Cambridge man sues second Web site for repeatedly denying his claims that he invented e-mail

V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai this week sued Techdirt, a techie Web site, for slander for two years of articles repeatedly denouncing Ayyadurai's claims to have invented e-mail as a teenager in New Jersey in 1978.

In his lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Boston, Ayyadurai claims the articles, laced with phrases such as "complete bullshit" and "outright false claim," are ruining him:

As a direct result of Defendants' publication of the false and defamatory statements about Dr. Ayyadurai, Dr. Ayyadurai lost contracts and renewals, lost opportunities for investment in his emerging companies, suffered substantial personal and professional reputational harm and suffered substantial harm to his career, business and income.

He claims he's owed at least $15 million - plus punitive damages - for the harm he's suffered.

Last year, Ayyadurai sued Gawker over similar articles.

Former Gawker owner Nick Denton settled with Ayyadurai for $750,000 and the site's new owners promptly pulled the offending articles, but Ayyadurai's suit against Gawker and Gawker writers continues, also in US District Court in Boston.

Ayyadurai's lawyer is Charles Harder, who was paid by Silicon Valley guy Peter Thiel to try to sue Gawker into oblivion over the Hulk Hogan sex video.

Many Internet pioneers credit Ray Tomlinson, at the time an engineer for Cambridge-based Bolt, Beranek and Newman, with writing the first e-mail application in 1971, and note that even Queen Elizabeth II had sent e-mail before Ayyadurai wrote his own e-mail application as a 14-year-old in 1978.



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    PDF icon Complete Ayyadurai complaint435.1 KB


    Yeah, I don't get this guy

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    As a high school student, he knocked together an interoffice memo system, seemingly from scratch (I've never seen his code or his project work to know what he did or didn't know about that might have already existed at the time). That's goddamn impressive and worth some praise...but he ruins all good will towards that when he starts claiming nobody's giving him credit for "inventing email" because he's not white or because Raytheon is out to get him (one of the earlier internodal ARPANET communication systems that ultimately became the predecessor to modern e-mail was created by Tomlinson who worked for Raytheon).

    I mean, this happens all the time. Some people start working on similar good ideas all about the same time as some other technology/project opens a lot of doors all at once. One group's results outpaces the others or has some competitive advantage and becomes the invention and all the others (who might have even been on a better track or not) drop by the wayside or get intercalated into the surging candidate. Different players may have any level of knowledge about each others' projects or not at all. Sometimes that can be documented, sometimes it can't.

    But in the end, the "inventor" is either the one that got there first OR developed the one that got carried forwards to the modern incarnation. But Shiva's EMAIL program is neither of those.

    But he can't be satisfied to say "I was one of the first programmers working on creating electronic mail systems from scratch and even created one back in the early days" or "what we now know as email comes from early attempts like mine to send memos between offices" or whatever. He has to be "THE inventor" and shit on Tomlinson and others whose work beat his for _whatever_ reason it did. And that's where he loses.

    The best part is that,

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    given how US libel law works, it's now incumbent on him to prove that he invented email independent of any other governmental/defense contracting agency, because otherwise TechDirt can just claim truth as their defense.

    I'm a little sad I served on a jury last year and am thus ineligible, because I would *love* to hear this guy try to prove his case.

    I'm beginning to worry

    Adam, do we need to take up a collection for your possible future legal fees for reporting on this? Even crackpot lawsuits need to be defended against...

    I say we put to a vote whether Fishy should forward his "police pension" he keeps talking about. Would allow him to prove his bona fides and help Adam at the same time.

    Gang, what say you?

    It's about time someone

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    It's about time someone summon the ghost of Johnnie Cochran to tackle these frivolous lawsuits.

    Let's not

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    We disagree politically, but I have no reason to doubt his past.

    copyright != invention

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    Without the backing of Thiel and Hulk Hogan's unmentionables, we can reasonably expect that what's left of the Gawker settlement money will be forfeited to Techdirt and their legal team after this case is tossed.

    Yes but $ = Truth

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    That's only if Techdirt can afford to defend themselves. Gawker, I'm assuming, would never have settled if they hadn't already been destroyed by the Hulk Hogan lawsuit, because the case with Ayyadurai was winnable. But without the funds they had no choice. (and Ayyadurai is claiming the settlement as further proof that he did in fact invent email, not as something he "won" through jumping on the bandwagon at just the right time).

    I don't know what Techdirt's financial situation is, but Ayyadurai is using Thiel's lawyer, so..

    Follow. The. Money.

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    Peter Thiel is one dangerous individual with some very crazy ideas.

    He's trying to beat the press into submission by showing a path for 'butt hurt' obscenely wealthy people to suppress information with their wallets.

    It goes without saying that he's a big fan and donor of Orange Julius.

    This is all interconnected, folks. The wealthiest and most craven among us are empowered by our recent election.

    Resist NOW!

    Type "who invented email" into google

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    This problem is more serious than it might seem. Any kid typing "who invented email" into google for a school report will get Ayyadurai's name in big bold font as the definitive answer. Much of the rest of the first page of results consists of Ayyadurai's vanity websites or other websites uncritically repeating this story. Try it.

    His unrelenting campaign has duped major news organizations (whose retractions, when they happen, often end up buried). Gizmodo's (ie gawker's) two stories challenging his claims were practically the only critical things that came up on the first page of a google search, and now those pieces are gone. If Techdirt's coverage disappears, there isn't much critical coverage left.

    the wikipedia article (both

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    the wikipedia article (both on Ayyadurai and on email) is critical of this claim and it ranks highly. the most concerning thing to me is that google actually gives a direct answer of Ayyadurai, not just links. I reported it as incorrect, we'll see if they act on it.

    I reported it..

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    .. quite a while ago. It never changed. Perhaps you'll have better luck. (an acquaintance reported to me that his new Google Home answered the question the same way, so the untruth carries over to the next generation of devices).

    I wonder if Peter Thiel has a

    I wonder if Peter Thiel has a beef with Techdirt and is trying to bankrupt them with frivolous lawsuits like he did with Gawker. It's a sad state of affairs when people with enough money have the power to put news agencies who report on things they don't like out of business.


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    It's a sad day when people consider Gawker a news site