Just back from Foo Camp 2009. You don’t see a ton of stuff on the Internet about Foo because it’s mostly off record.
Just back from Foo Camp 2009. You don’t see a ton of stuff on the Internet about Foo because it’s mostly off record.
If you’ve been following the whole Sam Sethi/TechCrunch lawsuit debacle (see here and here and here), you’ll want to read this post by Paul Carr as well, where he prints emails from Sethi sent on record.
I’m also reprinting below, these things have a tendency to disappear when lawsuits strike:
An open letter to Sam Sethi, on the occasion of him completely losing his mind
August 5th, 2009
Note: this post was originally written for – and subsequently spiked by – the Telegraph. This followed attempts by Sam Sethi to harass my editor both by email and phone.
For the past few weeks, you have been embroiled in a one-sided libel suit against Michael Arrington, the Silicon Valley-based editor of TechCrunch – a publication for which, in the interests of disclosure, I recently began writing a weekly column.
In the suit, you claim that Arrington libelled you by publishing claims about your personal and professional behaviour during the time you were founding Blognation, your now defunct technology blog network.
The facts of the case have already been pretty well documented across the Internet (not least by me), so I won’t rehash them here, save to say that Arrington and TechCrunch refused to recognise the jurisdiction of the UK courts in the case. And that in the absence of any representation from the defendant, on 30th July (last Thursday) the court entered a default judgement in your favour, with damages and costs to be awarded later.
More than a month ago, while I was still happily writing for the Guardian and had no inkling that I’d end up moving to TechCrunch, you and I spoke at length about the case. Based on those conversations, I wrote a column arguing that you weren’t a malicious person but were simply a damaged man who had run out of other options for restoring his tattered reputation. I quoted you admitting that you had lied to your staff about Blognation’s financial situation and also admitting that TechCrunch’s publication of leaked documents had not in fact ’scuppered’ (your word) the company’s chances of securing investment, despite your previous claims to the contrary. And yet I tried to present both sides in a fair light, given how polarising the fight had become.
What I haven’t revealed publicly until now is that shortly after the column was published, you sent me an email, titled ‘Olive Branch strategy – help/advise [sic] gratefully accepted’. In it you said that you wanted nothing more than to avoid legal action, and asked for my advice on how to do that. I’m not going to quote from the email here as I consider the correspondence private.
In my lengthy reply (which again I won’t publish, but you are very welcome to) I suggested you write a post apologising to all the people you hurt while setting up Blognation and admitting your mistakes without qualification. I was pretty sure, I said, that Michael would gladly publish the mea culpa on TechCrunch, maybe even in place of the article which triggered your law suit. Subsequent conversations with Michael confirmed that he would indeed have been amenable to this kind of solution.
In other words, you could have fixed this whole sorry mess without litigation and moved on.
But you didn’t. Instead, for reasons known only to you, you powered on with your law suit, resulting in last Thursday’s non-judgement judgement. A judgement that you and I both know has no practical effect except to possibly make it difficult for Michael Arrington to travel to the UK in future. Indeed, he has already cancelled a scheduled appearance at the upcoming FOWA conference in London. I trust you’re pleased with yourself for annoying hundreds of conference-goers. Well done you.
Here’s the thing Sam: until very recently I considered you a friend. I truly wanted to help you find a solution to this which would allow you to move on with your life. I was happy to act as a mediator between you and Arrington (who is also a friend) and, unlike most people, I didn’t take sides publicly. But today I’m writing this open letter to tell you that my impartiality ends here, for the simple reason that your behavior post-judgement has been utterly fucking appalling.
Since the default judgement was entered, you have been claiming, both personally and through surrogates, that you “won” your libel action and are therefore completely vindicated. This is complete nonsense. The court in no way found that TechCrunch’s statements about you were false, but simply that no-one from the company turned up to defend them. Or to put it another way, you “won” the case in the same way that I won my last fight against Mike Tyson. I invited him to take part, but he refused. Victory is mine!
On Monday, I sent you an email asking you to summarise the judgement for me, as I wanted to understand how you saw it as a victory. Rather than answering my question, you responded by going back into negotiation mode, saying that you “would willingly ask my lawyer to waiver the judgment and all costs/damages in exchange for the name of [the person who leaked documents about Blognation to TechCrunch] as well as the crunchnote articles [that formed the basis of the suit] being removed.”
