Techdirt Wins Dismissal of Defamation Suit by Claimed Email Inventor

Shiva Ayyadurai, a self-described “world-renowned scientist, inventor, lecturer, philanthropist, and entrepreneur,” claims that he invented email in 1978 when he was 14 years-old.  As explained by Ars Technica:

Ayyadurai did write a program called “EMAIL” for use by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (now a part of Rutgers). He copyrighted the code in 1982. But Ayyadurai today makes the far more significant claim that he invented “the electronic mail system as we know it today,” even though his code had little impact beyond the university. Mainstream tech history books don’t even mention Ayyadurai—unless you count the several books Ayyadurai has written about himself.

In 2011-2012, Time and The Washington Post ran stories about Ayyadurai’s claim which triggered ridicule from a number of sites including Gawker and TechDirt.   Enter Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, who had a personal vendetta against Gawker for past coverage of him and his personal life and funded lawsuits against Gawker including Hulk Hogan’s claims stemming from Gawker’s publishing a sex tape involving him and, possibly Ayyadurai’s claim of defamation against Gawker.

After a  Florida jury returned a $140 million verdict in favor of Hogan against Gawker, it was forced into bankruptcy and settled with Ayyadurai for $750,000.  Techdirt founder Michael Masnick was aghast at the settlement and wrote: For almost five years now, we’ve been among those explaining why Shiva Ayyadurai’s claim that he invented email is complete bullshit. It’s not true. Not even remotely. 

Ayyadurai lawyer,  Charles Harder, then went after Techdirt with a $15 million defamation action federal court in Massachusetts.  The lawsuit placed a huge financial burden on the site, which raised money by selling “I Invented Email” t-shirts. Last week, Techdirt and Masnick won a dismissal of the Ayyadurai lawsuit, as the court explained that Techdirt’s view that Ayyadurai’s claims were bogus were protected

because they are not provably false, are subjective statements that do not imply knowledge of objective facts, or are statements involving figurative language or
hyperbole.

The most important aspect of the decision, however, was the rejection of Techdirt’s anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss which would have enabled them to recover attorneys’ fees for the lawsuit.  The question turned on whether Massachusett’s or California’s anti-SLAPP law applied.  While both states provide a remedy for lawsuits trigged by a party’s exercise of his/her right of petition under the U.S. or state constitution, California’s goes further to also protect cases such as this triggered by acts “in furtherance of a person’s right . . . free speech . . .  in connection with a public issue.” The Court, however, determined that Massachusets law should apply since Ayyadurai was a Massachusetts resident and the state had an interest in protecting its citizens from tortious conduct.

Techdirt responded by calling for stronger anti-SLAPP laws including a federal anti-SLAPP law “to protect against frivolous lawsuits designed to silence protected speech.” The “Securing Participation, Engagement, and Knowledge Freedom by Reducing Egregious Efforts Act” (or SPEAK FREE Act) was introduced last Congress, but no bill has been introduced so far this Congress.  See antislapp.org for more information.

The decision is below.

Postscript

Ayyadurai is running in the Massachusetts Republican primary to challenge Senator Elizabeth Warren in 2018.  After an appearance on The Howie Carr Show in which Ayyadurai filibustered any attempt to address his 2005 arrest for assault and domestic battery and subsequent restraining order, it is clear that Ayyadurai is not ready for prime time.