.

Relevant factors for jurisdiction are discussed at 61 ff. Evidence will have to be shown of all the places in which the relevant statement has been published, as well as the number of times it has there been published. Targeting the publication at an English audience clearly will be an issue. Further elements include the availability of fair judicial processes in the other jurisdictions in which publication occurred. The available remedies from the Courts of the other jurisdictions may be relevant, as may be the costs of pursuing proceedings in each possible jurisdiction. Other factors that might impact on access to justice, for example language barriers, can be relevant. The location of likely witnesses is another feature that may be relevant. This list of factors is not exhaustive.

In a mercifully succinct manner, Dingemans J reviews all the elements and decides the test has not been met here.

A good primer for the 2013 Act.

Geert.

 

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