Defamation Trial in Norway Between Twitter Personality “Hodlonaut,” Bitcoin Inventor Craig Wright Ends as Scheduled

Defamation Trial in Norway

The defamation trial in Oslo, Norway between former primary school teacher and Twitter personality Magnus Granath, who goes by the handle “Hodlonaut,” and nChain Chief Scientist Dr. Craig S. Wright, who was doxed as the pseudonymous Bitcoin inventor Satoshi Nakamoto in 2015, ended as scheduled on its seventh court day. 

This bench trial will resolve whether or not Granath defamed Wright in a series of offensive tweets posted by Hodlonaut in March 2019. Hodlonaut at the time was hiding behind the anonymity of his username with the profile photo of a cat astronaut.

There are nine tweets in question in which Hodlonaut called Wright “a fraud,” “Faketoshi,” “trash,” “a very sad and pathetic scammer,” “clearly mentally ill,” and is representative of “the scummiest side of humanity.”

Hodlonaut also started a campaign and declared “#CraigWrightIsAFraud week.” Hodlonaut and many of his followers then used the hashtag even in posts not concerning Wright. Granath initiated court proceedings in his home country in May 2019 after he received a legal notice from Wright via Twitter the month prior ordering him to delete his posts, post public apology and admit that Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto.

In Granath v Wright, the plaintiff is aiming to establish that Hodlonaut’s tweets were not defamatory under free speech in Norway, which stipulates that an individual is allowed to express opinions about a public figure and matters concerning the public.

Although the Judge in this case, District Court Judge Helen Engebrigtsen, will not establish whether or not Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto, it will support the trial. The burden of proof lies with the plaintiff, and it will benefit them greatly if they can provide a solid case that Wright is fraudulently claiming to be Satoshi Nakamoto. If so, then Granath’s tweets would not have been defamatory as they were only stating the truth.

It is important to note that the decision Judge Engebrigtsen will make in this trial will set a court precedent for another libel suit that Wright filed in the United Kingdom High Court against Granath in June 2019.

Counsels for the plaintiff resumed and finished their closing arguments on the morning of the last day of the Granath v Wright trial, followed by the closing arguments of the defense.

The Plaintiff Concludes Closing Arguments

The plaintiff’s closing arguments continued, and the counsels painted a picture of Wright essentially forging documents to support his claim of being the author of the Bitcoin whitepaper. These alleged forgeries were the ones that experts from digital forensics firm KPMG testified to being manipulated during the fifth day of the Granath v Wright trial. The documents and emails examined by KPMG were actually from the Kleiman v Wright trial.

The defense clarified that some of these pieces of evidence were submitted by Wright’s legal team in asserting that the plaintiff for that trial, Ira Kleiman, manipulated documents to strengthen his claim that his brother David Kleiman’s estate was entitled to half of the 1.1 million Satoshi coins—peaking at over $70 billion during the course of the trial—allegedly mined by co-inventors in Bitcoin Wright and David Kleiman.

The Kleiman v Wright jury sided with Wright and answered “no” in six out of seven counts, awarding nothing to the David Kleiman estate. Instead, $143 million was awarded to W&K Info Defense Research LLC, a company which was owned by Wright, his ex-wife and David Kleiman. It is unclear how much David Kleiman owned in the company and if Ira Kleiman will be able to get a piece of the $143 million.

It is important to note that the defense did not submit any piece of document as evidence for this Oslo trial. According to Wright, he wanted to prove through character and expert witness testimonies that he is Satoshi Nakamoto and he was defamed by Granath when he was repeatedly called “a fraud.”

Lead counsel for the plaintiff Ørjan Salvesen Haukaas emphasized that Wright was suing people just because they had a different opinion of him, and that Hodlonaut’s tweets were not remarkable in any way—people online do it all the time. The plaintiff’s side also constantly cited Wikipedia and other blog posts as references during the course of the trial.

