Defamation lawsuit brought by self-proclaimed email 'inventor' settles

Shiva Ayyadurai claims that he invented email as a teenager in 1978, despite the Smithsonian saying that "exchanging messages through computer systems...predates the work"
Image: Shiva Ayyadurai
Shiva Ayyadurai, from center, makes his way to the Boston Free Speech rally where he was scheduled to speak at the Boston Common, on Aug. 19, 2017.Craig F. Walker / Boston Globe via Getty Images file

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By Cyrus Farivar

A defamation lawsuit against tech news website Techdirt filed by a Massachusetts man who questionably claimed to have invented email in numerous articles has been settled.

Shiva Ayyadurai’s attorney, Charles Harder, released a statement earlier in the week noting that no money had changed hands, and wrote that both parties were “pleased to have resolved this matter.”

Since 2011, Ayyadurai has put forward his claim that he invented email as a teenager in 1978, and also claims he was the first to use the term “EMAIL.”

He got attention in both Time and The Washington Post, in late 2011 and early 2012, respectively, which repeated his claims, citing the Smithsonian’s acceptance of 1978-era materials donated by Ayyadurai.

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But in February 2012, the Smithsonian issued a statement, saying that “Exchanging messages through computer systems, what most people call ‘email,’ predates the work of Ayyadurai.”

The Post’s ombudsman then admitted that the paper’s earlier coverage had been inaccurate.Additionally, numerous scholars of the era, including John Vittal, who authored an email program called MSG in 1975, and Vint Cerf, a co-inventor of the TCP/IP protocol upon which the Internet is based, have publicly dismissed Ayyadurai’s claims.

As part of the agreement, Techdirt must add links to a previous rebuttal that Ayyadurai authored years ago, according to Harder.

Harder, a Beverly Hills-based attorney, also worked as Hulk Hogan’s attorney in a lawsuit against the website Gawker, which ultimately drove the site into bankruptcy.

On Friday, Techdirt founder Mike Masnick formally informed his readers of the deal, writing that the “entire process has been quite a pain for us.”

“We’re happy to have it behind us,” he also said in a separate phone interview.

“I don’t think it will change the way we report. We do what we do and we fought it the way we did because we believed in the way we reported on him and I don’t see why we would change. We stand by what we wrote and we will continue to report the way we report.”

Neither Ayyadurai nor Harder immediately responded to requests for comment.