Posts Tagged Bitcoin

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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Yelp and Facebook. The German and Dutch courts on reputational damage, jurisdiction and applicable law.

Thank you Matthias Lehmann for flagging X v Yelp , held 14 January 2020 at the Bundesgerichthof (German federal court) and to Jef Ausloos for drawing our attention to X and Avrotros v Facebook BV and Facebook Ireland ltd held 15 May 2020. An English summary of that case is here. Note that the Dutch case is one in interlocutory proceedings. Both concern the application of Article 7(2) Brussels IA at the jurisdictional level, and Rome II at the applicable law level, with respect to reputational damage.

In the German Yelp case, a German gym had complained that Yelp’s review algorithm had created a distorted picture of its business. Jurisdiction was established under Article 7(2) Brussels Ia per CJEU Bolagsupplysningen: centre of interests in Germany.  As to applicable law, the pickle is A1(2)(g) Rome II which excludes from its scope of application, “non-contractual obligations arising out of violations of privacy and rights relating to personality, including defamation”.

Under residual German PIL, claimant has a choice between lex locus damni or lex locus delicti commissi. Matthias points to the difficulty: if companies have ‘personality rights’ within the meaning of Rome II (Bolagsupplysningen clearly suggests they do; but that is a jurisdictional case) then the issue ought to be held exempt from Rome II. Except, a big chunk of unfair trading practices consists of thrashing a competitor’s reputation – and A6 Rome II has a specific lex causae for unfair trading practices.

The German court does not address the issue directly for it held that claimant had made an implicit choice for lex locus damni – German law: the same result as Rome II would have had.

In the Dutch case, the Court likewise holds jurisdiction on the basis of centre of interests,  and then squarely applies A4 Rome II’s general lex locus damni rule (the action was based against Facebook, arguing that FB was not taking enough measures to block fake/fraudulent bitcoin ads on its platform).

On the choice of court suggestion of Facebook, the court holds that current dispute is not of a contractual nature and that FB’s contractual choice of court and law does not extend to same; it leaves undecided whether the celebrity at issue can be considered a ‘consumer’ for jurisdictional purposes (their FB use I imagine potentially having developed into, or even started as professional use: see the dynamic nature per CJEU C-498/16 Schrems). There must be more argument in there.

Interesting cases, with both courts cutting corners.

Geert.

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The CJEU in Reliantco on’consumers’ and complex financial markets. And again on contracts and tort.

C-500/18 AU v Reliantco was held by the CJEU on 2 April, in the early fog of the current pandemic. Reliantco is a company incorporated in Cyprus offering financial products and services through an online trading platform under the ‘UFX’ trade name – readers will recognise this from [2019] EWHC 879 (Comm) Ang v Reliantco. Claimant AU is an individual. The litigation concerns limit orders speculating on a fall in the price of petrol, placed by AU on an online platform owned by the defendants in the main proceedings, following which AU lost the entire sum being held in the frozen trading account, that is, 1 919 720 US dollars (USD) (around EUR 1 804 345).

Choice of court and law was made pro Cyprus.

The case brings to the fore the more or less dense relationship between secondary EU consumer law such as in particular the unfair terms Directive 93/13 and, here, Directive 2004/39 on markets in financial instruments (particularly viz the notion of ‘retail client’ and ‘consumer’).

First up is the consumer title under Brussels Ia: Must A17(1) BIa be interpreted as meaning that a natural person who under a contract concluded with a financial company, carries out financial transactions through that company may be classified as a ‘consumer’ in particular whether it is appropriate, for the purposes of that classification, to take into consideration factors such as the fact that that person carried out a high volume of transactions within a relatively short period or that he or she invested significant sums in those transactions, or that that person is a ‘retail client’ within the meaning of A4(1) point 12 Directive 2004/39?

