The operator and publisher of a website is not entitled to participate in court proceedings under the pseudonym 'Cøbra' - even with legal representation, the High Court has ruled. In Wright v Persons Unknown, Costs Judge Rowley agreed to bar 'Cøbra' from costs proceedings arising from a copyright case unless it identifies itself and provides an address.
'Cøbra' is the operator of the bitcoin.org website, which is believed to be based in the US. In June last year the High Court granted a default judgment against it following a copyright infringement action brought by Dr Craig Wright, an Australian computer scientist resident in Britain who has brought a series of legal actions over his claim to be the inventor of the bitcoin digital currency.
In particular, Wright claims to be the author of the 2008 paper published under the name Satoshi Nakamoto which set out the principles of bitcoin and which was reproduced on the bitcoin.org website.
Following the copyright ruling 'Cøbra' served points of dispute in the costs assessment. Wright applied for these to be disregarded unless the defendant was identified. At a hearing last month 'Cøbra' was represented by costs specialist Erica Bedford, who argued that there was no prohibition on a pseudonymous or anonymous party participating in costs proceedings.
However, finding for Dr Wright, the costs judge ruled that the '[civil procedure] rules, taken as a whole, clearly expect a party to identify themselves at the outset of proceedings… it is plain that a party is expected to identify themselves when first actively involved in the proceedings. That requirement is clear from the rules concerning the commencement of a claim and the filing of a response to that claim.'
In his ruling Rowley stressed that he was not impugning the professionalism of Bedford or her instructing firm Mackenzie Costs Limited and that there is 'nothing improper' about their interacting with their opponents in the matter.
'Cøbra' was granted permission to appeal.
Simon Cohen, managing associate at digital asset specialist Ontier, which acted for Wright, said the ruling 'reaffirms the sanctity of our open justice system'.
'Whilst there are some, limited, situations where a party can be anonymised to the public, there are no circumstances in which a party can participate in proceedings whilst maintaining their anonymity in the face of the court,' he said.
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