Friday, May 17, 2024

Granath v Wright Trial Ends with Defense Accusing Twitter Influencer “Hodlonaut” Accused of Systematic Bullying

The Granath v Wright trial in Oslo, Norway concluded as scheduled on its seventh day in court with the counsels for the plaintiff and defense wrapping up with their closing arguments. According to District Court Judge Helen Engebrigtsen, ruling for the case will be released on or before November 8.

Granath v Wright is a defamation case involving former primary school teacher Magnus Granath, a Twitter influencer made popular by the anonymous handle “Hodlonaut” as the plaintiff.

The defendant is nChain Chief Scientist Dr. Craig S. Wright. Wright’s identity as the pseudonymous Bitcoin whitepaper author Satoshi Nakamoto was revealed against his will by Wired and Gizmodo magazines in 2015.

Case Background

Wright currently holds the copyright of the Bitcoin whitepaper, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System,” under the registration number TXu002136996, which took effect on April 11, 2019. Despite this, the identity of Wright as Satoshi Nakamoto continues to be a point of contention within the digital currency space, with BTC maximalists refusing to accept the Bitcoin whitepaper copyright.

BTC maximalists claim that Wright’s doxing in 2015 was an orchestrated move for Wright to “fraudulently” assert his identity as Satoshi Nakamoto. Furthermore, they believe that the private proof sessions held by Wright in 2016 with Bitcoin Foundation Founder Gavin Andresen and former Bitcoin Foundation Executive Director Jon Matonis cannot be trusted.

Simply put, BTC toxic maximalism is the belief that BTC is Bitcoin, the only true digital currency, and all others are “shitcoins” designed either in an inferior way or to scam people. BTC maximalism becomes toxic when fanatics rudely impose their belief in BTC on other people on social media. It is a culture that breeds name-calling and a negative attitude toward non-maximalists.

In March 2019, Granath, who proudly admitted in Norwegian court to being a BTC “toxic maximalist,” posted a series of malicious tweets. He called Wright names, such as “Faketoshi,” “trash,” “a fraud,” “a very sad and pathetic scammer,” and “clearly mentally ill,” among other things. At that time, Granath was hiding the then-anonymous handle “Hodlonaut” with only a cat astronaut as his profile photo.

Hodlonaut also started the “#CraigWrightIsAFraud week,” encouraging his thousands of followers to use the hashtag. Hodlonaut used the hashtag in all his posts that week, including those without any connection at all to Wright.

According to Wright, he reported Hodlonaut’s tweets to Twitter and asked for the account to be suspended or deleted for the offensive tweets, but no actions were taken against Hodlonaut.

So, in April 2019, Wright’s legal representative sent Hodlonaut a notice via Twitter demanding for the tweets to be deleted and for a public letter of apology and admission that Hodlonaut believes Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto, or else Wright will pursue a lawsuit against Hodlonaut.

BTC maximalists showed support for Hodlonaut and condemned the legal notice sent by Wright. Cryptocurrency exchange Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao even threatened to delist BSV, the Bitcoin implementation that has restored the original Bitcoin protocol. Wright is known to endorse BSV as the original Bitcoin and is a frequent keynote speaker in its blockchain conventions.

Within the same month in April 2019, four digital currency exchanges, including Binance, delisted BSV. A landmark case claims worth £9.9 billion has been filed in the United Kingdom by BSV Claims Ltd against the four crypto exchanges for losses incurred by about 240,000 BSV investors due to the delisting of BSV.

In May 2019, Granath initiated court proceedings in his home country, Norway, before Wright could file a case against him in the UK. Granath’s goal is to establish that his tweets were in no way defamatory and can be protected under the freedom of speech clause in the Norwegian Constitution.

In June 2019, Wright was not deterred and also filed a libel suit against Granath at the UK High Court. Although a trial date has yet to be set in the UK, Granath has already been ordered to pay Wright a total of £303,000 plus VAT.

The Trial

The seven-day defamation trial in Norway proceeded on schedule and without incident. Witnesses for the plaintiff were mostly composed of BTC maximalists who relied on second and third hand information to make their own judgment about why Wright is not Satoshi Nakamoto.

In general, plaintiff’s witnesses, including Granath himself, said that because it is the consensus of BTC maximalists that Wright is “a fraud” and did not invent Bitcoin, then it must be true. Expert witnesses from digital forensics firm KPMG analyzed the metadata of some documents and emails submitted into evidence during the Kleiman v Wright trial, and came to the conclusion that they were all forged or manipulated.