The Court had the benefit of course of C-208/18 Petruchová – which Baker J did not have in Ang v ReliantcoIt is probably for that reason that the case went ahead without an Opinion of the AG. In Petruchová the Court had already held that factors such as

  • the value of transactions carried out under contracts such as CFDs,
  • the extent of the risks of financial loss associated with the conclusion of such contracts,
  • any knowledge or expertise that person has in the field of financial instruments or his or her active conduct in the context of such transactions
  • the fact that a person is classified as a ‘retail client’ within the meaning of Directive 2004/39 is, as such, in principle irrelevant for the purposes of classifying him or her as a ‘consumer’ within the meaning of BIa,

are, as such, in principle irrelevant to determine the qualification as a ‘consumer’. In Reliantco it now adds at 54 that ‘(t)he same is true of a situation in which the consumer carried out a high volume of transactions within a relatively short period or invested significant sums in those transactions.’

Next however comes the peculiarity that although AU claim jurisdiction for the Romanian courts against Reliantco Investments per the consumer title (which requires a ‘contract’ to be concluded), it bases its action on non-contractual liability, with applicable law to be determined by Rome II. (The action against the Cypriot subsidiary, with whom no contract has been concluded, must be one in tort. The Court does not go into analysis of the jurisdictional basis against that subsidiary, whose branch or independent basis or domicile is not entirely clear; anyone ready to clarify, please do).

At 68 the CJEU holds that the culpa in contrahendo action is indissociably linked to the contract concluded between the consumer and the seller or supplier, and at 71 that this conclusion is reinforced by A12(1) Rome II which makes the putative lex contractus, the lex causae for culpa in contrahendo. At 72 it emphasises the need for consistency between Rome II and Brussels IA in that both the law applicable to a non-contractual obligation arising out of dealings prior to the conclusion of a contract and the court having jurisdiction to hear an action concerning such an obligation, are determined by taking into consideration the proposed contract the conclusion of which is envisaged.

Interesting.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2.

 

 

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Bitcoin online resolution award refused recognition and enforcement at Amsterdam (ordre public exception of New York Convention).

I tweeted it earlier yet was asked to put a review up on the blog (which also suits my archiving purposes) of ECLI:NL:GHAMS:2019:192 X v Y (I know that does not help much) at the Amsterdam Court of Appeal, 29 January 2019. The case came to me courtesy of Freshields who have review here.

The case illustrates some of the issues involving online alternative dispute resolution, including those manned by artificial intelligence (albeit the latter was not directly at stake here).

Using an online trading platform, X provided three loans to Y, all in bitcoins at an interest rate of 5% per month. To borrow these bitcoins, Y had to agree on the conditions of the online bitcoin-trading platform applicable to the loans. These conditions included the following dispute resolution mechanism clause:

If you fail to pay principal and/or interest on the date on which the loan falls due, you will be considered in default of the Registration Agreement… Should your loan become 90 days past due (“Defaulted”) the loan will be sent to Dhami Law Firm (“Arbitrator”), an independent, international arbitration firm whose awards are recognized internationally under The United Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.

I understand that in the event that I want to appear in the arbitration by email to contest the potential issuance of an award in favor of the lenders, I must send a written request to support@btcjam.com and pay a $ 99.00 fee. Such request must be within 7 calendar days from the date of the Notice of Default. The Arbitrator’s decision shall be final and legally binding. In the event that the Arbitrator issues an award in favor of the investor, an investor may enforce that judgment in a court of competent jurisdiction.

The conditions further contained the following arbitration clause:

All claims and disputes arising under or relating to this agreement are to be settled by binding arbitration in the state of California or another location mutually agreeable to the parties. An award of arbitration may be confirmed in a court of competent jurisdiction.

Default ensued, as did ADR, and Y sought enforcement in The Netherlands. The Courts have now refused proprio motu (Y had signalled he had no objection), for the following reasons summarised by Freshfields: First, the court took issue with the circumstance that – in its view – online arbitral proceedings automatically become pending after 90 days. Second, a defendant wishing to defend itself in these arbitral proceedings had been required to write an email within seven days from receiving a notice of default. Third, the arbitral tribunal had failed to inform Y that a dispute was pending against him or of the legal grounds of the action.

