In our previous blog, we discussed the outcome of an interim hearing in the case of Wright v McCormack.
Dr Craig Wright is an Australian computer scientist and businessman based in the UK who claims to have invented Bitcoin under the pseudonym, Satoshi Nakamoto. Peter McCormack is a Bitcoin blogger who posted a number of tweets and YouTube videos disputing that Dr Wright was the inventor of Bitcoin.
Dr Wright issued a claim against Mr McCormack under the Defamation Act 2013. The following are examples of the words complained:
“Craig Wright is a f****** liar, and he’s a fraud, and he’s a moron”.
To be successful at trial Dr Wright would need to demonstrate that the comments made by Mr McCormack were untrue and that they had been published to at least one other third party. Dr Wright in accordance with Section 1 of the Defamation Act 2013 would also need to prove that the comments had or were likely to cause “serious harm” to his reputation.
A pre-trial review was conducted in October 2021 and it was decided that the main issue to be determined at trial was whether the comments had caused serious harm to Dr Wright’s reputation.
The trial commenced in the High Court on 23 May 2022 before Mr Justice Chamberlain. Whilst we are still waiting for the judgment to be handed down we do have some information on the submissions made by both parties in relation to the “serious harm” caused by the defamatory comments.
On the first day of the trial, Dr Wright told the Court that as a result of the comments a patent worth £50 billion was breached “because people took what [he] was doing as a joke”.
He also confirmed that he had suffered reputational damage which resulted in his application to become a magistrate being put on hold. Dr Wright also provided evidence of 10 academic conferences to which he said that his invitation had been withdrawn as a result of the comments made by Mr McCormack.
To support his claim that the comments had caused “serious harm” to his reputation, Dr Wright produced analytic data estimating the impact of Mr McCormack’s tweets based on their likes and retweets.
On the second day of the trial, Mr McCormack was cross-examined on the influence of his comments. Mr McCormack did not accept the estimates of the impact of the tweets provided by Dr Wright, claiming that 25% of Twitter users are bots and therefore the data was not a true representation of the reach of the tweets.
Whilst we are still waiting for the judgment to be handed down, the above is a good insight into what the Court will consider in relation to defamatory comments posted online. One of the most important considerations for the Court is whether the comments complained of caused serious harm to a person’s reputation. In the context of online comments such as a tweet, it is important to consider how far-reaching the comment is by looking at how many people have engaged with it.
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