Shiva Ayyadurai, who claims to be the inventor of e-mail, sued the blog TechDirt for libel over 14 articles disputing his claim and calling him a “liar” or a “fake” for saying he was the inventor. This month, the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts dismissed Ayyadurai’s lawsuit. The ruling is here.
Ayyadurrai plans to appeal the lawsuit. His attorney, Charles J. Harder, provided iMediaEthics with the following statement:
“Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai will be appealing today’s ruling. 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. False speech is not protected by the Constitution, and TechDirt’s false and malicious speech about Dr. Ayyadurai should receive no legal protection.
“False speech does harm to readers, who are misled by it; it does harm to journalism, which is weakened by it; and it does harm to the subjects of the speech, whose reputations and careers are damaged by it. The public, and the courts, should not tolerate false speech, particularly when it causes people harm, and irresponsible media companies should stop using the Constitution as an excuse for their reckless dissemination of false information.”
While U.S. District Judge Dennis Saylor rejected TechDirt and its employees’ request to throw the lawsuit out under anti-SLAPP law, his Sept. 6 ruling did dismiss the lawsuit because of “failure to state a claim.” Ayyadurai filed his lawsuit against TechDirt earlier this year, as iMediaEthics reported, over 14 articles published between Sept. 2014 and Nov. 2015.
Judge Saylor accepted that Ayyadurai is a “limited purpose” public figure, so he had to prove actual malice. That said, Saylor found that TechDirt‘s articles “do not dispute that plaintiff created an e-mail system. Rather, they dispute whether plaintiff should properly be characterized as the inventor of e-mail based on that creation.”
The judge went on, writing that Ayyadurai’s lawsuit didn’t prove TechDirt‘s articles were inaccurate. “In any event, even assuming that the allegations of falsity are sufficient, the challenged statements are nonetheless protected under the First Amendment,” the judge wrote.
“The articles disclose the non-defamatory facts on which they rely; make clear that that the conclusions drawn from those facts are simply an interpretation of them; and do not rely on other, undisclosed and potentially defamatory facts that are not available to others,” the judge continued. The judge also found that “hyperbolic statements” about whether Ayyadurai is a “fraud” are protected.
iMediaEthics has written to TechDirt for its response to the ruling. On its website Sept. 6, TechDirt’s Mike Masnick wrote in part, “We are certainly pleased with the decision and his analysis, which notes over and over again that everything that we stated was clearly protected speech, and the defamation (and other claims) had no merit. This is, clearly, 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, who is now running for the US Senate in Massachusetts. ”
The lawsuit also pointed to the fact that Gawker settled a similar lawsuit but the court ruled that the Gawker case settling “does not establish knowledge of the falsity of the statements.” The Gawker settlement came after Gawker filed for bankruptcy and closed, shortly after Hulk Hogan’s successful invasion of privacy lawsuit against Gawker.
Ayyadurai’s lawyer, Charles Harder, was the lawyer for Hogan in his lawsuit that shut down Gawker. Harder also represented Melania Trump in her lawsuit against the Daily Mail. The Mail paid almost $3 million to settle Trump’s lawsuit. Harder also represented Sarah Palin in her libel lawsuit against the New York Times, which was dismissed last month.