At 3.5 is it is clear that the principle of audi alteram partem is the main stumbling block for the Dutch Courts. Ordre public violated. A clear flashpoint for ADR, including of the algorithmic variety.

Geert.

 

 

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Ramona Ang v Reliantco: On bitcoins, choice of court, complex financial markets and ‘consumers’. As well as a first vindication of my GDPR jurisdictional prediction.

As noted, I have come up for some air after a few hectic weeks – next case to report on is [2019] EWHC 879 (Comm) Ramona v Reliantco, held 12 April. (A similar case is pending with the CJEU against Reliantco as Case C-500/18).

Defendant (‘Reliantco’) is a company incorporated in Cyprus offering financial products and services through an online trading platform under the ‘UFX’ trade name. Claimant, Ms Ang, is an individual of substantial means who invested in Bitcoin futures, on a leveraged basis, through the UFX platform. She claims, essentially and primarily, that Reliantco wrongfully blocked and terminated her UFX account and should compensate her for the loss of her open Bitcoin positions, or at a minimum should refund her cash value invested. She also makes claims for relief in respect of what she says have been breaches of data protection obligations owed by Reliantco in connection with her UFX account.

The judgment does not concern the merits of Ms Ang’s claims but rather an application by Reliantco challenging jurisdiction. Reliantco contends that Ms Ang is bound by its standard terms and conditions, clause 27.1 of which provides that the courts of Cyprus are to have exclusive jurisdiction over “all disputes and controversies arising out of or in connection with” her customer agreement. Reliantco therefore relies on Article 25 Brussels Ia.

Ms Ang says that clause 27.1 is ineffective to require her to bring her claim in Cyprus, either because she is a consumer within Section 4 of Brussels (Recast) or because clause 27.1 was not incorporated into her UFX customer agreement with Reliantco in such a way as to satisfy the requirements of Article 25. Ms Ang says, in the alternative, that her data protection claims may be brought here notwithstanding Article 25 Brussels Ia even if Article 25 applies to her primary substantive claims.

All in all a nice set of jurisdictional issues and no surprise to have prof Jonathan Harris QC involved as counsel.

At all times material to her claim, Ms Ang was not employed or earning a living in any self-employed trade or profession (unless, which is contentious between the parties and considered below, her activity as a customer of Reliantco via the UFX platform is itself to be so classified). Ms Ang worked in money markets for two months as a trainee, observing US$/DM currency swaps. Other than that, she has no professional currency trading or money market experience (again, that is, unless her use of the UFX platform to invest in Bitcoin futures itself counts as such).

At 9, a little bit of Bitcoin drame enters the scene: Ms Ang’s husband, Craig Wright, is a computer scientist with cybersecurity and blockchain expertise who works as Chief Scientist for nChain Ltd, a blockchain technology company with a corporate vision “to transform how the world conducts all transactions – using the blockchain’s distributed, decentralised ledger that chronologically records transactions in an immutable way“. As a researcher, he publishes prolifically and has developed innovations for which patent protection has been sought. He is the same Craig Wright who has identified himself publicly as being ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’, the online pseudonym associated with the inventor (or a co-inventor) of Bitcoin. Baker J holds that he need not consider whether that claim is true, and on the evidence for this application I would not be in any position to do so.

Was Ms Ang a ‘consumer’? At 52 ff the arguments of Reliantco are summarised; at 55 ff those of Ms Ang.

CJEU precedent discussed by Baker J is C-89/91 Shearson; C-269/95 Benincasa; C-464/01 Gruber; C-498/16 Schremsand the pending cases C‑208/18 Petruchová [I reviewed the AG’s Opinion (issued a day before the High Court’s judgment) yesterday] and C-500/18 Reliantco Investments and Reliantco Investments Limassol Sucursala Bucureşti.

Baker J concludes at 34 ‘the ECJ/CJEU has not decided whether contracts entered into by a wealthy private individual for the purpose of investing her wealth, or particular types of such contract, are not (or can never be) consumer contracts.’

