Mike Masnick, the founder of the tech blog Techdirt, is facing a libel suit on the excessive amount of 15 Million USD in compensatory damages by Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai. The lawsuit is based on a series of 14 blog posts published on Techdirt between 2014 and 2016, challenging Ayyadurai’s claim to be the inventor of email.
In the lawsuit filed in Massachusetts, USA, the blog posts are described as ‘an ongoing campaign to damage Dr. Ayyadurai’s personal and professional reputation and career’. Ayyadurai was depicted in the blog as a ‘fraud’, ‘liar’ and ‘fake’, while his claim to have invented email was described as ‘entirely false’ and a ‘bogus claim‘.
Ayyadurai is represented by Charles Harder, the well-known media attorney who represented Terry Gene Bollea (better known as wrestler Hulk Hogan) in his $140 million civil lawsuit against Gawker.com. The lawsuit was settled in November 2016, by having Gawker to pay Bollea $31 million. This has resulted in Gawker’s shutdown and the bankruptcy of its founder, Nick Denton.
Masnick continues to hold his claim that ’email had existed long before Ayyadurai created any software’. He holds that it can be proven in court as it is ‘backed up by detailed and thorough evidence’. The lawsuit is described by Masnick as a principal freedom of expression issue in a blog post that he published under the title: ‘Techdirt’s First Amendment Fight For Its Life’:
“Defamation claims like this can force independent media companies to capitulate and shut down due to mounting legal costs… In our view, this is not a fight about who invented email. This is a fight about whether or not our legal system will silence independent publications for publishing opinions that public figures do not like…
Our First Amendment is designed to enable a free and open press – a press that can investigate and dig, a press that can challenge and expose. And if prominent individuals can make use of a crippling legal process to silence that effort, or even to create chilling effects among others, we become a weaker nation and a weaker people because of it”
Masnick and Techdirt have filed motions to court to strike the lawsuit under the US anti-SLAPP laws. SLAPP is a ‘Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation’. A legal tool used by affluent people to silence critics by forcing them to handle the emotional and financial burden of having to defend themselves against excessive civil lawsuit.
The Jimmy Wales Foundation supports Techdirt in its justified fight against the use of legal tools to limit freedom of expression and silence bloggers from expressing their legitimate opinions. The justice system should not be exploited to threaten and limit Internet users from legitimately exercising their right to free speech.
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