Your desire to throw away your ‘victory’ having gone through so much hassle to achieve it seemed more than a little odd, particularly given your insistence that you wanted the damages in order to pay back the money you owe to former Blognation staffers. But I replied that while I was pretty sure Michael would never give up a source, he might still be open to the offer that had been on the table since the start. I asked for your permission to put the suggestion to him, and you gladly gave it.
However, minutes later, before Arrington had a chance to reply, another email from you plopped into my inbox. I’ve thought long and hard before deciding whether to publish it – and our other correspondence – here, but you emailed me fully aware that I was covering the story and that we had previously agreed our conversations and emails were on the record unless you specified otherwise. Also, as far as I’m concerned, it’s important that the few people still defending you are aware of the insane statements you’re making to journalists behind the scenes.
The email read…
“You should also make Mike aware. Just heard from my lawyer the e-border order has been extended to cover France, Germany and Spain. I have also given him the name of all techcruch [sic] editors including [CEO] heather [Harde] and [contributor and former Blognation employee] robin [Wauters] as the judgement was also against techcrunch and not just arrington. I did not add your name as I did not expect you to stay with tc that long given your past career.”
In other words, you had instructed your lawyer to make it difficult for any TechCrunch employee to travel to the EU, not just Michael Arrington. This, I’m afraid is the precise point at where our friendship reached its end. As I said to you in my reply…
“You’ve put people [who] had nothing to do with this, including friends of mine, on a watch list? You know what – add me to the list too. Jesus Sam. That’s disgusting.”
Moments later came your reply…
“I was asked to name the people from tc by the court. If you think I am wrong will get it removed tomorow. I am not tying [sic] to be a cunt on this but you have to understand arrington made my life hell for two years and I am angry and arrington is making it worse by choosing to ignore the fundamental issue. He set out to destroy blognation and me and is not prepared to admit this. Ok will remove the rest of the stuff but heather is true CEO and on the list.”
Mindblowing. You were admitting that, driven by anger and a thirst for revenge, you had decided to punish every single member of the TechCrunch staff, including several friends of mine. But now, thanks to my email, you had suddenly changed your mind. I was still trying to decide how – or if – to reply when yet another email arrived – this one entitled ’so fucking what?’
I think it needs to be reprinted here in its entirety….
“You know what Paul fuck you and your fawned [sic] mediation, your a great guy but you write me up as the broken man and make up bollocks about me calling Arrington a lizard. [a joke I made in my Guardian column] Lets call a spade a spade. Arrington is getting [London entrepreneur Robert] loch, gabe [Rivera from Techmeme] , [puppet blogger] 1938media and [Jason] calacanis to attack me right now [I've spoken to at least two of those people and neither had heard from Arrington when they decided to criticise Sam online]. I know how he works. Bollocks to Arrington and I am sorry if others get hurt but did Arrington care what happened to 10 editors on blognation when he published my termsheet knowing it would kill the funding. Did he fuck!
Why should I apolgise [sic] to him or make life easy now for techcrunch. Fuck it I’ll let my lawyer do his job and see what happens next. If that hurts TechCrunch and it’s editors then so be it. I don’t give a shit anymore about playing nice and keeping a stiff upper lip. He lost for whatever reason justice, stupidity or arrogance you choose or all of the above.
Arrington is a smart businessman I actually admire but bollocks will I roll over and kiss his arse and take full responsibilty [sic] for what happened. He threatened me and deliberatly [sic] set out to kill blognation whilst libelling me. It’s pay backtime [sic] and if some of your friends get caught in the crossfire then that is sad but not fault Arrington has the power to make this all go away but he won’t.
Thanks in advance
I was stunned. I mean, seriously Sam, what kind of person sends this kind of mail to a journalist? The answer, you claimed the following morning, was a drunk person…
Big apologies for last night diatribe of emails. Was a lot drunk and letting of steam based on frustration. I’m sure you have never been drunk and emailed people and regretted it in the morning. Was trying to windup Arrington and simply wound you up instead. Sorry. The whole list thing is not true was just pissed off and took it too far.
I have indeed done some amazingly stupid things while drunk – many of which I’ve written about in columns and blog posts. But what I haven’t done is threatened to put innocent people on an imaginary travel watchlist or admitted to a journalist that I’m only driven by a lunatic lust for revenge. That’s not drunken behaviour – that’s at best pathetically childish lying, and at worst a sign of mental illness.
