Excellent news, America! Turns out that the First Amendment still mostly works, even if you’re a rich dude and you hire the lawyer who killed Gawker! Weird rightwinger Shiva Ayyadurai is this guy who’s running against Elizabeth Warren with the very witty slogan “It Takes a REAL Indian to Defeat a FAKE One” and who likes to insist that he personally invented email when he was a precocious 14-year-old.
The smartypantses at Techdirt have run several articles, going back to at least 2012, explaining that no, Ayyadurai did not invent email in 1978 — but he did invent and copyright the name of an email management system that he called “EMAIL,” which is actually a very different thing from inventing the very idea of electronic mail and patenting it.
Tossing out Ayyadurai’s assertions that Techdirt had committed “libel, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, and intentional infliction of emotional distress,” Judge Saylor wrote that Ayyadurai had failed to demonstrate any of those claims, and that the “plaintiff is a public figure for purposes of First Amendment law, and the complaint fails to plausibly allege either falsity or malice.” Saylor also denied Ayyadurai the opportunity to file an amended complaint.
Masnick, in a Wednesday post at Techdirt, celebrated the decision as “a big win for the First Amendment and free speech — especially the right to call out and criticize a public figure such as Shiva Ayyadurai[.]” Masnick also noted the judge had affirmed that, under the Communications Decency Act, Techdirt could not be held liable for comments made at the blog, which “cannot be attributed to us under the law.” (No, dear Terrible Ones, this is not an invitation to go libeling people in our comments, OK? We still have a commenting policy, so don’t go being jerks.)
Masnick wasn’t 100% happy with the full decision, however, since Judge Saylor denied Techdirt’s motion to strike the suit under California’s anti-SLAPP law, which could have forced Ayyadurai to pay Techdirt’s legal fees. Such laws — the acronym stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation” — are intended to protect against nuisance lawsuits designed to silence critics of the rich and powerful. Techdirt is located in California, so the motion had argued that California anti-SLAPP law should have applied even though Ayyadurai brought the suit in Massachusetts. Some courts have ruled that the laws of the state where the “speaker” is located should apply, but that issue hasn’t been addressed yet in the First Circuit.
The good news, however, is that Masnick has raised about $250,000 for his defense against Ayyadurai, with contributors all over the political spectrum, from lefty Craigslist founder Craig Newmark to rightwing but very libertarian billionaire Charles Koch, whom the First Amendment allows us to say sucks anyway.
A statement from Harder said Ayyadurai plans to appeal, because Techdirt was mean and wrong:
“Dr. Ayyadurai has a long history of standing up for free speech. As a strong proponent of free speech, he also believes in truthful speech,” Harder’s statement asserted. “False speech is not protected by the Constitution, and TechDirt’s false and malicious speech about Dr. Ayyadurai should receive no legal protection.”
At Techdirt, Masnick seemed pretty unworried, seeing as how he had reality on his side:
We pointed to the well documented public history of email, and how basically all of the components that Ayyadurai now claims credit for preceded his own work. We discussed how his arguments were, at best, misleading, such as arguing that the copyright on his program proved that he was the “inventor of email” — since patents and copyrights are very different, and just because Microsoft has a copyright on “Windows” it does not mean it “invented” the concept of a windowed graphical user interface (because it did not).
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