Gawker, Techdirt, and the First Amendment

If you happen to be at Sundance next week, filmmaker Brian Knappenberger’s documentary about the Gawker/Hogan case, NOBODY SPEAK, is premiering. I’m in it, but haven’t seen it yet, but anticipate that it’ll be fair if sometimes unflattering to those of us on the Gawker side of things. I liked Knappenberger’s previous Aaron Swartz documentary, THE INTERNET’S OWN BOY, and I think he understands the nuances of the case.

One of the things that I told him when we spoke was that I  believed the entire point of Thiel/Hogan’s case wasn’t to punish Gawker for a perceived wrong, but to ruin it completely (which it did), and that I thought going after the individual journalists set a particularly harmful and dangerous precedent because if journalists aren’t indemnified by their organizations, they can’t do their jobs. Unless they’re as wealthy as Peter Thiel, and in my experience, “wealthy journalist” is an oxymoron. Charles Harder’s law firm also sued Sam Biddle personally on behalf of Shiva Ayyadurai and Gawker/Sam settled because they couldn’t afford to endlessly fight the guy financially. Ayyadurai, apparently chalking the settlement up as some sort of moral validation, is now suing Mike Masnick and Techdirt. If Mike can afford to make it through the process, I think the case will get thrown out, but a lot of people don’t realize how expensive it is to just defend yourself against something like this, no matter how meritless.

But since Harder is happily aligning himself squarely with the anti-First Amendment Trump admin and already suing publications on Melania Trump’s behalf, I think we’re going to see more stories like this. So even if the Gawker case made you a little queasy (and I totally understand if it did; some of the most important first amendment cases are edge cases and they’re never pretty) it’s worth taking a look at what the continuing implications are, because the reverberations are going to be coming for a while.