Craig Wright registers US copyright in Bitcoin 0.1 and the Bitcoin white paper — what this means

Dr. Craig S. Wright has just filed US copyright registrations with the Library of Congress on “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” (the white paper) and on the code for Bitcoin 0.1.

The registrations give authorship as “Satoshi Nakamoto, pseud. of Craig Steven Wright, 1970- (author of pseudonymous work); Domicile: United Kingdom; Citizenship: Antigua and Barbuda. Authorship: text.”

Anyone can file a copyright claim online, and pay a fee by card right then. The claim is made under penalty of perjury.



What does this mean?

Firstly, what it doesn’t mean:

  • it doesn’t mean Bitcoin wasn’t copyrighted before — all works in Berne Convention countries are born copyrighted.
  • it does not mean the US Government certifies Craig Wright as the creator of Bitcoin — it just means Wright has registered the claims.

You have a copyright in the US if you create a work. But if you want to bring a suit for copyright infringement in federal court, you need to register the copyright. That’s the job that US copyright registration presently does.

The press release

The full text of the press release is up on Calvin Ayre’s site CoinGeek. The interesting bits are:

Importantly, the registrations issued by the U.S. Copyright Office recognize Wright as the author — under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto — of both the white paper and code. This is the first government agency recognition of Craig Wright as Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin.

This is simply incorrect — all it recognises is that Wright filled in an online form, on which he listed “Satoshi Nakamoto” as his pseudonym, and paid $35.

Notably, when reviewing Wright’s copyright applications, the U.S. copyright examiner was aware that the Bitcoin white paper and code were each a “famous work” and there have been questions about who is associated with the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto.

Copyright registrations are routinely accepted. Multiple people can — and do! — file conflicting registrations of a single work.

Wright is now legally establishing that he is Bitcoin’s creator after being dismayed to see his original Bitcoin design bastardized by protocol developer groups — first by Bitcoin Core [BTC] in 2017 and then again by Bitcoin Cash [BCH] developers in 2018.

This is presumably what he wants the registration to do — even if the registration does not, in fact, establish any such thing.

Consequences of a false claim

There isn’t really much legal danger from filing a false copyright registration. The precise wording of 17 U.S.C. § 506(e) is:

(e) False Representation.—
Any person who knowingly makes a false representation of a material fact in the application for copyright registration provided for by section 409, or in any written statement filed in connection with the application, shall be fined not more than $2,500.

But this is almost never prosecuted — e.g., there were two prosecutions under 506(e) in 2000.

But — knowingly making a false claim of copyright and then attempting to enforce it in court would certainly constitute fraud.

There is no way to challenge a registration of copyright. However, others can file conflicting claims on the same work. The claimants may sue each other for damages caused by misrepresentation.

What can Wright do with this?

Not a lot, really.

Registration is considered prima facie evidence of the claims in the registration — if the registration occurs within five years of first publication. That’s not the case here.

Wright might have some problems suing for copyright violation — for instance, if he wanted to sue those “protocol developer groups” he claims “bastardized” Bitcoin. The software was licensed under the open-source MIT License, which allows all manner of reuse, open or proprietary. The license text is:

Copyright (c) 2009 Satoshi Nakamoto
Distributed under the MIT/X11 software license, see the accompanying
file license.txt or

The license granted is:

Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the “Software”), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions:

The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.

That is — the MIT License is explicitly a grant of rights to do whatever the hell you like with the software, as long as you include the notice text.

Open source licenses are generally treated as perpetual and irrevocable. There is also estoppel — you can’t release software, encourage its reuse, wait ten years and then sue people for using it under the license you released it under.

So it’s entirely unclear what Wright or nChain get out of this registration. Apart from unimpressed press coverage.

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