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.
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.
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.