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January 29th, 2017

The Man Who Didn’t Invent Email Attacks Free Speech

The man whose much disputed claim to have invented email when he was a 14-year-old is taking legal actions, or threatening such, against anyone who publicly disagrees with his version of history.

email to remove Ayyadurai post from diaspora

Shiva Ayyadurai says he invented email and will sue the pants off anyone who says he didn’t. He’s already picked up a fat $750,000 settlement check from Gawker, which decided to settle because another lawsuit by Hulk Hogan had already put the site out of business. There is currently a suit pending against Techdirt, a site that mainly reports on threats to free speech. Now he’s going after social media, by sending a demand to a node of Diaspora to remove three posts by Roy Schestowitz, publisher of the popular FOSS site Tux Machines and the iconoclastic blog Techrights.

Beverly Hills based Charles Harder, who represented Hulk Hogan in the sex tape case that cost Gawker $31 million and put it out of business, is Ayyadurai’s lawyer.

Ayyadurai bases his claim on the fact that in 1978, as an a 14-year-old boy wonder, he designed a message delivery system at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, which he details on his website “The Inventor of Email.” He even copyrighted his program, which makes reference to use of the term “EMAIL,” and received some accolades from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when he entered as a freshman. It wasn’t until 30 years after this work, according to most reports, that he began publicly declaring himself to be “the inventor of email.”

According to just about everyone who knows anything about the history of networked computers, ARPANET and the modern Internet — he didn’t. An accurate claim, and one that would have garnered him respect if he hadn’t damaged his credibility with his email ownership claim, is that he played an important role in the development of email, a fact of Internet history that remains true, but with an asterisk to point to this controversy. Too bad.

YouTube video from CBS used to support Ayyardurai’s claim on his website.

His $750,000 payday from dying Gawker — which would seem to be a fortunate accident of timing if not for the identity of his legal counsel — evidently wasn’t enough for Ayyadurai. On January 11 Techdirt’s founder, Mike Masnick, reported that his site had been sued for at least $15 million over 14 articles that were published between 2014 and 2016.

Masnick intends to fight the case, but admits the legal fees could put his company out of business.

“[T]his fight could very well be the end of Techdirt,” he wrote, “even if we are completely on the right side of the law.”

It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that this case has deeper implications than who didn’t invent 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,” Masnick wrote.

If Ayyadurai really wants to be a help instead of a hindrance, he’d take his unfairly gained winnings from Gawker and go home. All indications are that’s not going to happen — not with Ayyadurai’s seeming need for recognition and not with Charles Harder standing by to cheer him on in the courts — and ready to take his cut out of any settlement.

Late last week, Ars Technica reported that on January 24, Harder sent an email (marked “copyright protected / not for publication or dissemination”) to the administrator of a Diaspora “pod,” the decentralized open-source social network, demanding that three posts by Roy Schestowitz be removed. The posts, according to Harder, are defamatory toward his client.

“Schestowitz is engaged in harassment, character assassination and unlawful conduct against Dr. Ayyadurai, including falsely accusing him of being a ‘liar’ and a ‘fraud,'” Harder wrote.

That Schestowitz would take umbrage at Ayyadurai’s claims would come as no surprise to anyone who’s read his work on Techrights or his self-named personal blog.

“The falsity of the Posts [sic] significantly damages Dr. Ayyadurai’s persona and public image. Moreover, through the Posts, Mr. Schestowitz seeks to incite a wave of harassment against Dr. Ayyadurai on the Internet, as well as to inspire additional false and berating commentary about Dr. Ayyadurai.”

It should be noted here that Schestowitz has made numerous posts regarding Ayyadurai on Twitter. Although it’s not known whether Twitter received similar threatening emails, we do know that the tweets haven’t been removed.

Ars reported that after Diaspora received the threatening email, the administrator of the pod contacted Schestowitz and asked him to remove two of the three posts. However, a link provided by Ars to the third, remaining, post now returns a 404 error, indicating that post has been taken down as well.

There’s little doubt as to why the pod administrator suggested taking the posts offline. Not only is Diaspora, as a whole, a project that struggles financially, each pod is independent, financially and otherwise, from the rest of the network — and Harder’s email did contain a threat of legal action.

“The Posts [sic] also constitute intentional infliction of emotional distress, and qualify under the law to establish liability against you. Remedies include monetary damages, punitive damages, and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief.”

When asked if he or his websites have been directly threatened by Ayyadurai or his attorney, Schestowitz told FOSS Force, “There has been no contact from them since and I don’t expect any, either.” He directed us to an article on his personal website which details his personal take on the subject. He has also made available a PDF of the entire email that was sent to the Diaspora node.

