What is Bitcoin? There’s not just one of it
Of course, Bitcoin (BTC) is that digital thingamajig we all like, and it works for making payments and profits. But wait. Has somebody ever said what is Bitcoin, officially? Have you read it somewhere (Wikipedia doesn’t count) so far? What noun would you use? Currency? Property? Digital asset? Commodity? Decentralized money? Investment tool? Scam? Does it matter, even?
Well, if you want to stay around like a smart bitcoiner, it may matter a lot. Because a name implies duties and rights. XRP could say that very well after being classified (and sued) as a security, eh? So, what is Bitcoin, exactly? Where can we find that information?
Sadly (or luckily), the answer is nowhere. Let us use here the wise words of the Bitcoin developer Jameson Lopp: “There is no website, forum, social media account, foundation, code repository, conference, enterprise alliance, or organization of any kind that defines bitcoin.”
And no, not even the whitepaper (the first document that describes this cryptocurrency) can help us much here. The term “Bitcoin” only appears twice and no more throughout the nine pages and the two of them belong to the header. It’s like Satoshi Nakamoto meant to be ambiguous on purpose about what Bitcoin is.
Later, he would publish the first concept of Bitcoin for the alpha release, but that one isn’t very clear either: “Bitcoin is a new electronic cash system that uses a peer-to-peer network to prevent double-spending. It’s completely decentralized with no server or central authority”. If you find that this definition might allude to any crypto in existence nowadays, well, that’s true. Indeed, there are other “bitcoins” around.
The other Bitcoins
Let’s try a quick thing. Open CoinMarketCap (CMC) or a similar webpage and use the search bar to write “ Bitcoin “. Did you find just one? Maybe two or three? We bet the answer is a great no. In CMC, we did find 92+ coins including the name. Most of them unheard of for your average guy: things like Bitcoin Diamond (BCD), BitcoinPoS (BPS), Bitcoin 2 (BTC2), Bitcoin Private (BTCP), or Bitcoin Atom (BCA) are just examples.
So, can they use the name like that? Only because they want to? The answer is a huge yes. And that’s because of Satoshi Nakamoto, again. He (She/they/it) decided to register the currency from the beginning as open-source software, under the MIT license. Let’s check it a moment:
“Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the “Software”), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions: The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.”
TL;DR: everyone can use, copy, modify and even sell this software, for free. And they’ve been doing it a lot. Only that, sometimes, some problems appear on the horizon…
Legal and copyright issues
The copyright shouldn’t really be an issue here, right? Because of the MIT license and whatnot. Well, believe it or not, some people don’t know how to read or just don’t want to. There have already been several (failed) attempts to patent BTC as private property, or to appropriate the name as “original” for their products.
Probably the last of it came from the Australian businessman Craig Wright in January. He’s been proclaiming from several years ago -and without real evidence- that he’s Satoshi Nakamoto. So, he threatened with legal actions against the BTC whitepaper hosters. This, supposedly, for copyright infringement, even when the cryptocurrency is still open-source and free software.
As a result, it was quickly created a movement on Twitter under the hashtag #BitcoinPdf for the users and companies to share the document on their own websites and networks. Thousands of them joined, and we also shared it on Alfacash.
Now, this can be proved unsuccessful, but what about the governments? They can say what is Bitcoin as they deem it more convenient for their interests, indeed. They can’t appropriate of it, but they can set rules according to their definitions. And not every country (or even state) will have the same concept. In Japan and the United States, it’s seen as property. In the United Kingdom and Switzerland, it’s a foreign currency. For Estonia, is an asset. For Bolivia, it’s almost a scam (and it’s banned).
So, what is Bitcoin heavily depends on who you ask. And it’ll have to assume “multiple identities” for legal and taxing purposes in different countries.
Who picks the “right” coin?
Returning to the thing about multiple bitcoins with some additions in the names, why can’t they be the “original”? What is Bitcoin? The Bitcoin that takes multiple legal interpretations for governments, that’s it. The Bitcoin that just had an All-Time-High (ATH) this year, the Bitcoin used and loved by so many people and companies.
You know, there was a debate (and maybe is still a debate) about Bitcoin (BTC) when Bitcoin Cash (BCH) popped into existence. It was a direct fork from the first cryptocurrency (which means the same transaction history), it was supported by some powerful people and community and it brought some technical improvements as well. For these powerful supporters, BCH couldn’t be anything more than an update for the original. Why not?
To sum it up the polemic, the “original” Bitcoin, the “one and chosen” can technically be defined by which blockchain is longer and has more hash rate ( mining power). Our BTC is still the one, but not even because of that. Remember we said “technically”? Well, that’s because the practice and the users are a whole different thing.
Elizabeth Stark put a nice example: imagine that a government (or some powerful entity) manages to seize and control BTC. Would that still be “Bitcoin”? Not really, as she stated: “Bitcoin is a shared collective belief where the longest valid chain is a factor”.
A shared collective belief. Bitcoin.org, the most popular educational page about Bitcoin, wrote something very similar, about who controls the network.
“Nobody owns the Bitcoin network much like no one owns the technology behind email. Bitcoin is controlled by all Bitcoin users around the world. While developers are improving the software, they can’t force a change in the Bitcoin protocol because all users are free to choose what software and version they use. In order to stay compatible with each other, all users need to use software complying with the same rules. Bitcoin can only work correctly with a complete consensus among all users. Therefore, all users and developers have a strong incentive to protect this consensus”.
In conclusion: Bitcoin (BTC) is, and will always be, what most users determine that is. For now, it’s the first cryptocurrency, created originally by Satoshi Nakamoto. Later, only the time will tell.
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Originally published at https://blog.alfa.cash on February 24, 2021.