Purported Email Inventor Sues Gawker for Libel

     BOSTON (CN) – The man who claims to have invented email in 1978 says that Gawker Media defamed him in a series of articles that he says mischaracterized him as a fraud.
     Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai, a Cambridge-based researcher with four degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, says that Gawker’s tech site Gizmodo published a pair of false and defamatory articles in 2012 in an attempt to discredit Ayyadurai. Two years later, Gawker allegedly ran a third story repeating the accusations against him.
     The articles referred to Ayyadurai as a “renowned liar” and a “big fake,” according to a lawsuit he filed Tuesday in Boston Federal Court.
     “Gawker’s philosophy and practice is to publish false scandal, for the purpose of profit, knowing that false scandal drives readership, which in turn drives revenue, and without regard to the innocent subjects of their stories whose careers are destroyed in the process,” the 23-page complaint states.
     A February 2012 Gizmodo headline stated, “The Inventor of Email Did Not Invent Email?” and another story published weeks later was titled, “Corruption, Lies, and Death Threats: The Crazy Story of the Man Who Pretended to Invent Email,” according to the lawsuit.
     The March 2012 story allegedly said that Ayyadurai “engaged in ‘tricks, falsehoods, and a misinformation campaign'” and “revisionism” regarding his claim of inventing email.
     A third article about Ayyadurai was published on Gawker.com in September 2014 with the headline, “If Fran Drescher Read Gizmodo She Would Not Have Married This Fraud,” according to the complaint. Drescher, an actress known for her role in the 1990s TV show “The Nanny,” reportedly married Ayyadurai the same month the Gawker story was published.
     Ayyadurai says that Gawker and Gizmodo’s reporting has hurt his professional business and damaged his reputation.
     “Defendants’ false and defamatory statements have caused substantial damage to Dr. Ayyadurai’s personal and professional reputation and career,” the lawsuit states. “As a result of defendants’ defamation, Dr. Ayyadurai has been publicly humiliated, lost business contracts and received a slew of criticism relating to defendants’ false accusations and statements. Defendants’ wrongful acts, which have been repeated, have left Dr. Ayyadurai with no alternative but to file this lawsuit.”
     Ayyadurai says he invented the program he called email in 1978. Although there already existed a means for sending messages from one computer to another, Ayyadurai’s program was the first to incorporate now-commonplace email features, such as an inbox, an outbox to save send messages, the CC and BCC functions, and the abilities to include attachments and create an address book, according to his lawsuit.
     “The invention of email was made by Dr. Ayyadurai as an attempt to manage the complexity of interoffice communications, and also to reduce the use of paper documents,” said the complaint. “Dr. Ayyadurai designed email so it was accessible to ordinary people with little or no computer experience, at a time when mainly highly-trained technical people could use a computer. Dr. Ayyadurai wrote nearly 50,000 lines of computer code to implement the features of the interoffice mail system into his computer program.”
     The controversy over Ayyadurai’s claim began in 2011 when Time.com ran an interview with him, which was followed by coverage in the Washington Post and other online outlets, many of which issued follow-up corrections or clarifications pointing out that Ayyadurai filed the copyright for a program called “EMAIL” that pioneered many of the email functions used today.
     The corrections were posted amid an online backlash against Ayyadurai’s claims.
     Ayyadurai seeks $35 million plus punitive damages from Gawker for libel, interference with prospective economic advantage, infliction of emotional distress and negligence.
     He is represented by Timothy Cornell of Cornell Dolan PC in Boston, and also by Charles Harder of Harder Mirell & Abrams LLP in Beverly Hills, Calif.
     A spokesperson for Gawker told Courthouse News that “these claims to have invented email have been repeatedly debunked by the Smithsonian Institute, Gizmodo, the Washington Post and others.”

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