The Court of Appeal today granted an appeal brought by Dr Craig Wright, the pseudonymous author of the Bitcoin White Paper, and associated entities (Wright International Investment Ltd and Wright International Investments UK Ltd) over the intellectual property rights in the Bitcoin File Format – i.e., the structure of the Bitcoin Blockchain. This finding is to be welcomed for its importance to both the digital currency and the wider IT industry.
Lady Justice Asplin, Lord Justice Arnold and Lord Justice Warby today overturned the first instance ruling of Mr Justice Mellor, insofar as he had determined that there was no serious issue to be tried (for both the Defendants in this jurisdiction and outside of the jurisdiction) in respect of the Bitcoin File Format.
Whilst it was accepted for the purposes of the service out application that the Bitcoin File Format satisfied the originality requirements, Mellor J had declined to accept that the Bitcoin File Format was fixed, i.e., it is was not possible for it to be identified with sufficient precision and objectivity and therefore copyright could not subsist in it.
However The Court of Appeal today concurred with the Claimants’ assertion that there is a real prospect of successfully establishing that the Bitcoin File Format is fixed. The judgment of the Court of Appeal was given by Lord Justice Arnold, with whom the other two Lord Justices agreed.
As the world relies on data and computer programs stored electronically, the trial will determine whether the format of a file is, in principle, capable of protection by copyright. The IT industry needs certainty regarding how this file format requirement may be met.
Damon Parker, of Harcus Parker said:
“We welcome this significant ruling which enables Dr Wright to advance his claim for copyright in the Bitcoin File Format which potentially affects all future use, and marketing, of Bitcoin and will prove to be a crucial development in intellectual property law.”
Dr Wright said:
“I am pleased with the outcome of this appeal. As many developers do not fully document their entire body of work, this appeal shows that, even without documentation, their work is still considered to be capable of copyright protection”.
Notes to Editors
Lady Justice Asplin, Lord Justice Arnold and Lord Justice Warby heard the appeal on Wednesday 12 July 2023.
The case number is CA-2023-000404. Harcus Parker instructed Michael Hicks of Hogarth Chambers as Counsel for the appeal.
Terence Bergin KC (4 Pump Court), Adam Heppinstall KC (Henderson Chambers), Daniel Goodkin (4 Pump Court) and Jack Castle (Henderson Chambers) are Counsel for the underlying claim (case no. IL-2022-000069).
A copy of the judgment is available on request.
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Notes to Editors
On 7 February 2023, Mr Justice Mellor granted the Claimants’ permission to serve the claim form on the foreign defendants residing out of the jurisdiction.
This permission was granted with respect to two of the three limbs of the Claimants’ claim – that of infringement of database rights in the Bitcoin Blockchain and copyright which subsists in the Bitcoin White Paper (that Dr Wright asserts he authored).
The third limb, that of infringement of copyright in the Bitcoin File Format, was struck out on the basis that there was no serious issue to be tried (for both the Defendants in this jurisdiction and outside of the jurisdiction).
The claim will proceed against the defendants, all 26 of whom are involved in the use of and promotion of the BTC network.
The Claimants assert that the Defendants in this claim have been developing, promoting, funding, trading – and encouraging investors and consumers to trade and invest in – digital cash known as BTC (Bitcoin Core), whilst throughout infringing the Claimants’ intellectual property rights in both the White Paper and the Bitcoin Blockchain on which these digital assets are based.
Dr Wright devised the Bitcoin System and issued the White Paper under the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto” on 31 October 2008. A number of the Defendants to these proceedings proposed significant changes to the Bitcoin System in 2016, which deviated from the protocols as set out in the Bitcoin White Paper. On 1 August 2017, the BTC Network was created without the authorisation of the Claimants.
By participating in the operation of the BTC Network, it is the Claimants’ case that the Defendants have infringed the Claimants’ Database right which subsists in the Bitcoin Blockchain and infringed Dr Wright’s copyright which subsists in the Bitcoin White Paper by copying Block 230,009 in the Bitcoin Blockchain whilst making copies of the BTC Blockchain.
According to Dr Wright, the only digital asset that implements the protocols as set out in the Bitcoin White Paper is “Bitcoin Satoshi Vision” (BSV).
The Claimants seek an injunction restraining the Defendants from continuing to develop and/or participate in the promotion of BTC. The Claimants also seek a declaration from the Court that database rights subsist in the Bitcoin Blockchain and that copyright subsists in the Bitcoin White Paper and that Dr Wright is the owner of it.