Earlier this year Techdirt was sued for $15M by Shiva Ayyadurai, who claims to have invented email in 1978, eight years after Ray Tomlinson sent an email over ARPANET. Ayyadurai was represented by Charles Harder, the lawyer who was paid by Peter Thiel to kill Gawker Media through Hulk Hogan's lawsuit.
Harder has a justifiably terrifying reputation, and has been involved in several high-profile lawsuits against media companies, including a $150m suit against the Daily Mail on behalf of Melania Trump, who claimed that the paper's false claim that she had been a prostitute had compromised her "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to establish the "multimillion dollar business relationships" that she could extract while serving as First Lady of the USA.
Though many legal observers believed that Ayyadurai's lawsuit could not prevail on its merits, there was always the possibility that Harder and Ayyadurai would spend Techdirt into bankruptcy with a drawn-out litigation. This week, a US District Court Judge in Massachusetts dismissed Ayyadurai's case and rejected his plea to file an amended complaint. It seems likely that this will settle the matter.
Techdirt founder Mike Masnick points out that the suit got as far as it did because of deficiencies in Massachusetts law, which lacks the meaty Anti-SLAPP protections of California's courts, where cases brought merely to silence critics through drawn-out litigation can be adjudicated through a fast and far less painful process.
Harder continues to sue media companies: this week, he filed a "highly questionable" suit against former Gawker property Jezebel and its new owner, Univision, over a 2010 story about lifestyle coach Greg Scherick and his "Superstar Machine," which sources called "a cult."
A few hours ago, the judge ruled and we prevailed. The case has been dismissed and the judge rejected Ayyadurai's request to file an amended complaint. We are certainly pleased with the decision and his analysis, which notes over and over again that everything that we stated was clearly protected speech, and the defamation (and other claims) had no merit. This is, clearly, a big win for the First Amendment and free speech — especially the right to call out and criticize a public figure such as Shiva Ayyadurai, who is now running for the US Senate in Massachusetts. We're further happy to see the judge affirm that CDA Section 230 protects us from being sued over comments made on the blog, which cannot be attributed to us under the law. We talk a lot about the importance of CDA 230, in part because it protects sites like our own from these kinds of lawsuits. This is just one more reason we're so concerned about the latest attempt in Congress to undermine CDA 230. While those supporting the bill may claim that it only targets sites like Backpage, such changes to CDA 230 could have a much bigger impact on smaller sites like our own.
We are disappointed, however, that the judge denied our separate motion to strike under California's anti-SLAPP law. For years, we've discussed the importance of strong anti-SLAPP laws that protect individuals and sites from going through costly legal battles. Good anti-SLAPP laws do two things: they stop lawsuits early and they make those who bring SLAPP suits — that is, lawsuits clearly designed to silence protected speech — pay the legal fees. The question in this case was whether or not California's anti-SLAPP law should apply to a case brought in Massachusetts. While other courts have said that the state of the speaker should determine which anti-SLAPP laws are applied (even in other states' courts), it was an issue that had not yet been ruled upon in the First Circuit where this case was heard. While we're happy with the overall dismissal and the strong language used to support our free speech rights, we're nevertheless disappointed that the judge chose not to apply California's anti-SLAPP law here.
Case Dismissed: Judge Throws Out Shiva Ayyadurai's Defamation Lawsuit Against Techdirt