Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel won’t say if he is funding the latest $15 million lawsuit brought by Shiva Ayyadurai, in which he claims to have “invented email: the electronic mail system as we know it today,” against the website Techdirt.
Thiel’s representatives, Ayyadurai’s lawyer Charles Harder, and Ayyadurai himself have not responded to inquiries from Gizmodo asking if Thiel is funding Ayyadurai’s lawsuit against Techdirt.
Ayyadurai recently received a $750,000 settlement from Gawker Media’s bankrupt estate, resolving his defamation claims over a series of articles that, according to his lawsuit, “falsely traced the origin of email and called Ayyadurai a liar.” He had multiple Gizmodo articles concerning his disputed claim taken down ahead of the sale of Gizmodo to Univision. Gawker also agreed to remove an article from its archive as part of the settlement. Two internet pioneers had expressed dismay about the settlement. Computer programmer Ray Tomlinson is credited by many experts and historians with developing the technology that we understand today is email in 1971.
In a blog post titled “Techdirt’s First Amendment Fight For Its Life,” Techdirt founder and CEO Mike Masnick wrote, “We believe the legal claims in the lawsuit are meritless, and we intend to fight them and to win.” Harder was the same lawyer funded by Thiel in lawsuits brought against Gawker Media by wrestler Hulk Hogan (real name Terry Bollea). When Facebook board member Thiel was asked last year if he was funding lawsuits against other organizations, he said he has only been involved in the Gawker case.
Thomas Burr: Are you engaged in any other lawsuits against news organizations?
Thiel: Uh — not — uh — um — I’ve been involved in the Gawker case, nothing else.
However, Ayyadurai’s lawsuit against Techdirt was filed this January, after Thiel answered the above question regarding other lawsuits. Techdirt has previously written articles critical of Thiel and Ayyadurai.
If it turns out Thiel is funding Ayyadurai’s lawsuit, it could do even more to strike fear into news organizations, which might pass on a story about the influential Trump advisor or soften language out of fear that Thiel could fund lawsuits against them. The question of Thiel’s potential funding is a simple one to answer, and one Thiel’s representatives and associates have refused to do.