Dennis Yangreader comments 59
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Techdirt founder Mike Masnick often takes no prisoners when it comes to his writings about intellectual property, net neutrality, the law, and everything in between.
But now Masnick finds himself the target of the same lawyer who brought down Gawker on behalf of Hulk Hogan.
That lawyer, Charles Harder of Beverly Hills, is representing Shiva Ayyadurai, the man who claims to have invented e-mail.
Ayyadurai is seeking $15 million in a federal libel suit (PDF) against Masnick and Techdirt parent company Floor64.
The suit is over blog posts that labeled Ayyadurai a “fraud” and a “liar” because he claims to have invented e-mail in 1978 as a teenager in New Jersey.
Ayyadurai also sued Gawker for ridiculing him with headlines that said Ayyadurai has “pretended to invent Email” and “The Inventor of Email did Not Invent Email.” After losing the Hulk Hogan case, Gawker went bankrupt, disappeared those Ayyadurai stories from the site, and agreed to pay $750,000 to Ayyadurai to settle his libel lawsuit.
In reporting on Ayyadurai and Gawker, Masnick wrote an article for Techdirt in November that he titled “Ridiculous: Nick Denton Settles Remaining Charles Harder Lawsuits, Agrees To Delete Perfectly True Stories.”
Another Techdirt story at issue in the federal suit is a 2014 post headlined “Why is Huffington Post Running A Multi-Part Series To Promote The Lies Of A Guy Who Pretended To Invent Email?”
Again, that might make for a nice story line if there were some factual basis behind it, but there isn’t.
The history of email is well-documented, and it began way, way before 1978.
And while early versions were somewhat crude, by 1978 they had basically everything that Ayyadurai claims to have invented (it is entirely believable that Ayyadurai, as a bright kid, independently came up with the same ideas, but he was hardly the first).
There was a messaging system called MAILBOX at MIT in 1965. You can read all the details of it here, including source code. Ray Tomlinson is frequently credited with inventing the modern concept of email for the internet by establishing the @ symbol (in 1972) as a way of determining both the user and which computer to send the email to.
By 1975, there were things like email folders (invented by Larry Roberts) and some other basic email apps.
As is noted, by 1976—two years before Ayyadurai wrote his app—email was 75% of all ARPANET traffic.
Ayyadurai has published this on his website:
The truth is, I invented e-mail in 1978 when I was employed as a 14-year-old research fellow at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), located in Newark, New Jersey.
I had been assigned to create a software system that duplicated the features of the Interoffice Mail System, which was simply a manila envelope that physically circulated around a workplace.
The envelope contained the Interoffice Memo with Attachments, and comments from various recipients on a given topic.
I named my software “e-mail,” (a term never used before in the English language), and I even received the first U.S.
Copyright for that software, officially recognizing me as The Inventor of e-mail, at a time when Copyright was the only way to recognize software inventions, since the U.S.
Supreme [Court] was not recognizing software patents.
In other stories, Masnick says Ayyadurai’s e-mail claims are “completely bogus,” “complete bullshit,” and that Ayyadurai is the “fake inventor of email” perpetrating “blatantly false claims.”
In a different November post, Masnick essentially invites Ayyadurai to sue Techdirt, and he jokingly wonders aloud whether billionaire Peter Thiel, who funded Hogan’s suit against Gawker, will come to Techdirt’s “aid.”
“I do wonder, though, if Ayyadurai continues to sue publications that properly point out that he is not telling the truth, and targets us, if Thiel will come to our aid. Hell, I’m not even a single-digit millionaire.
So, clearly, he’s going to help us out, right?”
Masnick did not respond for comment.
According to the Internet Hall of Fame, in 1971, Ray Tomlinson, who died last year at 74, wrote the first ARPANET mail client, combining the existing SNDMSG and CPYNET programs.
Tomlinson himself came up with the idea of using the @ symbol as a way to separate local e-mails from those that could be sent to external networks through the user@host syntax.