BTC Core lead developer Wladimir van der Laan has decided to step back from his role, citing the need to “decentralize” more aspects of the project. In the past few days, van der Laan had faced criticism from others for his swift response in removing links to the Bitcoin white paper on BitcoinCore.org.
Bitcoin creator Dr. Craig Wright’s legal team has sent numerous letters to various parties in the past week, demanding they remove copies of the original Bitcoin white paper he authored in 2008. Van der Laan’s compliance with the request was called everything from “unfortunate” to “cowardice” and “capitulation” from other developers and the internet’s army of armchair lawyers in their responses.
In a blog post titled “The widening gyre,” van der Laan noted that although he has been a major contributor to the Core protocol code, he has not been the most active developer in the past year. However he still has the second-highest number of git merges on GitHub, so his role has been significant. While he will be stepping back from his leadership role, his taking a more “background role” does not mean he’s leaving the project altogether.
“Responses on social media have made me realize that people have strange expectations of me,” he wrote, adding that his role is “particularly stressful” and surrounded by “bizarre social media spats” that shouldn’t define him as a person.
Van der Laan has contributed to the Bitcoin and BTC Core code since 2011. The GPG key used to sign BTC Core releases carries his personal name, and he also suggested renaming this or splitting it into pieces. This, along with moving away from GitHub/website distribution and calling for others to take more active roles, would further decentralize BTC.
About that decentralization
“One thing is clear: this is a serious project now, and we need to start taking decentralization seriously,” van der Laan said.
Some of Van der Laan’s comments about decentralization echo several made by Dr. Wright himself: that concentrating control over the protocol in the hands of a few developers creates a centralized system. For all its talk of keeping BTC “decentralized” with small transaction blocks and non-mining “nodes,” it’s notable that only a handful of people have the power to change the fundamental rules.
Dr. Wright is referring to control over the protocol rules here, rather than the number of people coding the software or the number of processing nodes. Bitcoin BSV, after restoring Bitcoin’s original protocol in February 2020, has its transaction rules “set in stone” to guarantee stability and security (i.e. that transactions created 10 years ago will still work 100 years from now).
Denying access to the white paper? Not at all
Much of the outrage and defiance surrounding Dr. Wright’s legal demands has focused on the white paper itself, erroneously assuming the intent is to deny access to Bitcoin’s original vision.
An angry response from Core developer Greg Maxwell on Reddit encapsulated this mood. “What effect would it have on the availability of the whitepaper? If anything it would make it more available,” he wrote.
What Dr. Wright’s detractors claim is an unexpected consequence—that more people will read the white paper now—is an entirely expected one. More people should read the white paper (and watch the “Theory of Bitcoin” series analyzing it). If they do so, they will come to understand how BTC corrupted the original vision, and why that vision exists today only as Bitcoin BSV.
Maxwell also bemoaned Dr. Wright’s persistence in reclaiming control over his intellectual property, saying “Wright can declare war against the ocean but the ocean will just flow around him.”
For the record, van der Laan described Maxwell’s words as an “awesome response”.
However the ocean is not sentient, nor made up of individual humans whose actions can be influenced. The BTC ecosystem is—it was this fact that saw developers alter the way its protocol handled back in 2017, and also allow the law to step in with redress if any of these individuals act improperly.
Dr. Wright’s recent actions are not about denying access to information. They are a means to establishing his authorship of Bitcoin’s original materials, and thus his legitimacy to speak on Bitcoin’s behalf. This could have far-reaching effects. He has also promised that the brouhaha over the white paper is just the beginning, saying further legal actions are on the way that will determine Bitcoin’s future.
Watch Dr. Craig Wright tell Ryan X. Charles the background of Bitcoin.org and as they use the Way Back Machine to prove the Satoshi PGP key changed in 2011:
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