U.S. District Judge F. Dennis Saylor dismissed a $15 million claim filed by Shiva Ayyadurai who had alleged that he was the inventor of email and that TechDirect, its founder and CEO Mike Masnick and writer Leigh Beadon defamed him by calling him a “liar” and “charlatan”. While TechDirect acknowledged that Ayyadurai had indeed invented an electronic mail system back in 1979 at the age of 14 and patented this, his was not the first system to be used. The company concluded that Ayyadurai’s claim he is the inventor is “fake”, “fraudulent” and “bogus” which led to Ayyadurai’s lawsuit.
Ayyadurai said in the statement. “False speech does harm to readers, who are misled by it; it does harm to journalism, which is weakened by it; and it does harm to the subjects of the speech, whose reputations and careers are damaged by it.” However, TechDirt argued that its claims were backed by research and protected by the First Amendment.
The conclusions can’t be proven right or wrong, because there are so many different interpretations regarding what email is, according to Saylor. “The articles at issue do not dispute that plaintiff created an e-mail system. Rather, they dispute whether plaintiff should properly be characterized as the inventor of e-mail based on that creation.” He added, “Accordingly, whether plaintiff’s claim to have invented e-mail is ‘fake’ depends upon the operative definition of ‘e-mail’. Because that definition does not have a single, objectively correct answer, the claim is incapable of being proved true or false.”
The judge went on to conclude that statements were protected because they are subjective opinion, stating the claims “are not provably false, are subjective statements that do not imply knowledge of objective facts, or are statements involving figurative language or hyperbole…One person may consider a claim to be ‘fake’ if any element of it is not true or if it involves a slight twisting of the facts, while another person may only consider a claim to be ‘fake’ only if no element of it is true.”
Masnick has been a longtime critic of Ayyadurai. “How The Guy Who Didn’t Invent Email Got Memorialized In The Press & The Smithsonian As The Inventor Of Email,” was one of TechDirt’s headlines in 2012. The company called the judge’s conclusion “clearly, a big win for the First Amendment and free speech — especially the right to call out and criticize a public figure such as Shiva Ayyadurai, who is now running for the US Senate in Massachusetts.” However, Masnick did not get the ability to have the case heard according to California law. Masnick’s attorneys were hoping to win the case under the California anti-SLAPP law, so his legal fees would be paid.
Ayyadurai hired attorney Charles Harder, who successfully represented Hulk Hogan in his privacy suit against Gawker. Harder said Ayyadurai would appeal the judge’s decision, submitting the following statement: “Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai will be appealing today’s ruling. Dr. Ayyadurai has a long history of standing up for free speech. As a strong proponent of free speech, he also believes in truthful speech. False speech is not protected by the Constitution, and TechDirt’s false and malicious speech about Dr. Ayyadurai should receive no legal protection.”