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

32 comments to The Man Who Didn’t Invent Email Attacks Free Speech

  • tracyanne

    The orininal Tech dirt article should [hopefully] be being Streidanded on Facebook and elsewhere, if the people I passed it on to are doing their the right thing.

  • Cliff Jones

    Quick question: were you tipped off, requested to write something on this or otherwise received outside influence which prompted you to write this article? I find the ‘random’ surfacing of this gentleman’s name in the media just this month curious.

    So, any ‘suggestions’ or other outside impetus for this particular piece? Why this, why now?

  • Mike

    Whether or not Shiva Ayyadurai invented e-mail is now beside the point…the only thing he will ever be known for now is being an insufferable prick.

  • tracyanne

    >>>>>I find the ‘random’ surfacing of this gentleman’s name in the media just this month curious.

    That’s probably because he’s “randomly” sueing people for saying things he doesn’t like. Tends to make the news.

    >>>>>Why this, why now?

    Because he’s targeting free speech, as a means of keeping his name in the media, while attempting rewrite history in a self serving manner.

  • a person

    Of course, we can not even consider the possibility that this guy in fact has invented the concept of email, despite of a documented functional system. They guy is obviously getting himself into legal battles that are treacherous and convoluted. The above article is aligning with bigger outlets that have a vested interest. The guy is foolishingly thinking that he can set the record straight. It doesn’t matter in the era of mass media.

  • Mike

    @a person

    ..or a reasonably intelligent person could look into the history of e-mail, including the dates of various IETF RFC’s and realize that Shiva Ayyadurai is full of shit.

    Not everything is some big media conspiracy. In fact almost nothing is…unless you believe Fox News, in which case everything is. But there is no help for some problems.

  • tracyanne

    @a person
    January 30, 2017 at 12:09 am

    >>>>>Of course, we can not even consider the possibility that this guy in fact has invented the concept of email

    As things currently stand, whether or not he invented email (and history shows that he did not) is rather irrelevant. At the moment he is attempting to silence any speech he doesn’t like… any speech, in fact, that points out the well supported fact that he did not invent email, and that his claims that he did are false.

  • MisterGoldiloxx

    #FakeNews CNN and #FakeNews MSNBC are the ones actually spreading conspiracy theories. Everyone knows that. Not sure why some in tech and/or FOSS assume everyone else in tech and/or FOSS is a leftist.

    As for the email claim… #ArpanetHappens

  • Mike

    …and MisterGoldiloxx is a perfect example of how far down the alt-right rabbit hole Fox News has fallen.

    If you ACTUALLY READ multiple news sources it’s clear to see Fox News is waaay over on the right. MSNBC is waaay over on the left and CNN is somewhere in the middle. There are plenty of nearly neutral news sources out there for someone with the inclination and a reading level somewhere above 3rd grade.

    Shiva Ayyadurai is a fraud, just like Trump.

    I don’t care if people don’t like political comments. I’m not going to shut up about Trump’s racist rampage to destroy the U.S.

  • Mike

    …oh and for anyone who thinks this is off topic: The story is not about e-mail, but really about the attacks on free speech. Something Trump has nearly cornered the market on.

    For people who like hashtags: #TrumpIsAFraud #TraitorTrump and #TrumptyDumpty

    For God’s sake, read something other than Fox News…it makes you look like an idiot in public.

  • @Mike Absolutely correct. We at FOSS Force could not care less about Ayyadurai running around claiming to be the inventor of email. The story became news, however, when he began using the courts to silence free speech. That he was successful with Gawker (albeit, through a settlement and not a decision handed down by the court) is especially chilling, given Trump’s pronouncement that he intends to make it easier for lawsuits against news organizations to prevail.

  • James

    @Mike, Yes, because you are really defending free speech when you imply the poster doesn’t have a “reading level above 3rd grade.”

    Quit being a bully. It’s a bit far to say you are starting to look like as much of a troll as the subject of this article, but your insults demean you and this site. There are left leaning, right leaning, and centrist people on here, as well as a hearty helping of don’t give a damns.

    Yes, Fox News is right of center (duh!), but CNN is most definitely NOT center. Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/what-your-preferred-news-outlet-says-about-your-political-ideology-2014-10. You can say that Fox has moved further right since the article, but it can also be said CNN has moved further left.

    Disclaimer:I hit CNN and Fox News a lot, and my personal leanings are somewhere in between.

  • Mike

    @James

    Whatever your leanings, there is a definite spectrum and I’m simply tired of the idiotic (yes they are idiotic and deserved to be called so) “Fox News is the only truth” parrots.

    Fox News is so FAR from center that it should not be relied upon for any serious news.

