Monday, November 28, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Self-Described Email Inventor Loses Defamation Claim

The man known for suing publications that dispute his claim that he invented email lost his defamation claim against the blog Techdirt.

BOSTON (CN) — The man known for suing publications that dispute his claim of having invented email lost his defamation claim against the blog Techdirt.

Shiva Ayyadurai claimed that Techdirt's reporters knowingly relied on false information, but U.S. District Judge Dennis Saylor dismissed the lawsuit Wednesday for failure to state a claim.

Ayyadurai claims he invented a 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 sent messages, the cc and blind cc functions, and the abilities to include attachments and create an address book, according to his lawsuit.

Saylor found, however, that Techdirt reported undisputed facts to make statement of opinion protected by the First Amendment.

“The majority of the allegedly defamatory statements identified in the complaint state, in various ways, that plaintiff’s claim to have invented e-mail is false,” Saylor wrote in dismissing the case without leave to amend.

“Those statements are protected because they are not provably false, are subjective statements that do not imply knowledge of objective facts, or are statements involving figurative language or hyperbole," the decision says later.

Ayyadurai failed to show that the Techdirt published its stories with malice — a tougher standard for Ayyadurai since he became a public figure by announcing his candidacy for U.S. Senate against incumbent Elizabeth Warren.

“Here, the complaint fails to lay out such facts. It alleges that defendants made the allegedly defamatory statements ‘with the knowledge that they were false,’ but fails to provide any specific factual allegations to support that conclusion,” Saylor wrote.

Ayyadurai sued Gawker last year for publishing articles criticizing his claim that he invented email. Gawker settled for $750,000 after losing its high-profile battle with Hulk Hogan, which effectively shut down the website.

Ayyadurai claimed that the Techdirt authors should have known he had recently settled with Gawker over similar articles, an argument Saylor rejected.

“However, even assuming that the statements at issue in the Gawker litigation were substantially similar to the statements at issue here (although the complaint does not allege as much), a settlement is not a direct reflection of the merits of a claim,” the judge wrote.

"Accordingly, knowledge of the settlement does not establish knowledge of the falsity of the statements," the judge added. "The complaint therefore fails to plausibly allege that the statements at issue were made with actual malice.”

Ayyadurai did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

An appendix to the ruling cites 84 statements that Ayyadurai claimed defamed him.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.