Bitcoin Cash Is Bitcoin? Lawsuits Won’t Stop the Fight Over Bitcoin’s Name

“Roger Ver deserves to go to (back to) jail for fraud.”

For those not immersed in bitcoin’s byzantine politics, it might seem strange to see Ragnar Lifthrasir, a self-described “passionate advocate for bitcoin,” wish incarceration on an early adopter and fervent evangelist the community once called “Bitcoin Jesus.”

But Lifthrasir isn’t alone in his desire to lock Ver up a second time (Ver was sentenced to 10 months in prison in 2002 for selling explosives on eBay). His j’accuse was retweeted over 500 times in just over 24 hours, and a Reddit thread on the same subject featured multiple accusations of fraud and calls for jail time.

Rather, the allegations started after it was noticed that the block explorer, a tool for visualizing data on Bitcoin.com, an educational site that Roger Ver owns, had labeled what many consider the “bitcoin cash protocol,” the version of the blockchain that forked off bitcoin this past August, “bitcoin.”

Just “bitcoin.”

And for many, like Lifthrasir, that slight deviation from how the majority defines the two competing cryptocurrencies was the last straw.

Indeed, after nearly a year of infighting between the two camps, some Reddit users went so far as to call for people to report Bitcoin.com to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at the FBI. And, at time of writing, a Telegram group called “Bitcoin.com lawsuit crowdfund” has even picked up more than 900 members.

Even those who have expressed positivity toward the bitcoin cash blockchain and its potential value as yet another experimentation in the market, were aghast.

Cobra, a pseudonymous cryptocurrency enthusiast, told CoinDesk, “I think it’s criminal behavior.”

Cobra continued:

“While it’s fine for one to have the personal opinion that bitcoin cash is similar to what was described in the bitcoin white paper, presenting bitcoin cash itself as bitcoin on a commercial website visited by thousands of newbies daily looking to learn about the actual bitcoin is just deceptive and fraudulent.”

Round two … or three?  

Stepping back, the fight that Roger Ver finds himself at the center of is rather a longstanding argument about who or what defines bitcoin. Is it the code? The white paper?

Or perhaps it’s the case, as Casa engineer Jameson Lopp argued, “There is no web site, forum, social media account, foundation, code repository, conference, enterprise alliance, or organization of any kind that defines bitcoin.”

Certainly, there have been varying interpretations, a fact made worse by the lack of clear agreement on a common reference point.

Ver’s own belief, which he’s expressed multiple times over the years, is that the true bitcoin must fulfill “Satoshi’s vision” of a “peer-to-peer electronic cash system,” a term laid down in the original white paper, published in 2009.

And this lack of strong historical agreement appears to have become fodder for Ver, who has arguably sought to highlight this fact in recent public statements.

Indeed, bitcoin’s own software has introduced more than one interpretation over the years, though the goal has always been the same, to help those running the software judge the validity of a transaction history, if and when there are competing versions.

To this day, the computing program includes something called “best chain” logic in its consensus rules, though it differs from how it was originally implemented.

At launch, the rule stated that the correct bitcoin blockchain was the “longest chain,” the one with the largest number blocks of data contributed by miners. Very early on, though, that rule was changed to follow the chain with the most “proof of work,” the computing power expended by miners, which updates and secures the blockchain.

Developers have largely agreed the change was for the better, arguing that the “longest chain” logic was flawed. However, it’s noteworthy that “longest chain” has been an element of the argument for years, even being frequently evoked by businesses in the debate leading up to the bitcoin cash fork and thereafter in other fork debates

A provocation  

Still, while Ver’s point may be rooted in an old debate, it’s his methods for disseminating his views that appears to be sparking outrage.

On Friday, for instance, Ver tweeted a list of all the ways that one might consider a piece of software “bitcoin,” including criteria he credits to bitcoin cash: low fees and fast and reliable payments.

In fact, he went so far as to argue that bitcoin cash beat out bitcoin core in every category, except for “longest chain, with most proof of work.” (Because bitcoin core’s network of miners is larger, the chain unquestionably has more computational power.)

Tensions have continued to run high since then, though, primarily because Ver continues to refer to bitcoin cash as bitcoin.

Speaking to CoinDesk, however, he defended his actions and dismissed the threat of litigation, saying that it “seems strange” as “bitcoin is open source and permissionless.” Ver believes, in short, that he doesn’t need anyone or anything to dictate what he believes bitcoin to be.

These arguments have inspired comparisons between bitcoin and religion in the past, a theme that has emerged again in the past week.

Indeed, Ver speaks on the subject with a passion of someone giving a sermon. At a conference in April, he said that refusing to accept bitcoin cash as the real bitcoin delays the technology’s adoption, and that “means more babies are dying in countries around the world.”

It’s a comment that lent itself to a fair bit of mockery owing to its hyperbole. Still, it’s worth noting that such barbs have also been launched by those faithful to bitcoin core developers and their software.

Twitter user Armin van Bitcoin, for instance, has accused Ver of promoting “rat poison” in his marketing of bitcoin cash as bitcoin.

A lack of consensus

Meanwhile, the software’s developers appear a bit more agnostic about all the infighting.

When queried, a few representatives from the volunteer group remarked that there’s no real answer as to what constitutes bitcoin, owing to the decentralized nature of the software.

“Ultimately, I think personally you cannot objectively define bitcoin, and I’ve tried,” said one long-time bitcoin core advocate, who goes by the pseudonym ‘Shinobimonkey.’

And there are many reasons for this.

Elizabeth Stark, CEO of a company building next-generation bitcoin technology, Lightning Labs, offered an example. Suppose a government “attacked” the bitcoin blockchain and was then in possession of the “longest valid chain” and could change its rules.

That wouldn’t necessarily be bitcoin, she argued.

“Bitcoin is a shared collective belief where the longest valid chain is a factor,” she said.

Others remarked how other decision-making frameworks are similarly inadequate.

“If someone working for Ford Motors left, and built a new car company that became more valuable than Ford, it doesn’t magically just become Ford Motors,” Shinobimoney said, adding:

“At this point, [in my opinion] it comes down to incumbency.” 

Legal action unlikely

Still, it’s almost certain that someone will try to sue Ver at this point, but according to Jason Siebert, a cryptocurrency attorney, their prospects of success are dim.

“The only people with a claim would be those that purchased BCH instead of BTC thinking they were buying bitcoin,” he wrote recently.

Even if private individuals did bring a civil lawsuit, it could only result in orders for corrective action or a fine. Ver would not receive jail time, two attorneys specializing in cryptocurrency confirmed to CoinDesk.

In theory, the Department of Justice could file criminal fraud charges against Ver, but for that to happen, his actions would have to meet the rigorous standard of “specific intent to defraud specific people.”

As Matt Gertler, senior analyst and counsel at Digital Asset Research points out, Ver’s public insistence that bitcoin cash is the real bitcoin could make it “difficult to prove that he knowingly misrepresented the truth.”

What’s more, these points are moot, because Bitcoin.com does not sell bitcoin cash in the U.S. In jurisdictions where it does sell bitcoin cash, the page clearly distinguishes between bitcoin cash and bitcoin core; there is no option to purchase just “bitcoin.”

So no, Ver is not going back to jail, but his dogmatism has dragged the scaling debate to new depths.

As Cobra said:

“Imagine if after the American War of Independence and the U.S. was born, George Washington ran around telling people that ‘USA is England’ … and said he was implementing the true vision of the Magna Carta.”

Broken phone image via Shutterstock.

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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