“Offense may fall outside the protection of freedom of expression… if the sole intent of the offensive statement is to insult. But the use of vulgar statements in itself is not enough… Reality is, millions of internet users post comments online every day and many expressed in vulgar ways,” Haukaas said during closing arguments.

As Haukaas continued to rehash why it is believed that Wright is not Satoshi Nakamoto and is “a fraud,” Judge Engebrigtsen pointedly asked Haukaas what his point was and to drive it home faster. Haukaas ended his closing arguments about how Granath should not be held liable for his tweets as the matter of proving who Satoshi Nakamoto is, is a global case.

The Defense Presents Closing Arguments

Lead counsel to the defense Halvor Manshaus started off by stating why the court has been in session for seven days. It is because Granath has violated the freedom of speech provisions under the Norwegian Constitution with his defamatory tweets against Wright. Manshaus called what Granath did “anonymous online bullying” and a planned attack.

“The plaintiff has made a series of strongly worded allegations and derogatory statements about Dr. Wright. This was done in the form of anonymous tweets to the plaintiff´s thousands of followers, which repeatedly called on others to join him in his online disparagement of Dr. Wright,” Manshaus said.

“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,” Manshaus added.

Manshaus then likened what Granath did to how predators hunt together to intimidate and weaken their prey. This is in reference to how witnesses for the plaintiff and Granath himself repeatedly testified to how their belief that Wright is “a fraud” and their acts condemning him as such stemmed from the “consensus” and culture of BTC “toxic maximalists.”

Manshaus stated that unlike the plaintiff, the defense purposely did not submit evidence but relied on character and expert testimonies. Wright’s witnesses were former colleagues and a family member—all respected experts and high-level executives in their own fields who have allegedly been fooled by Wright into believing he is Satoshi Nakamoto.

Many of them testified to Wright discussing with them technical concepts used in Bitcoin and blockchain before the Bitcoin whitepaper was published. It must be noted that Wright was granted the copyright for the Bitcoin whitepaper on April 11, 2019.

Witnesses for the defense also told the court how Wright has more than enough skills and knowledge to create Bitcoin, and it can be said that these witnesses were intelligent enough not to be fooled by Wright’s alleged false claims.

Manshaus then concluded by examining the right to privacy and right to freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights. According to Manshaus, what Granath tweeted was not in any way a kind of public debate, but a series of one-sided attacks that debilitated Wright from participating in the debate.

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Defense lawyer Halvard Helle then took over. Helle stressed that Granath’s factual basis should be judged at the time of the tweets’ publication, citing how the European Court of Human Rights found a journalist liable for defamation after not doing research before publishing defamatory statements.

Helle recognized that the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto is currently a global public debate. However, the point relevant to the trial was not this, but the fact that Granath was not involved in any form of conversation, much more debate, with Wright before posting the alleged defamatory tweets. Wright did not even know who Hodlonaut was, and his attacks “came as lightning from a clear sky”.

Helle further stated that Granath’s witnesses themselves contradicted the plaintiff’s claim that the tweets were not defamatory because that was just the language used in the BTC space. Three witnesses told the court that they would not retweet Granath’s posts nor would they use the language that Granath used in referring to Wright.

According to Helle, it is completely understandable why the counsels for the plaintiff would want to discredit all of Wright’s witnesses. For instance, if the plaintiff accepts the testimony of blockchain solutions provider nChain Chairman Stefan Matthews, then the plaintiff would have no basis for their case.

Manshaus concluded the defense’s closing arguments by clarifying that what Granath did was a form of harassment, and this act is not protected under the freedom of speech. Furthermore, Manshaus countered that the evidence presented by the plaintiff that showed Wright’s own harsh language on social media should not bear weight on the case. This is because, unlike Hodlonaut’s tweets, Wright’s statements were always done while debating with someone else.

After the defense’s closing arguments, Judge Engebrigtsen then discussed litigation costs incurred by both sides to set a benchmark for restitution, if there would be any. According to Judge Engebrigtsen, the ruling is expected to be released on or before November 8.

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