During the Bitcoin 2023 event in Miami on May 18, Jessica Jonas, the Chief Legal Officer of the nonprofit Bitcoin Defense Legal Fund, expressed strong opposition to a lawsuit initiated by Craig Wright, a self-proclaimed Bitcoin creator, and its potential consequences for open source software.
The lawsuit in question, filed by Wright’s Tulip Trading in the UK, targets 14 individuals allegedly involved in the development of Bitcoin Core, among others. Wright alleges that these developers owe him a fiduciary duty, claiming that Tulip Trading lost 111,000 Bitcoin due to a sophisticated hack. He demands that the Bitcoin developers create a backdoor in the Bitcoin core blockchain to recover the alleged lost funds. However, Jonas emphasizes that such a remedy is technically impossible as it would require modifying the blockchain through a hard fork, which is not how Bitcoin operates.
Jonas further explains that the legal implications go beyond technical limitations. The case has already gone through an appeal, where the appellate court recognized the significance of whether open source developers should bear a fiduciary duty to users of their code. Jonas describes the lawsuit as “extraordinarily dangerous” and highlights the potential existential threat it poses to the open source community. Open source software constitutes 97% of the world’s software, making it a crucial part of global technological infrastructure.
Additionally, Jonas frames the case as a matter of free speech. Despite many defendants being U.S. citizens operating within the U.S., the case is being tried in the UK due to the appellate court’s decision that it held jurisdiction based on the potential public interest in the country. Jonas argues that Tulip Trading’s actions in a UK court are effectively compelling Americans to speak, raising concerns about the court ruling in Wright’s favor.
The open source nature of Bitcoin development, governed by the MIT open source license, allows anyone, anywhere to access and contribute to the project. Assigning fiduciary duty to developers in such cases could set a precedent where individuals from one country become liable for damages caused to others in different jurisdictions simply because they contributed to an open source project. Jonas emphasizes that current laws are designed to protect open source developers who voluntarily dedicate their time and skills to public infrastructure projects under the MIT license.