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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  1. identicon
    BeenSuedToo, 13 Jan 2017 @ 4:43pm

    Tip to others: Get insurance for this

    I've been sued for defamation before (was an HOA Board member, and was hit with a SLAPP suit by the management company for questioning financial irregularities and bidding practices). Tip for others who might make public criticisms: Be sure you are backstopped by insurance. In my case, I had lawyers provided both by the HOA's insurance, and my own homeowners's insurance, and they also would have paid the costs of a loss up to their policy limit in the event I lost or settled (as I had paid for an upgraded plan that happened to include this coverage among other things). I did feel it important to hire an attorney who was an expert in defamation (i.e., beyond the garden variety lawyers provided by the insurance carriers), who provided excellent advice (and ensured that we actually reversed things, in essence putting the plaintiff on trial, opening up all their records and actions to inspection, and to Streisand-effect things, when their goal was to silence a valid critic). The insurance companies eventually settled (as nearly all such cases do) for nuisance value (i.e., they paid the plaintiff a small amount that was much less than their cost to continue on and win the case, which we surely would have won). I was not in the end prevented from speaking, nor did I have to pay for the lawyers provided or the settlement amount, so the SLAPP suit utterly failed. The moral is that in this absurd sue-happy society, anyone who makes public claims would be well advised to look into liability insurance to cover defamation claims, as that can ease the financial impact and stress; and scout out the local top-notch defamation lawyers in case they're needed. Don't let the SLAPPers win.

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