    You can call me a bully if you like, but my calling out an idiot when I see one has nothing to do with suppressing free speech, and is merely an exercise thereof.

    I think a lot of Fox News devotees make the mistake of thinking that so much of the hatred for Trump is a left-right thing…it isn’t. Trump is an equal opportunity asshole.

  • Wilma Fingerdo III

    Those of us that were around during this time remember the facts of how things went. There were limited protocols, no standardization of things and a lot of creative work to transmit anything reliably. I remember having to write everything from scratch just to communicate and transfer stuff between my friends in these early times. This idiot claiming to be the “father of email” just proves his ignorance. I would put it on par with my 5 year old daughter claiming to be the inventor of the pixie dust magic castle. In her mind she was the 1st person to ever do it, but the truth of the matter is that her underdeveloped brain cannot have reference to things she does not fully understand. I feel sorry for the guy that he would be so narrow minded that its “all about him” & he actually BELIEVES that he invented email. Hats off to him trolling some $$$ out of a company, they are truly fools to pay for something of this nature.

  • BillH

    Yeah, right. The guy “invented” email in 1978 as a 14 year old boy. I’m not disputing that he was 14 in 1978. But the first email message was sent in 1971.

  • Mike

    > “But the first email message was sent in 1971.”

    Yeah, but it got caught in a spam filter and never delivered. 😉

  • Nonya

    Shiva Ayyadurai did NOT invent email! He is just trying to foolishly rewrite history, and make $$$$$$$ from that effort! What a stupid, arrogant liar he is!! BTW, @ Shiva Ayyadurai, good luck suing me! But you won’t, cause I am too poor for you to get any $$$$$ from!!

  • Nonya

    PS. No one person “invented” email. Just like no one person invented radio…many contributed to what would become radio.

  • James

    @Mike. Thank you. That was a well thought out, reasonable post, instead of a knee-jerk reaction. I appreciate that. I believe that Mr. Loxx was looking for just such a reaction that “proved his point” that everyone to the left of him were rabid trump haters.

    I understand you are tired of the right leaning parrots, but going into attack dog mode doesn’t educate them or change their mind. It just makes you look kind of silly at best, and like a bully at worst. When I read it first, I was under-caffeinated, so I took it as you were being a bully.

    I too think that Mr. Trump is an EOA, however I also have to say that I think the same about just about ALL politicians in the last 50 years, as I have yet to find one that is actually looking out for anyone but themselves. The only difference I see between the ones on the left and the ones on the right are the words they use as they bend you over.

    Right this second, I’m trying to think back to Compuserve in ’79, and whether I was emailing anyone else at that time. I think I had to block out that timeframe from my mind to get rid of disco, so those memories appear to be lost. Oh well. At least most of my sanity is still intact.

  • Al Nonymous

    I don’t care if you’re a Trump hater or a Trump lover.

    This entire discussion violates this site’s TOS – although it appears that it won’t be shut down, apparently because the powers-that-be here happen to agree with the Trump haters.

    Please delete this entire thread, FossForce, and go back to pretending to be politically neutral.

  • @Al Nonymous Our policy concerning discussions on this site are pretty hands off. We generally don’t moderate discussions except to control trolls, spammers and to ensure a modicum of civility. Readers of any political persuasion are welcome to move into the realm of politics if it’s pertinent to the article under discussion — which is obviously is in this case. All we ask is that you keep the discussion civil.

  • Mike

    @Al Nonymous

    > “I don’t care if you’re a Trump hater or a Trump lover.”

    I think you really do, but whatever.

    > “This entire discussion violates this site’s TOS”

    Really? Where would that be? Since the discussion is about attacks on freedom of speech, maybe Trump should figure more prominently in the discussion. Freedom of speech and of the press is something he clearly dislikes and has expressed an intention to weaken them. Why is it the only amendment people seem to get “up in arms about” (hah) is the 2nd? People have been screaming about semi-imaginary attacks against it for decades, yet to listen to these same people the rest of the Bill of Rights seems sort of optional…

  • Al Nonymous

    @ Christine Hall Based on your participation in this thread, to me, your definition of “civil” appears to be extremely forgiving toward those who agree with your political bias.

    In other words, it appears that we’re all equal here, but anti-Trumpers are MORE equal.

    I’ve always enjoyed your well-written articles, but this highly politicized thread, and your biased participation in it, have displayed a side of you that has taken away that enjoyment.

  • @Al Nonymous >>your definition of “civil” appears to be extremely forgiving toward those who agree with your political bias<< How so? I haven't made a single comment against any comments on this thread. In fact, from my comments so far, you could only guess to which party my votes normally go. Expressing my opinion against Trump's statements on First Admendment rights hardly serves to identify me as Republican, Democrat, Independent, or a follower of one of the "third" parties.

