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Ayyadurai v. Techdirt: Some Lessons

· Defamation,Anti-SLAPP,Libel,CDA,Communications Act

Yesterday, a federal judge dismissed the defamation case our client, Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai, brought against Techdirt, its editors and writers and a blog commenter, after Techdirt had called Dr. Ayyadurai a fraud for saying he had invented e-mail back in the 1970s.

We will not comment here on that litigation. For that, go here.

Instead, we want to look at some of the lessons to be drawn from Judge Dennis Saylor's opinion.

Soon after Dr. Ayyadurai's complaint was filed in federal court in Boston, Techdirt and the other defendants tried to dismiss the case using a California law called the Anti-SLAPP Law, which is designed to get an early dismissal of cases involving free speech. Massachusetts has a similar law, but it is designed to protect citizens who are petitioning the government, and so most publications are not covered by it. This is why the defendants tried to use the California law instead.

Many states have Anti-SLAPP laws in place, but they are becoming increasingly controversial in federal courts. Since the laws are basically a short-cut to summary judgment, some federal courts look at them as procedural laws. And that would mean they conflict with the federal rules of civil procedure.

Here, though, the real question was whether a Massachusetts citizen, such as Dr. Ayyadurai, should have to combat a law set up in California to protect its own citizens, such as Techdirt.

In his opinion, Judge Saylor found that, since Dr. Ayyadurai was a Massachusetts citizen and had brought the case in Massachusetts, Techdirt did not have sufficient reason to overcome the heavy weight courts put on using the local state law. And so the California Anti-SLAPP motion was denied.


The second interesting part of the opinion was whether Dr. Ayyadurai could make a defamation claim against someone who had only left a comment on the Techdirt site. Ordinarily, comments such as these are protected by the Communications Decency Act. But in this case, Techdirt had lifted the comment out of the regular comment section and proclaimed it Comment of the Week.

By doing that, Dr. Ayyadurai argued, the comment had entered the main part of the Techdirt site and become what amounts to an article that should be actionable.

But Judge Saylor said the Communications Decency Act still holds. So the CDA's protections were extended a little. 

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