Techdirt, a prominent and critical source for incisive tech reporting and analysis, is defending itself against a $15 million lawsuit that could become a fight for its very existence. That suit was brought by Shiva Ayyadurai, who claims he invented email, and is based on a series of detailed articles Techdirt published disputing Ayyadurai’s claims.
The First Amendment provides vitally important protections for publishers – the Supreme Court ruled that public-figure plaintiffs in defamation lawsuits must prove that offending statements about them are in fact false, and that the speaker actually knew they were false or seriously doubted them when they were published. That rule protects speakers, bloggers, and reporters against lawsuits designed merely to squelch critical speech about public figures. Nonetheless, defending against such suits can be very costly.
Techdirt released a statement today on the litigation, making clear exactly what hangs in the balance in these kinds of suits:
Defamation claims like this can force independent media companies to capitulate and shut down due to mounting legal costs…this is not a fight about who invented email. This is a fight about whether or not our legal system will silence independent publications for publishing opinions that public figures do not like.
We wholeheartedly agree. Defending against even frivolous defamation and similar lawsuits can be extremely expensive, forcing news sites to shut down or settle the lawsuits under unfavorable terms. Those that settle often must agree to remove the offending content. These results are far from speculative – as Techdirt explains in its statement, Ayyadurai’s lawyer in this case, Charles Harder, has “already . . . [h]elped put a much larger and much more well-resourced company than Techdirt completely out of business.”
Techdirt is a vital resource – it provides a wide audience with independent journalism addressing some of the biggest technology issues of our time. The Internet community wouldn’t be the same without it. But of course this case is not just about Techdirt. It's about freedom of the press generally.
We commend Techdirt for taking on this fight for freedom of expression. And we urge everyone who cares about a free and independent press to support Techdirt in “its First Amendment fight for its life.”
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