Reference is then made to English precedent along the very lines of the precedent dismissed by Tanchev AG in Petruchová: including AMT Futures v Marzillier, and at 35 ff Standard Bank London Ltd v Apostolakis both through the English and the Greek courts – with differing results. At 44: ‘the disagreement between the English and Greek decisions in Apostolakis turns upon and is constituted by a difference of view as to whether investing private wealth for gain, if it takes the form of buying and selling foreign currency, is by nature a business activity so that an individual investing their wealth in that way cannot when doing so be a ‘consumer’ under Brussels (Recast). Longmore J thought there was no such proposition of law; the Greek court took the contrary view.’ German case-law is also discussed.

At 63 Baker J comes to the core of his reasoning: ‘In my judgment, the investment by a private individual of her personal surplus wealth (i.e. surplus to her immediate needs), in the hope of generating good returns (whether in the form of income on capital, capital growth, or a mix of the two), is not a business activity, generally speaking. It is a private consumption need, in the sense I believe intended by the ECJ in Benincasa, to invest such wealth with such an aim, i.e. that is an ‘end user’ purpose for a private individual and is not exclusively a business activity. That means, as was also Popplewell J’s conclusion in AMT v Marzillier, that it will be a fact-specific issue in any given case whether a particular individual was indeed contracting as a private individual to satisfy that need, i.e. as a consumer, or was doing so for the purpose of an investment business of hers (existing or planned).’

And at 65 in fine: the ‘question of purpose is the question to be asked, and it must be considered upon all of the evidence available to the court and not by reference to any one part of that evidence in isolation.’

At 68 he concludes ‘the purpose of her contract with Reliantco therefore was outside any business of hers’.

Baker J notes that he was not asked to defer any decision in C‑208/18 Petruchová. I believe it would have been of help to determine the issue before him. Tanchev AG (as noted, in an Opinion not available to Baker J at the time of his drafting his judgment) suggests that ‘to determine whether a person must be regarded as a consumer, reference must be made to the nature and objective of the contract, not to the subjective situation of the person concerned.’ 

Obiter, he then reviews Article 25, where CJEU authority discussed is ia Colzanni and Cars on the Web. Ms Ang contended that she was not able to access the standard terms web page at the time she opened her account, and therefore clause 27.1 did not comply with Article 25 B1a. At 78 extensive technical detail is discussed and at 80 Baker J finds that the Cars on the Web criterion of accessibility and durability were met; and at 81 that in any case, the current issue is not one of a click-wrap agreement for a signed hard copy of the GTCs with choice of court in it, had also been sent.

Equally obiter, at 83 ff Baker J summarily discussed the GDPR jurisdictional arguments which would have been more relevant had he not accepted jurisdiction under the consumer title. The brief discussion entirely fulfils my summer 2018 prediction here: Article 79 GDPR will create a lot of issues at the level of jurisdiction.

A very relevant case.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2.

 

 

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Tanchev AG in C‑208/18 Petruchová. On FOREX traders as ‘consumers’ for jurisdictional purposes.

Update 18 February 2020 see Matthias Lehmann’s additional analysis here, focusing on the distinction with MIFID rules.

Update 20 October 2019. The CJEU on 3 October agreed with its AG.

Tanchev AG Opined mid last month in C-208/18 Jana Petruchová v FIBO Group Holdings, essentially on the issue whether Article 17(1) Brussels Ia is to be interpreted as covering an individual who engages in trade on the international currency exchange market through a third party professionally engaged in that trade.

Or, as the AG himself puts it at 3, whether a natural person which engages in trade on the FOREX market must be regarded as a consumer or whether, by reason of the knowledge and expertise required to engage in that trade, of the complex and atypical nature of the contract at issue, and of the risks incurred, that person cannot be considered a consumer, so that he falls outside the scope of the section affording protection referred to above.

