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.

Filed Under: defamation, first amendment, free press, free speech, techdirt
Companies: floor64, techdirt

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The First Word

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  1. identicon
    My_Name_Here, 12 Jan 2017 @ 3:18am

    Let Me Add this

    When you consider the lawyer involved and his relationship to Peter Thiel, the Hogan lawsuit, and the nice big pile of Gawker Media money this guy has in hand, you appear to be relatively fucked at this point. This guy can absolutely, utterly, and totally afford to spend you into the ground, and the lawyer may have an even deeper source of income and an almost endless amount of billable hours that he can spend on sinking your ship.

    I don't wish this on anyone. You have been dragged into a gun fight without even a knife to work with. Worse yet, because this site tends to get a bit mouthy and insulting towards people, there is plenty of ammo that can be used to keep you turning around for ages. A deposition could turn really, really, really bad in a hurry.

    So the real question is "how do you get out from under this?". No amount of money you will raise here will ever put you in the ballpark to fight this guy properly. You might be able to slip out of it through some legal maneuvering, but that would at best be a temporary reprieve as he is sure to come back for more - he can afford to keep biting at your feet. Even with EFF and other groups providing legal assistance or representation, winning or losing would mean this is an "all the way to SCOTUS" deal. While that is all going on, the site would suffer your absence, your posted would suffer a certain level of second guessing and gun shy leanings to avoid other similar lawsuits (others may smell blood), and even more important perhaps is that what little outside work you have may dry up as your attention is diverted to this issue. It could take years and years to get to the end of it all.

    So, how do you get out from under it? There are few ways to do so without losing both your dignity and your bully pulpit. Win, lose, or settle out of court, you are wounded. A quiet settlement and dismissal would likely be the best for you, but I don't think that it's likely they will want to settle. This type of lawsuit is similar to the Gawker suits, it's there not just to right the wrong they see, but to punish you severely for it and likely shut you up.

    Good luck. I'm not your biggest fan, but it would suck to see you run out of town by this guy and his legal guns. There is the legal version of the red laser dot on your forehead now, think carefully before you make your next move.

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