The plaintiff’s argument also focused on Wright’s refusal to use the Satoshi keys to sign. According to Wright, signing using keys is only proof of possession and not identity. Wright stated that he chose the “more difficult path” of gathering 100 people and making them attest to his identity in a court of law.

In line with this, the defense has actually not submitted any kind of documentary evidence and has relied on witness testimonies. Counsels and witnesses for the plaintiff have reiterated many times in the trial that Wright must not have the Satoshi keys because he refused to sign using them, which only strengthens the argument that Wright is fraudulently claiming to be the Bitcoin inventor.

Character witnesses for the defense, on the other hand, were composed of former colleagues and Wright’s cousin. All are high-level executives and experts in fields, such as cybersecurity, auditing and digital forensics, information technology, and computer science. Each of them told the court that based on firsthand experiences, they either believe Wright to be Satoshi Nakamoto or that his knowledge and skills make him more than competent to invent Bitcoin.

Most of Wright’s character witnesses also testified to having conversations wherein Wright discussed what would be key concepts of Bitcoin and blockchain before the Bitcoin whitepaper was published on October 31, 2008. Two of them were even shown drafts of the said whitepaper, although the word “Bitcoin” was not yet used.

Expert witnesses for the defense are composed of technical experts from auditing and digital forensics companies BDO and CYFOR. They testified that the KPMG report should not be considered valid as the testing parameters were not defined; hence, it cannot be replicated.

Furthermore, BDO and CYFOR experts told the court that it seemed that the KPMG analysis was done with guilt in mind—meaning they were specifically looking for clues that the documents were manipulated. According to the defense’s technical experts, the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” is also applied to digital forensics in order to arrive at unbiased results.

Closing Arguments

After witness testimonies, each camp presented their closing arguments. Both were a rehashing of what had already been said by the witnesses, plus more legal analysis as to why or why not Granath should be held liable for defamation.

Attorneys for the plaintiff discussed why each of the defense’s character witnesses and what they said should not be believed. Either they have a vested interest in BSV or that their memories should not be trusted, given that what they recalled were events that happened over a decade ago.

Lawyers for the plaintiff, again, gave ample attention to the fact that Wright would not sign using the Satoshi keys, and that the documents and emails examined by KPMG were all forgeries. They also argued that what Hodlonaut posted on Twitter was part of a debate; and as an individual and journalist attempting to expose the truth, Granath and his opinions should be protected under his right to free speech.

On the other side, Wright’s defense attorneys argued that there is ample proof that Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto. All of the witnesses presented were credible executives and experts—it would be difficult for Wright to fool them that he is Satoshi Nakamoto if he really is not.

The KPMG report should also not be trusted due to it being done under the presumption of guilt. Furthermore, some of the documents and emails analyzed by KPMG were actually submitted by Wright’s legal team during the Kleiman v Wright trial to prove that the plaintiff was manipulating them. Hence, they should not be used as evidence by the plaintiff in this case.

Another argument that the defense refuted was that Granath was doing his journalistic duty in exposing the truth as he saw it. According to the defense, Granath himself admitted that he did not do ample research before labeling Wright as “a fraud” in his tweets.

Furthermore, Wright did not know Granath and was not in contact with him in any way before the tweets were made. So, there was actually no conversation, much more debate. What happened, instead, was a suppression of Wright’s opportunity to air his side and participate in the said debate.

The defense also stated that what Granath did to Wright can be considered a hate crime—he gathered bullies like him and asked them to attack Wright. It is what is generally called systematic bullying. Granath made a one-sided decision that Wright is fraudulently claiming to be Satoshi Nakamoto, and proceeded to ask his followers to also call Wright a fraud.

“This is not the type of discussion that enjoys protection under freedom of speech provisions. Rather, it breaches the commonly accepted threshold of decency and respectfulness in communication—whether online or in person,” Halvor Manshaus, lead counsel for the defense, said.

“Anonymous online bullying of this kind risks having a chilling effect on meaningful debate and the civil exchange of views and opinions. Dr. Wright has called into question the motives for Granath’s repeated personal attacks on him, which appear rooted in economic incentives rather than fact,” Manshaus added.

After the closing arguments, Judge Engebrigtsen discussed legal costs with the plaintiff and defense. This is so she would have figures to base restitution on. At this point, both sides will have to wait for Judge Engebrigtsen’s notice that she has made a final decision on the case. Whatever her ruling will be, it will set a court precedent over the Wright v Granath case in the UK.

Claire James
Claire James
Claire is an accounts manager at Fire Digital UK, an online publishing and content marketing company based in the North West.

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