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.

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The First Word

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 3:37am

    Re: Origins of email

    "[I]t is passing strange that your US courts have not struck down what is clearly a vexatious case at the first instance."

    America has laws to protect against what we call Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or SLAPP. These laws are supposed to protect people from vexatious and baseless lawsuits on First Amendment grounds (e.g., someone getting sued because they printed factual information that embarassed someone else).

    The problem is that anti-SLAPP laws are a patchwork throughout the country, with some states having either none or weak ones, and some states having strong ones. (There is also no federal anti-SLAPP law.) Mr. Ayyadurai sued Techdirt in a state with a weak anti-SLAPP law, which was part of the point - if he had sued Techdirt in California, the suit would likely be tossed out under that state's much stronger law.

    There is also something else to consider: Mr. Ayyadurai is not in this "game" to vindicate himself in a court of law. Outside of a ridiculous amount of bad luck, Techdirt would have little trouble proving the truth of the factual claims made about Mr. Ayyadurai and his claims of inventing email. By now, he has to know that he could never win a fair court case. So a lawsuit like this one is meant to be a war of attrition - he wants to drain the site's resources until it is forced to shut down, at which point he can claim "victory" over another critic. He does not give a shit about whether a court believes his claim; he cares only if he can hoodwink a court long enough to force his critics into bankruptcy.

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