Under consideration is inter alia the impact of Rome I and of Directive 2004/39 – the relation in other words between applicable law and jurisdiction, and between substantive law and jurisdiction – see also my review of Pillar Securitisation here.

Ms Petruchová, residing in Ostrava (Czech Republic), and FIBO Group Holdings Ltd (‘FIBO’), a brokerage company established in Limassol (Republic of Cyprus), entered into a contract entitled ‘Terms of Business’ (‘the Framework Agreement’ – with choice of court for Cyprus). The purpose of the Framework Agreement was to enable Ms Petruchová to make transactions on the FOREX market by placing orders for the purchase and sale of the base currency, which FIBO would carry out through its online trading platform.

At 29, the AG suggests in my view correctly (Handbook p.106 2nd full para) that for choice of court under Article 19 B1a to be valid, it must allow the consumer to bring proceedings in courts in addition to those identified by Article 18.

Article 17(1) of the Brussels Ia Regulation applies if three conditions are met: first, a party to a contract is a consumer who is acting in a context which can be regarded as being outside his trade or profession; second, the contract between such a consumer and a professional has actually been concluded; and, third, such a contract falls within one of the categories referred to in Article 17(1)(a) to (c) of that regulation.

The question referred to the Court in the present case relates to the first condition. The AG refers in particular to C-269/95 Benincasa; and C-498/16 SchremsAt 46, referring to these cases: to determine whether a person must be regarded as a consumer, reference must be made to the nature and objective of the contract, not to the subjective situation of the person concerned. 

(at 40) The question before the Court of Justice is whether a person who carries out transactions on the FOREX market may be denied the status of a consumer by reason of the knowledge and the expertise required to engage in such trades, the value of the transaction, the fact that the person is actively placing his own orders, the risks incurred on the FOREX market, and the number and frequency of the transactions carried out.’

In essence therefore, do the sophistication of the market and the intensity of the individual’s voluntary engagement with it, impact on their qualification as a consumer? The AG opines they do not, and I am minded to agree given CJEU authority, in my view most correspondingly C-218-12 Emrek – which the AG does not refer to. In that case the CJEU emphasised the objective charachter of the Pammer /Alpenhof criteria, decoupled from the consumer’s actual introduction to the business via word of mouth rather than the website.

The AG also refers to Schrems, where the Court held that the notion of a consumer is ‘distinct from the knowledge and information that the person concerned actually possesses’.

At 48 the AG finds additional support in Directive 93/13/EECon unfair terms in consumer contracts – although as we know e.g. from Pillar Securitisation, such support has now become less substantial.

At 51 the AG also emphasises the predictability of the Brussels regime – a classic interpretative tool which was bound to make an appearance. At 54 he adds that the risks involved in the conclusion of CfDs cannot preclude classification as a consumer. Quite the reverse: because of the risks, consumers need to be protected. At 59 he rejects [2014] EWHC 1085 (Comm) AMT Futures v Marzillier as relevant (national) precedent, although I do not think that either he or the Commission properly presented Popplewell J’s views on the issue. As I noted in my review at the time, ‘I do not think too much should be read in these examples – more so, the insistence that circumstances of the case do have an impact on the qualification as ‘consumer’.

At 69 on the issue of consumers, the AG concludes that ‘in order to determine whether a person who engages in trade on the FOREX market should be regarded as a consumer within the meaning of Article 17(1) of the Brussels Ia Regulation, no account should be taken of that person’s knowledge; of the value of the contract; of the fact that the person actively places his own orders; of the risks incurred; or of the number and frequency of the transactions.’

That leaves the questions

  • whether A17(1) BIa should be interpreted in a manner consistent with Article 6 Rome I, given that financial instruments such as CfDs are excluded from the scope of the rules applicable to consumer contracts laid down in Article 6(1) and (2) of the Rome I Regulation). Suggested answer: No: per Kainz, and now also I would suggest, Pillar Securitisation; and
  • whether account should be taken of the fact that the person is a retail client within the meaning of Directive 2004/39: for similar reasons: ditto answer.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2.

 

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