by Robert Hackett
May 12, 2016
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Nick Denton of Gawker as a guest on ABC's "Good Morning America." Photograph by Fred Lee—ABC via Getty Images
Shiva Ayyadurai, husband of Fran Drescher, the actress best known for her leading role on the television sitcom The Nanny, has filed a lawsuit for $35 million in damages against Gawker, a news and gossip site.
Ayyadurai, who claims to have invented email as we know it, alleges in paperwork filed in a Boston court on Tuesday that three "false and highly defamatory" stories published on Gawker and its tech site Gizmodo "have caused substantial damage to Dr. Ayyadurai’s personal and professional reputation and career."
The Gawker articles, all of which are still available online and date back to 2012, strongly dispute the man's claim to be the originator of that technology, calling him a "fraud," "renowned liar," and "big fake," as the lawsuit notes.
Ayyadurai's lawsuit names Nick Denton, Gawker's founder, as well as writer Sam Biddle, and exec editor John Cook as defendants in the case. "As a result of Defendants’ defamation," the suit states, "Dr. Ayyadurai has been publicly humiliated, lost business contracts and received a slew of criticism relating to Defendants’ false accusations and statements."
Gawker Media released a statement saying that "these claims to have invented email have been repeatedly debunked by the Smithsonian Institute, Gizmodo, the Washington Post and others," as first reported by Boston Business Journal.
Ayyadurai, copyright holder for an electronic messaging system called "EMAIL," began developing a computer program with that name as a 14-year-old boy in 1978, as Time Techland, site of Fortune sister publication Time, reported in a 2011 story. Controversy over the origins of email erupted a year later after a report in the Washington Post said that Ayyadurai had invented electronic messaging.
"[E]lectronic messaging predates V. A. Shiva Ayyadurai’s work in 1978," the Post later clarified alongside a lengthy correction note. (This TechDirt post contains a good description of the drama, too.)
After receiving a donation of materials from Ayyadurai in 2012, the Smithsonian Institute released a statement that said (in part) "Exchanging messages through computer systems, what most people call 'email,' predates the work of Ayyadurai." Notably, many tech historians consider Ray Tomlinson, a communications pioneer who died of a heart attack earlier this year, as a founder of the tech in 1971.
Ayyadurai's lawsuit follows Gawker's recent $115 million loss in a high profile lawsuit over a sex tape filed by the former pro wrestler Terry Bollea, also known as Hulk Hogan. As of Thursday, Gawker had 21 days to respond to the new lawsuit.