by Paul Alan Levy
Shiva Ayyadurai is a computer scientist who insists that it was he who, as a child prodigy, invented email. Although his claim has been widely derided by many of the major figures who were party to the technological advances that created the Internet as well as systems of direct communication such as email, and who place the invention of email at dates far earlier than Ayyadurai claims as his own “a-ha” moment, he has apparently determined to try to use libel litigation to intimidate others from repeating the criticism. For example, he has been pointing to the settlement of a libel claim against Gawker to support the claim that failure to retract criticisms is animated by actual malice. His current lawsuit against Techdirt, in response to which the online community had broadly risen to support Techdirt’s defense, might well rebound in his face, just as General Westmoreland’s lawsuit against CBS eventually brought Westmoreland’s reputation even lower by essentially establishing as historic fact that Westmoreland had “manipulated the estimates of enemy strength, apparently for political effect.”
Ayyadurai has currently has the benefit of representation by Charles Harder, who has built a fearsome reputation as a plaintiffs’ lawyer against critical media publications by virtue of having brought down Gawker through his Peter-Thiel-funded lawsuit on behalf of Hulk Hogan. But the latest salvo from Harder, a demand letter to the social media site Diaspora, casts neither Ayyadurai nor Harder in a favorable light.
The demand letter seeks removal of some posts from one of the Diaspora site’s users, “Dr. Roy Schestowitz,” calling Ayyadurai a “troll,” a “fraud,” and a “liar” because of his public statements and his litigation and threats of litigation against those who disagree with him. It is bad enough that Ayyadurai apparently cannot stomach the presence of even the most obscure criticisms in any corner of the Internet (I, for one, had never heard of Schestowitz’s criticism until I saw Harder’s letter). Threatening litigation to quash a flea itself brings the veracity of Ayyadurai's claims into question.
But the Harder demand letter linked above is to Diaspora, not Schestowitz, and claims that Diaspora itself can be held liable under Massachusetts law on theories of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and can be subjected to compensatory and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief. His letter makes no no mention of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act or any explanation of how Harder thinks he can evade the immunity that section 230 provides. The federal court in Massachusetts recently dismissed a lawsuit by Charles Goren against Ripoff Report in which Goren’s creative theories for evading section 230 came to naught. It strikes me that filing a copycat lawsuit against Diaspora in that very court might be subject to serious sanctions (the trial judge in the Goren case awarded attorney fees in excess of $100,000, although only on a copyright theory).
Harder’s letter also includes the tag line made infamous a few years ago by John Dozier and associates working for him, that his letter is copyrighted and cannot be distributed. But I don’t think Internet readers can assess my criticism of Harder’s demands without reading the letter itself. That is why I have posted it in full.
I have asked Harder for an explanation of his theory for evading section 230. I also asked Harder to explain whether he believes that he could prevail in a copyright infringement lawsuit over the posting of his letter (the same question I posed to Dozier's associate). He has responded only by sending me a link to a web site where Ayyadurai rather bombastically expounds his claims about having invented email and pours out vitriol at those who have disputed his claims.
0 thoughts on “Can Charles Harder’s Litigation Threats Still Be Taken Seriously?”
Mr. Harder seems to suggest that a silly number of degrees and the ability to grab some credulous reporter’s interest, is what settles this rather than the merits of the matter. I also don’t see the Wired article supporting Shiva Ayyadurai’s claims by merely reciting them and highlighting some of his arguments and the criticisms they’ve received. (The Time article does seem to have accepted Ayyadurai’s claim, though it isn’t clear how that conclusion was reached, especially how the previous email systems didn’t use header conventions sufficiently, nor why this matters. The article is wrong on its face if read strictly, as headers were used in other email systems of the time, but even assuming the argument to be that these weren’t good enough, no argument or explanation was made. Its unclear if the reporter actually knew of the preexisting email systems at all or if he just accepted Ayyadurai’s claims at face value.)
Mr. Harder does seem like a swell guy, though. I mean, going out of his way to help Mr. Levy with his article and all. And then bad old Levy “intentionally omitted” that “wealth of information,” it’s enough moisten my eyes anyways.
Mr. Harder, wasn’t the entity that paid Ayyadurai that settlement bankrupt and without any prospect of retaining any beneficial interest in their company due to the large judgment already entered against it? If that’s true, doesn’t that suggest the fact that they paid money to settle his suit kind of meaningless? Sounds to me like the settlement didn’t actually cost them a dime, as it came from assets of a hopelessly insolvent company they knew they had no chance of obtaining the benefits of. I don’t know that this indicates anything about the merits of Ayyadurai’s legal position, though I’d certainly welcome a correction if I’m mistaken.
Charles Harder says in his comment that I “asked [him] to provide [me] information for [my] piece” and complains that I did not provide a link to his client’s web site.
This is the request I sent him (to which he replied by sending me a link to his client’s propaganda web site, which I thought irrelevant to my questions).
From: Paul Alan Levy
Sent: Wednesday, January 25, 2017 3:29 PM
Subject: Your demand letter to Diaspora
I am working on a piece about your demand letter to Diaspora on behalf of the fellow who claims to have invented email and has a history of suing people who dispute that claim. I am wondering if you would answer some questions.
What is the basis for your claim that Diaspora, as the host of user comments that criticize your client, is legally liable under Massachusetts law for intentional infliction of emotional distress, based I gather on the intent of the user who posted the comments, and subject to Massachusetts law “remedies [that] include monetary damages, punitive damages, and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief?” Is there some reason why section 230 immunity does not apply?
As I read your letter, you also claim that Diaspora, the host of the comments, is subject to “substantial monetary damages and punitive damages” under a libel theory under Massachusetts law. Have I misunderstood your claim? And again, what is the basis for avoiding section 230 immunity?.
Finally, I am also curious about your contention that, because your letter is subject to copyright protection, publication is prohibited. Are you contending that publication would constitute infringement? Have you registered the copyright?
I am Dr. Ayyadurai’s attorney, mentioned above. The writer asked me to provide him information for his piece and I gave him Dr. Ayyadurai’s website which has a wealth of information including 25 testimonials from Ph.Ds and other experts as well as at least 2 detailed academic papers which demonstrate, without question, that Dr. Ayyadurai invented the email system we use today. The writer intentionally omitted that site from his article. It can be found here: http:// www. inventorofemail.com/TheFacts The writer also failed to mention that Diaspora removed the defamatory post at issue. The writer also failed to mention that Gizmodo Media removed its two defamatory articles about my client, and Gawker.com just paid him $750,000 for defaming him. Wired magazine, TIME and others have confirmed his invention. Dr. Ayyadurai holds 4 degrees from MIT including a Ph.D and anyone interested in the truth can go to his website, above, which explains it.