When it comes to cryptocurrency, there are two camps. The first are those that are heavily involved in it and take the concept very seriously and the second is everyone else.
To put it mildly, public perception of cryptocurrency outside of the niche itself is not very good. With headlines equating cryptocurrencies to lottery tickets, they are seen neither as serious investments nor as tools for legitimate commerce by most people. There are attempts to make crypto more mainstream, but it’s difficult to overcome a history of crypto being the currency of choice for a variety of illegal activities and scammers.
But, with all of those struggles and uncertainties lies yet another problem: Plagiarism
It might seem like a small issue. But the recent history of cryptocurrency is lined with countless stories of plagiarism and, considering the goal to make crypto central to our financial lives, it can’t afford the erosion of trust that plagiarism causes.
In short, if cryptocurrency truly wants to be mainstream, it has to address its plagiarism problem but it seems to have no way of doing that.
A Brief History of Cryptocurrency Plagiarism
Back in February 2018, we discussed the Tron (TRX) plagiarism scandal, a plagiarism scandal that helped erode some $13.65 billion off of the market cap of the TRX cryptocurrency in just two weeks. That decline has continued with the market cap now estimated at just $860 million, meaning it has now lost nearly $16 billion from its high in January 2018.
While Tron was easily the biggest plagiarism story to come out of cryptocurrency that year, it was far from the only. In fact, a May 2018 Wall Street Journal survey of 1,450 digital coin offerings found that 271 of those offerings had “red flags” with plagiarism being one of the most common issues.
But, when it comes to capturing plagiarism headlines, the cryptocurrency champion has to be Craig Wright.
We first discussed Wright in May 2019 as he registered the copyright to the original Bitcoin code and whitepaper. The registrations were an attempt to bolster his unproven and heavily-disputed claims to be Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous creator of Bitcoin. The case forced the U.S. Copyright Office to clarify that the registrations were not proof of the truth of Wright’s claims as they don’t investigate the veracity of statements made in a copyright registration.
In April 2018, Wright was accused of plagiarizing a 2017 paper he published The Fallacy of Selfish Mining: A Mathematical Critique. The allegations centered around equations he relied heavily upon in his work but failed to cite the original author, even as he cited works of lesser importance to his paper.
In September 2019, Sam Williams posted a story on his Medium account that highlighted another six allegations of plagiarism going back multiple years. This includes blog posts, other published papers and a patent application.
However, the most recent story may be the most damning of all as Wright was accused, with solid evidence, to have plagiarized the dissertation that earned him his Master of Laws degree from Northumbria University.
In short, even if only a small fraction of the allegations against Wright were found to have weight, he would still be a repeat plagiarist with many significant allegations against him. The irony of his strong stances against plagiarism in the past is not lost on his critics.
But, while Wright may be able to shake off the allegations and continue to have his supporters, the crypto industry itself will have a much more difficult time doing so, especially with the broader public.
The Antithesis of Trust
On the surface, this doesn’t seem so bad. Craig Wright is a highly controversial figure in the crypto universe and, if you remove him from the equation, the plagiarism allegations center around a percentage of relatively unimportant coin offerings. Other than Tron, plagiarism allegations haven’t played a large role in any major cryptocurrency.
However, the problem is one of perception. If crypto wants to be seen as a trusted financial tool, it needs to move past headlines of illegal uses and plagiarized coin offerings.
Imagine, for a second, you’re a layperson looking at taking an interest in cryptocurrency. You look past sketchier uses for cryptocurrency and find that there is a dispute over who the original creator of Bitcoin is, there is a multi-billion dollar lawsuit that accuses him of fraud and multiple credible allegations of plagiarism against him.
Crypto insiders may be able to quickly dismiss this as unrelated or unimportant but it’s much more difficult for outsiders. All of this creates uncertainty in the eyes of outsiders and uncertainty is the antithesis of trust.
If crypto is to replace the institutions it seeks to replace, it will have to do so by being more trusted and better for its users. Right now, it is neither of those things and every plagiarism scandal just pushes it farther from that goal.
In the big picture, the plagiarism problem is only a small part of cryptocurrency’s perception issues. As long as it remains the favorite tool for ransomware artists and illegal marketplaces, it’s going to be a tough sell as a legitimate investment or a legitimate currency.
However, it’s a problem that is much easier to avoid. Those that participate in crypto can choose whether or not they plagiarize even if they can’t necessarily choose how their currencies are used. Likewise, the community can choose how to treat those that do plagiarize and distance themselves from those people.
It may not be the biggest or most important challenge facing cryptocurrency but it is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed and on a macro level.
As the Wall Street Journal showed, though Wright may capture the lion’s share of the cryptocurrency headlines, he’s far from the only one facing issues. The fact that plagiarism is as common as it is in the field only serves to further erode trust and that’s not something the technology can afford.