Techdirt's First Amendment Fight For Its Life

from the the-first-amendment-has-to-mean-something dept

As you may have heard, last week we were sued for $15 million by Shiva Ayyadurai, who claims to have invented email. We have written, at great length, about his claims and our opinion — backed up by detailed and thorough evidence — that email existed long before Ayyadurai created any software. We believe the legal claims in the lawsuit are meritless, and we intend to fight them and to win.

There is a larger point here. Defamation claims like this can force independent media companies to capitulate and shut down due to mounting legal costs. Ayyadurai's attorney, Charles Harder, has already shown that this model can lead to exactly that result. His efforts helped put a much larger and much more well-resourced company than Techdirt completely out of business.

So, 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.

And here's the thing: this fight could very well be the end of Techdirt, even if we are completely on the right side of the law.

Whether or not you agree with us on our opinions about various things, I hope that you can recognize the importance of what's at stake here. 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.

We are a truly small and independent media company. We do not have many resources. We intend to fight this baseless lawsuit because of the principles at stake, but we have no illusions about the costs. It will take a toll on us, even if we win. It will be a distraction, no matter what happens. It already has been — which may well have been part of Ayyadurai's intent.

I am beyond thankful to the many of you who have reached out and offered to help in all sorts of ways. It is heartening to know so many people care about Techdirt. At some point soon, we may set up a dedicated legal defense fund. But, in the meantime, any support you can provide us will help — whether it's just alerting people to this situation and the danger of trying to stifle a free press through meritless lawsuits, or it's supporting Techdirt directly (or, if you have a company, advertising with us). As always, you can support us directly as a Friend of Techdirt, or check out some of the other perks you can get in our Insider program. You can also support us via Patreon.

If freedom of expression and the press is to actually mean something, it needs to be protected, not stomped on with baseless lawsuits that silence independent voices and opinions.


Reader Comments

The First Word

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  1. identicon
    My_Name_Here, 11 Jan 2017 @ 10:18pm

    Alas

    My post will be moderated for a few days, but that's okay, it needs to be said anyway.

    The lawsuit is baseless in many ways because the guy did not invent email, he invented AN email. It may have been new to him, it may have been new to his country, but it wasn't new in the world. There in lies the problem: he's not wrong when he says he invented email, if you speak generally and without qualifying that point.

    Pointing out that he is not the inventor of email (the whole world concept) is totally acceptable and cannot be argued. It is true and can be backed up with plenty of examples well back in time line of computing.

    However, making fun of him, calling him names, and making comments about his character and such may cross the line. The guy actually has a pretty reasonable case here. If he has deep enough pockets or a lawyer (lawyers) willing to spend the time papering things over, this could go for years and literally cost millions. Without a doubt, the survival of Techdirt is at stake, at least in some way until EFF decides to provide pro-bono legal help.

    It brings a more solid question for discussion, that of sites being responsible for the content they publish, and considering the repercussions of nastygram style blogs that may cross the line somewhere. It's not something that Techdirt has ever wanted to face up to but it is something that needs to be considered. Some of the recent posts by people like Karl are starting to push on nasty insults and insinuations of things that are not easily proven. A big company with deep pockets (or a Peter Thiel) could empty this place out faster than a stink bomb in a high school bathroom.

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