Bitcoin founder’s defamation case struck out by High Court Judge

Bitcoin, along with the ever-expanding cryptocurrency industry, rarely stays out of the news for long these days. You may have noticed reports across various media outlets last month concerning Bitcoins self-proclaimed founder. Mr. Craig White had attempted to sue an early Bitcoin investor for defamation (libelous publications in this instance) in the High Court (Case ref: Wight v Ver [2019] EWHC 2094 (QB)).

The case profile immediately caught my eye. It highlights a lot of the current concerns globally surrounding defamation law. Craig White, a non-UK citizen was trying to sue Roger Ver (also a non-UK citizen) for what he viewed as libelous claims made by the latter on YouTube and Twitter.

Without waffling on about the case too much and just throwing quotes at you, White’s case failed for multiple reasons. Firstly, given that neither party were UK citizens the criteria for a successful claim is strict. Under the Defamation Act 2013 Section 9(2):

‘England and Wales [must] clearly be the most appropriate place in which to bring an action in respect of the statement’.

The Defamation Act 2013 was largely introduced to address the ever-growing issue of jurisdictions within defamation law. Basically, from a geographical context, we desperately needed a framework to distinguish who could bring actions against who. Just because Mr. White spends a large proportion of his time in the UK, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the case should be heard in English and Welsh courts. The Act prevents the issue of the ‘floodgates opening’ for claims by attempting to provide a clearer definition of who and what can be heard under defamation law in England and Wales. Clearly our courts would be completely incapacitated if anyone who has ever posted a defamatory tweet from any computer in the world could file a claim in England and Wales. So, to return to Mr. White’s action, it failed with this requirement of the claim alone.

Secondly, The Honourable Mr. Justice Nicklin also found holes in the extent of publication by Mr. Roger Ver (the Defendant). Evidence provided to the court highlighted that only 7% of the global publications of this content took place in the UK [43]. To illustrate why this meant that England and Wales were not the correct place to hear this action, the Judge used a useful example:

‘if a statement was published 10,000 times in Australia and only 5,000 times in England, that would be a good basis on which to conclude that the most appropriate jurisdiction in which to bring an action in respect of the statement was Australia rather than England’ [12].

Thirdly, Mr. White and his team needed objective evidence that the publications had caused harm to his reputation in England and Wales. The claimant was not able to adequately provide this. Interestingly Justice Nicklin did not necessarily rule out that there could be a case for defamation, but merely that the facts of the action meant that there was no case to be heard within the legal system of England and Wales. It was suggested that in this instance Mr. White may be better served having the action heard in the United States.

If you’ve got to here and are sitting there thinking ‘so what?’ – my answer would be that this case highlights how difficult defamation claims can be. Gone are the days when legal jurisdictions were black and white. The age of social media and instant information have blown that completely out of the water. 2013’s Defamation Act has closed the floodgates somewhat, but no potential claimant could ever be blamed for feeling overwhelmed by the lack of concrete law in this area.

If you’re reading this because you’re currently contemplating, or are already involved in a defamation action, it might help you to compare the facts of the situation to a basic definition of defamation:

‘defamation is the publication of a statement which reflects on a person’s reputation and tends to lower her/him in the eyes of right-thinking member of society’ (Sim v Stretch [1936] 2 ALL ER 1237).

Either way, if you’ve read this and feel like you need some advice, or you would like to know more about defamation then please do not hesitate to give the office a call. The team will be more than happy to help.

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