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.