  • @Cliff Jones: Ayyadurai’s name has received an increased number of hits on popular tech and free speech blogs this past month because *he just sued a popular tech and free speech blog.*

  • Mike

    @Al Nonymous

    > “In other words, it appears that we’re all equal here, but anti-Trumpers are MORE equal.”

    I said I thought you really do care…it seems I was right. So much for masquerading as neutral, eh?

    No one has attacked pro-Trump people in this thread. Let me break it down for you:

    Did I attack Trump? You might say that…I think he’s a moron, completely incompetent, and unfit for any serious position involving the public good, especially the Presidency. He is an enemy of free speech and free press, a racist, a sexist, and frankly quite probably a traitor the the U.S. as well.

    Did I attack Trump-supporters? NO.

    I DID say that people blindly parroting Fox News are idiots and I stand by that. If you only get your news from one source – be that Fox News or MSNBC, you are willfully blind to reality. If you only accept that single source as the fount of all truth then you are, in fact, an idiot.

    Everyone should do themselves a favor: Read (don’t watch the stupid videos) the articles from multiple sources (not just two, but many), even those diametrically opposed to your viewpoints. Only this way can you gain an appreciation for the wider world than your philosophy encompasses. I regularly read Fox News, and MSNBC, and CNN, and many others…sometimes it’s more about what they don’t say – the stories they don’t cover – that says more about their biases than their literal words.

    Freedom of speech and of the press are key to this country’s (and possibly the world’s) survival. Embrace and celebrate them. We live in a time where more information is available to more people than ever before. Take advantage of it instead of blindly accepting someone else’s truth just because some talking head told you to.

  • Mike: Other non-civil posts, followed by

    “Shiva Ayyadurai is a fraud, just like Trump.

    I don’t care if people don’t like political comments. I’m not going to shut up about Trump’s racist rampage to destroy the U.S.”

    “…oh and for anyone who thinks this is off topic: The story is not about e-mail, but really about the attacks on free speech. Something Trump has nearly cornered the market on.

    For people who like hashtags: #TrumpIsAFraud #TraitorTrump and #TrumptyDumpty

    For God’s sake, read something other than Fox News…it makes you look like an idiot in public.”

    Christine: “@Mike Absolutely correct…”
    I have nothing against Mike or you expressing your opinions, but the fact that you felt the need to encourage his ad hominen attacks — on other posters, as well as on Trump — instead of reining him in — made it clear to me where you stand, no matter how much you claim to be a politically enigma.

    And it makes me not want to spend any more time at this uncivil site.

    That’s all I have to say. Feel free to have the last word.

  • tracyanne

    @Nonya
    January 30, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    He won’t attempt to sue you, his strategy is to sue Website owners, in this case Christine, even though your post is protected under CDA Section 230, thus forcing Christine to take it down or defend protected online speech, which clearly she can’t afford to do.

    That is how the sneaky lying arsehole does things, and that is why this is about Free Speech, and his claims to inventing email are irrelevant.

  • Mike

    It seems odd Al Nonymous is so threatened by anti-Trump viewpoints when he so carefully pointed out how much he doesn’t care.

    You can be pro-Trump or anti-Trump and not be a blithering idiot, but blindly parroting the BS of a single news outlet (especially one as far outside the mainstream as Fox News) makes you one. Trump himself seems to fall into this category, although not all of his supporters do.

    Perhaps Al Nonymous is suggesting all Trump supporters blindly parrot Fox News? In that case, it’s he who is insulting people, not me.

  • @mike @Al Nonymous Let’s keep it on the topic of the article.

    And Al, you quoted me out of context. If you reread my comment, I clearly stated what it was I was agreeing with, and it was clearly connected with this article. True, Trump was mentioned in the comment, but only in the narrow confines as to how his proposed policies relate to this article.

    @Mike Absolutely correct. We at FOSS Force could not care less about Ayyadurai running around claiming to be the inventor of email. The story became news, however, when he began using the courts to silence free speech. That he was successful with Gawker (albeit, through a settlement and not a decision handed down by the court) is especially chilling, given Trump’s pronouncement that he intends to make it easier for lawsuits against news organizations to prevail.

  • Mike

    One last thing:

    > “I have nothing against Mike or you expressing your opinions, but the fact that you felt the need to encourage his ad hominen attacks”

    It’s ad hominem, and it’s a logical fallacy. Expressing my opinion of Trump or of people parroting single news sources is not an ad hominem. Using those opinions as justification for separate argument would be.

  • @Al Nonymous: No, wait, stop, come back.