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
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 3:03pm

    Re: Alas

    "[M]aking fun of him, calling him names, and making comments about his character and such may cross the line."

    You may consider it morally repugnant, but it is not illegal.

    Assume I were to call Mike Masnick "a rotten piece of shit". Mr. Masnick is obviously not a pile of decaying fecal matter, so my statement would be one of opinion - in this case, an opinion of his character. As much as Mr. Masnick may dislike my opinion, I am legally allowed to express it without prior restraint or post-expression legal punishment. An opinion is not a defamatory statement in and of itself.

    Now assume I were to say, "Mike Masnick is a rotten piece of shit because he raped and murdered a male prostitute in the summer of 2009." (Sidebar: my apologies, Mike; I am just making a point!) While I would still be expressing an opinion about Mr. Masnick's character, I would also be making a factual statement about Mr. Masnick that is false, and I would be making it without caring that the statement is false. That is a defamation, and Mr. Masnick could damn well sue me into oblivion for it.

    Techdirt has insulted Mr. Ayyadurai for making factual claims that can be disproven - which Techdirt has also done - and using the legal system to silence his critics. If he feels he does not deserve these insults, he is welcome to feel that way. (Perhaps he could also act like less of an asshole if he wanted to help his public image.) But he is not welcome to sue Techdirt because it made factual statements that are actually true. Any lawsuit that succeeds in doing so will be a gross violation of the First Amendment and a victory for censors and legal bullies.

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