The Bitcoin Defense attorney cautions that the Craig Wright lawsuit could pose an “existential” threat to free speech and open-source software.
- Craig Wright, who alleges himself to be the creator of Bitcoin, has sued the Bitcoin core developers for what he believes to be their fiduciary obligation to him.
- The lawsuit also raises concerns about free speech, as it would require U.S. coders to submit to a U.K. court, potentially infringing on their freedom of expression.
Widespread concerns are emerging over the potential impact on open-source software due to the ongoing litigation initiated by Craig Wright, the self-proclaimed Bitcoin creator, against the Bitcoin core developers. Jessica Jonas, Chief Legal Officer of the Bitcoin Legal Defense Fund, expounded on these legal implications at the Miami Bitcoin 2023 event.
The Lawsuit and Allegations
In the U.K., Wright, through his company Tulip Trading, has launched a lawsuit against 14 individuals involved in the open-source development of Bitcoin Core. He alleges that these developers are duty-bound to him. The crux of the case rests on Wright’s claim that Tulip Trading lost 111,000 Bitcoin during a sophisticated cyberattack, akin to scenes from the film “Ocean’s 11.”
Request for a Backdoor Solution
Wright demands that Bitcoin developers install a backdoor into the Bitcoin core blockchain to recover his alleged losses. Jessica Jonas highlights the infeasibility of such a move, arguing it directly opposes Bitcoin’s founding principles. She explains that to accommodate Wright’s request. The Bitcoin blockchain would need a hard fork, necessitating the community’s migration to the new fork. Furthermore, a software patch cannot feasibly redirect funds.
The Intricacies of Fiduciary Duty
Jessica Jonas illuminates the intricacies of the legal concept of fiduciary duty and its potential implications for open-source developers. She emphasizes the necessity of determining whether open-source developers can be held liable for fiduciary duty, a concept an appeal court has already acknowledged. Thus, the litigation raises vital questions that extend beyond technical limitations. With a significant proportion of the world’s open-source software, Jonas warns of an “existential” threat to the open-source community.
The Lawsuit as a Free Speech Concern
Jessica Jonas further identifies the lawsuit as a free speech issue. Despite most defendants being American and living and working in the U.K., the case is being prosecuted in the U.K. as per the appellate court’s jurisdiction ruling. Jonas argues that Tulip Trading’s endeavor to force American software engineers to comply through a U.K. court infringes on their First Amendment rights. There is apprehension that the U.K. court may rule in Wright’s favor despite being unable to enforce U.S. free speech regulations.
Impact on Open-Source Software
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) open-source license governs Bitcoin’s development. Assigning fiduciary duties to open-source developers might set a precedent, holding individuals in one country liable for harm caused in another due to their contributions to an open-source project. Jonas maintains that the existing legal framework protects open-source engineers who volunteer to work on public infrastructure under the MIT license.
Craig Wright’s lawsuit against the Bitcoin core developers has the potential to affect open-source software and the broader Bitcoin community significantly. Jessica Jonas emphasizes the threats it presents to the principles of free expression and open-source development. The lawsuit’s call for a backdoor solution contradicts Bitcoin’s fundamental tenets, and the possible global extension of fiduciary duty to other open-source developers could have profound implications. The legal system must thoughtfully weigh the consequences before setting a precedent that could endanger the future of open-source software.