Judge in Norway Defamation Trial Granath v Wright Rules in Favor of Plaintiff

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Oslo District Court Judge Helen Engebrigtsen ruled in favor of in the Granath v Wright defamation trial. The verdict was released on October 20, and is the one of two different defamation trials between the two parties. 

Twitter influencer Magnus Granath, who anonymously attacked nChain Chief Scientist Dr. Craig S. Wright through a series of offensive tweets under the handle “Hodlonaut,” was found not liable for defamation in his home country, Norway. 

According to the ruling by Judge Engebrigtsen, even Granath cannot be held liable for his tweets calling Wright “a fraud,” “trash,” “a very sad and pathetic scammer,” “clearly mentally ill,” “the scummiest side of humanity,” and “Faketoshi” because Wright is a public figure and negative opinions about him can be ptotected under free speech. 

“Craig Wright is a very sad and pathetic scammer. Clearly mentally ill. Everything about him induces deep cringe. I suffer from obviousness fatigue after still having to read posts arguing why he isn’t Satoshi,” one of Hodlonaut’s tweets read. 

Wright was outed as the pseudonymous Bitcoin whitepaper author Satoshi Nakamoto in 2015 by Wired and Gizmodo magazines. Since then, Wright has been forcefully thrust into the spotlight, with many doubting his identity as the inventor of Bitcoin. 

“Regrettably, the court found after a broad assessment taking into account that Dr. Wright is a public figure in the Bitcoin community, that Granath’s communications were not defamatory in a legal sense, and that they did not breach his right to privacy,” Halvor Manshaus, partner at Schjødt and Wright’s Norwegian attorney, commented. 

“We do not agree with the court’s assessment. Private citizens should enjoy the same protection on Twitter as on other media platforms. Anonymous online bullying and harassment risks having a chilling effect on meaningful debate and the civil exchange of views and opinions,” Manshaus added.

Granath also created the “#CraigWrightIsAFraud week,” calling all his followers to use the hashtag. The seven-day bench trial in Norway saw Hodlonaut admit to posting said tweets and being adamant in stating that this is his belief and he believes his actions were not defamatory in nature. 

Although many of Granath’s witnesses admitted to them not choosing to use the language, which was malicious in nature, that Hodlonaut used in his tweets, the Oslo court still sided with the plaintiff because Wright is considered to be a public figure; the topic of Wright is/is not Satoshi Nakamoto was widely discussed in the Bitcoin community; and the Judge believes that Granath had “sufficient factual basis” for his tweets. 

“Against this background, the court believes that [Hodlonaut] had sufficient factual basis to claim that Craig Wright is not Satoshi Nakamoto in March 2019. Wright has come out with a controversial claim, has to endure criticism from dissenters,” the 24-page ruling stated.

“Overall, the court believes that the wording and claims that [Hodlonaut] has made are not above the threshold for what constitutes defamation and invasion of privacy. The statements are not unlawful.”

Judge Engebrigtsen has ordered for Wright to pay for Granath’s legal fees amounting to nearly $385,000. However, the Judge’s ruling did not comment on whether or not the court thinks Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto.

“It is undecided, outside of this case, whether Craig Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto or not, and there is still public debate on the question. Both parties in the case have pointed to circumstances that speak respectively for and against Wright being Satoshi Nakamoto,” Judge Engebrigtsen’s ruling explained.  

“The question has been debated since 2016. The court chooses not to take a position on this, because it has no bearing on the outcome of the case. The court will assess whether the statements are unlawful based on the premise that it is unclear whether Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto.”

The doubt cast on Wright’s identity as Satoshi Nakamoto largely stems from his refusal to sign using the Satoshi keys to prove that he really is Satoshi Nakamoto. According to Wright, keys are not and should not be used as proof of identity. Instead, he will put 100 witnesses on the stand who will attest that he is the Bitcoin creator. Granath seemed to have won the first round, but Wright can still appeal the decision.

“Individuals should not be dissuaded from seeking to challenge persistent and pervasive online mistreatment or intimidation. We have reviewed the court ruling, and after discussing with our client today it is clear that the ruling from the District Court will be appealed,” Manhaus said about the Oslo court’s decision. 

Granath has filed this case in Norwegian court, hoping to set a precedent to prevent Wright from suing him in the UK. This has ended in failure as there is a defamation case, this time, Wright v Granath, in the UK High Court. Trial is set to be held next year. 

It must be noted that although trial is yet to proceed in the UK, Granath already had to pay Wright £303,000 plus VAT as ordered by the UK High Court. Earlier this year, Wright also won his defamation suit against blogger Peter McCormack in the UK High Court. 

Another billion-dollar lawsuit stemmed from Hodlonaut’s tweets. A landmark case claims amounting to £9.9 billion has been filed in the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) against cryptocurrency exchanges Binance, Bittylicious, Kraken and Shapeshift after allegedly colluding to delist BSV as a show of support for Hodlonaut.

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