Updated with further comments from Wright's PA.
Self-proclaimed Bitcoin inventor Craig Wright announced Tuesday that the US Copyright Office had granted him a copyright registration for the authorship of the original Bitcoin white paper and “most of the original code.” The registrations, which can be viewed here and here, were made on behalf of the Bitcoin Association.
“This is the first government agency recognition of Craig Wright as Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin,” a spokesman said in a press release sent to Decrypt.
A closer look, however, reveals that there is no "government agency recognition" of Wright's supposed credentials—registering a copyright, it turns out, is something anybody can do and involves no official oversight.
“Copyright registration is not recognition of authorship," Coin Center director Jerry Brito said in a statement to Decrypt. "It is simply recognition by the Copyright Office that someone is claiming authorship. Registering a copyright is as simple as filling out a form with your claim; the Copyright Office doesn’t investigate the validity of claims. It would be up to a court to decide if a copyright registration is based on fraud or not.”
Others looking to claim authorship of the white paper can publish "competing claims," he added on Twitter. Indeed, doing so costs a trivial $55 fee.
Registering a copyright is just filing a form. The Copyright Office does not investigate the validity of the claim; they just register it. Unfortunately there is no official way to challenge a registration. If there are competing claims, the Office will just register all of them. https://t.co/YA70ALpG1Y
— Jerry Brito (@jerrybrito) May 21, 2019
Yet Wright's spokesperson, in an email sent to Decrypt, maintained that the copyright was "granted, not applied for." (Emphasis his.) He added that Wright had provided satisfactory "confirmation" of his identity to a "US copyright examiner"—who, apparently, had full knowledge of the white paper and code's significance. (We have yet to corroborate this.)
This seems odd. Copyrights aren't "granted" in Berne Convention countries like the United States, where works are copyrighted automatically, upon the act of publication. If left unclaimed, works can be copyrighted within five years of publication—this constitutes a form of legally admissible "evidence" of the originator's claims to the work.
But the Bitcoin white paper was published ten years ago—Wright is five years too late to claim ownership. The spokesperson, subsequently, clarified that registering brought Wright "other benefits." These might include the ability to pursue copyright infringement lawsuits, which requires registering, said Nelson Rosario, an intellectual property attorney at Smolinski Rosario Law.
"Since Mr. Wright also registered the original code for Bitcoin he theoretically could bring a lawsuit against anyone using that code, as well as derivative works based on that code," he said.
There's only one problem—as blockchain skeptic David Gerard pointed out in his blog post, the Bitcoin software itself was licensed under the MIT software license, which permits anyone to reuse and redistribute the code, so long as they do so under a different name. As such, Wright will only be able to litigate any reuse of Bitcoin's code, but even that could backfire—indeed, there's a $2,500 penalty for registering a false claim. (Though it's barely ever enforced.)
Nevertheless—if the copyright sticks and Wright is able to successfully defend it in court, this could be something of a vindication for him. Since 2015, the Australian computer scientist has insisted that he is Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous inventor of Bitcoin—yet he has been widely disbelieved. Of late, Wright has taken to suing for defamation many of those who have openly described him as a fraud, including podcaster Peter McCormack and Bitcoin Cash booster Roger Ver.
Bitcoin SV, the Bitcoin fork Wright supports, increased in market price by 88 percent after Wright announced the registration.