We stand with TechDirt, and so should you
My sincere apologies if it seems like an ldquoall Peter Thiel all the timerdquo day on Pando today.
Believe me when I say no onersquos fingers burn as painfully as mine when writing his name. (Disclosure: Thiel is a Pando investor, ow ow it hurts.)
And yet, it seems like every thread of every horrible thing happening in Silicon Valley today -- fake news on Facebook, tech leaders embracing Trump, media organizations driven out of business -- leads directly or circuitously back to Thiel.
The latest addition to the probably circuitous but maybe direct category is the $15m lawsuit filed by Shiva Ayyadurai against tech news site TechDirt.
The case concerns TechDirtrsquos investigation into Ayyadurairsquos claim to have invented email -- an investigation which concluded that, well, Ayyadurai probably didnrsquot invent email. It follows a similar suit filed against Gawker, in which Ayyadurai won a $750,000 settlement.
Ayyadurai claims that a series of posts on TechDirt amount to libelmdashin part because the posts call Ayyadurai a "fake email inventor" and a "fraudster" and calls his claims to have invented the technology "bogus."
While therersquos no evidence that Thiel is behind this newlawsuit, Ayyadurairsquos lawyer in the case is Charles Harder, the same lawyer who helped Thiel with his secret plan to destroy Gawker. Certainly the philosophical connection between Thielrsquos attempt to kill Gawker and Ayyadurairsquos attempt to silence TechDirt couldnrsquot be clearer: Both involve wealthy tech moguls using their cash (and Charles Harder) to shut down critical reporting, with the handy side effect that other media outlets are frightened into silence. At the very least, Thielrsquos crusade against Gawker has emboldened plaintiffs like Ayyadurai to try to outspend the First Amendment.
Itrsquos hard to read TechDirtrsquos coverage and conclude that Ayyadurai and Harder could possibly have a winnable case. Media lawyer Ed Klaris gave a similar opinion to Fortune...
"This is a classic scientific debate, which is a cornerstone of the First Amendment, second only to political debate. Theories of who invented something as basic as email software code need to be free and open and not constrained by claims of libel,"
But, of course, it barely matters whether TechDirt would win or lose in court -- the cost of defending a $15m suit could easily be enough to bankrupt the site before a judge gets a chance to rule.
While theultimate outcome could be similar as with the Gawker suit -- a dead media organization, and critical reporting silenced-- there is, however,oneclear difference between the TechDirt suit and the legal attacks on Gawker. Unlike in the Gawker case, therersquos no ldquoyes buthelliprdquo caveat when defending TechDirt. Unlike Gawker, TechDirt'sreporting on tech is second to none and, unlike Nick Denton, Masnick enjoys wide respect in Silicon Valley and beyond.
And itrsquos that difference that forces all of us in the tech industry to show our true colors when it comes to protecting free speech and freedom of the press.