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Techdirt founder Michael Masnick.Mike Masnick via Wikimedia reader comments 66 Share this story Mike Masnick, founder of the popular Techdirt blog, said today that he intends to fight and win the libel lawsuit filed against him by Shiva Ayyadurai, the man who claims he invented e-mail. In a blog post published this morning, titled "Techdirt's First Amendment Fight For Its Life," Masnick says the issue is bigger than the debate about who really invented e-mail.

And he acknowledges the huge toll it could take on his company. "This is a fight about whether or not our legal system will silence independent publications for publishing opinions that public figures do not like," wrote Masnick. "And here's the thing: this fight could very well be the end of Techdirt, even if we are completely on the right side of the law." Ayyadurai is seeking at least $15 million in damages, based on 14 Techdirt posts published between 2014 and 2016. He is represented by Charles Harder, a Beverly Hills-based lawyer whose lawsuits recently resulted in the shutdown of another site that covered tech news, Gawker.com. Harder represented at least three clients who sued Gawker, including Ayyadurai. One of Harder's clients was Terry Bollea, also known as professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, who sued over Gawker's publication of a sex tape.

Bollea's lawsuit resulted in a $140 million jury verdict against Gawker, which wiped out the company and the publication.

The litigation turned out to have been quietly financed by Silicon Valley billionaire investor Peter Thiel.
It isn't clear if Thiel also funded the Ayyadurai lawsuit. In November, Gawker reached settlements putting its outstanding litigation to rest.

Gawker paid Bollea $31 million and paid Ayyadurai $750,000.

The publication also permanently deleted a story about Ayyadurai arguing that his claims to have invented e-mail were false. "Congrats Peter Thiel," responded Masnick in a November blog post about the settlement. "You've successfully censored true stories reported by the press." In today's post, Masnick notes that Harder's earlier suits show that independent media companies can be shut down by libel lawsuits—even a company like Gawker Media, which was a "much more well-resourced company than Techdirt." He continues: We are a truly small and independent media company. We do not have many resources. We intend to fight this baseless lawsuit because of the principles at stake, but we have no illusions about the costs.
It will take a toll on us, even if we win.
It will be a distraction, no matter what happens.
It already has been—which may well have been part of Ayyadurai's intent. Masnick says that he may set up a dedicated legal defense fund at some point soon, but he has not done so yet. He declined to comment about the matter beyond the blog post. “The Inventor of Email” Ayyadurai didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from Ars.

But he thoroughly lays out his viewpoint on his website, theinventorofemail.com. On that site, and in numerous public statements, Ayyadurai has claimed that he invented e-mail in 1978, when he was 14 years old working at a small medical college in New Jersey. He created a messaging system for doctors, called it "EMAIL," and copyrighted it as such. Other electronic messaging systems pre-date Ayyadurai's, including ones used on ARPANET, the predecessor to the Internet. However, Ayyadurai claims those systems do not count as "e-mail," and he points to his own copyright as evidence for that.

Ayyadurai maintains that the system he invented as a teenager was the first "full-scale emulation of the interoffice inter-organizational paper mail system," and thus only he can claim to be "The Inventor of Email"—a phrase he has trademarked. More widely recognized than Ayyadurai is Ray Tomlinson, who created the first network mail system on the ARPANET.

Tomlinson, who passed away last year, combined two existing programs, SNDMSG and CPYNET, to create a system that could send mail across ARPANET. Ayyadurai is dismissive of Tomlinson's fame on his website. "SNDMSG was not a system of interlocking parts designed for laypersons to transmit routine office communications, i.e. it was not designed to replicate the interoffice paper mail system," writes Ayyadurai. "As related references show that SNDMSG was not only not email but also just a very rudimentary form of text messaging." The lawsuit against Gawker wasn't decided on the merits, but in a press release on the matter Ayyadurai says the $750,000 settlement is "a historic victory for truth." The same statement, he announces his lawsuit (PDF) against Techdirt, which was filed last week in federal court in Massachusetts.
Dennis Yangreader comments 59 Share this story Shiva Ayyadurai Darlene DeVita 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." Mike Masnick Eric Goldman "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.