Not so very long ago, I found myself in a similar position to you: through my own actions and unprofessional behaviour I nearly destroyed a business and hurt a lot of people in the process. The difference between you and me is that, after I finally fell to earth with a bump, I didn’t sue any of my critics or try to hurt those around them who had done nothing wrong. Instead, after a brief period of craziness, I pulled myself together and wrote a confessional book outlining my (many) failures. Then I left the country for three months to clear my head and begin addressing the issues which had made me such a liability. More than a year has passed since then and in that time I’ve made decent progress on becoming a better person, but I still have a way to go.
Your own journey needs to start here Sam, and I truly hope this public calling-out from someone who at least semi-supported you in the past will help you to realise that. To be honest, it’s possible that you’re already too late to undo all the damage you’ve caused to others, and to your reputation, but it’s never too late to stop making it worse.
So please, I beg you, learn from my mistakes and stop with the pseudo-bipolar emails and the lies. Stop with the threats – real and imaginary – against innocent people. Stop, stop, stop it all. Admit how many people you’ve hurt and look deep into your soul to decide whether you really want to let the meaningless judgement against TechCrunch and Michael Arrington stand. And then, once you’ve done that, turn off your computer and get away from the Internet for a while.
A long while.
Perhaps travel; or get a job somewhere where no-one knows your reputation; or maybe even write a confessional book (it worked for me). Hell, farm llamas for all I care – just please stop lying and punishing others for the many, many mistakes you’ve made. If you can do that, and repair some of the damage you’ve done, then I hope one day I can once again consider you a friend.
Until then, we’re done. From now on, I’m on Team TechCrunch.
Ok, the reasoned low key approach didn’t work. Now it’s time for some more truth.
The ridiculous Sam Sethi dispute has gone on for far too long, and far too many have continued to be sucked into his web of confidence only to be spit back out the other end angry, bitter or worse. The complete history of Sam Sethi is all in detail here. Every factual statement is backed up by evidence, and I’ll stand by those words forever. Anyone who takes the time to read it can’t possibly walk away thinking this is a decent human being.
A key paragraph from that post, reprinting words written by former employee Oliver Starr at the outset of their working relationship and then again at the bitter end:
Oliver went from writing “I have to say, I like Sam. He’s smart, creative, brimming with integrity” in his first blognation post in August to saying “So… that’s a pretty ugly litany of yours up there; lies, more lies, still more lies, exaggerations, evasiveness, manipulation, usury, fraud even – honestly Sam I think there’s a good chance that what you’ve done is actually criminal not just pathological and antisocial – perhaps even psychotic behavior” just four months later.
Fast forward a couple of years and Sethi is blaming every problem in his life, literally, on me. For reporting on it. Most people don’t buy it. But a few bloggers who I have a history with take it hook, line and sinker. They dishonor themselves in their pathetic attempts to take a shot at us, and they hurt our community. They don’t deserve the readerships they’ve accumulated.
Yesterday we reiterated our position that we are not submitting to the jurisdiction of English courts in the lawsuit Sethi brought against us. It doesn’t mean we’re ignoring the issue, though. We explained the factual basis of our story in great detail in letters back to Sethi’s attorney. Again, read those letters and try to come away thinking Sethi is a decent human being. It’s impossible.
Dennis Howlett, who writes an enterprise software blog for CNET, was the first to jump in, writing “The UK’s High Court of Justice has ruled that Michael Arrington and Interserve Inc libeled Sam Sethi” (wrong – we simply didn’t show up to court). He also says “Arrington/Interserve attempted to move the case from Sethi’s home ground to another jurisdiction. The UK courts thought differently” (wrong – the UK courts didn’t decide anything, we simply didn’t show up). The rest of his post is a love letter to Sethi.
Where did this come from? Why is a libel case being written about on an enterprise blog?
Recently Howlett asked me to write about a charity on TechCrunch. I Twittered about it (to hundreds of thousands of people) but never wrote about it on TechCrunch, it just wasn’t relevant. I guess that pissed Howlett off, because a few weeks later he was referring to me as a street hooker on Twitter. When I complained privately on Skype, his response was “I know – I do what I do as a ‘persona’ that people expect of me…gives me ‘ins’ to the ‘money.’”
Independent journalism at its finest. Don’t write about the charity he’s supporting and he goes after you with a stick, then says it’s all a persona to make money, and then writes a ridiculous legal opinion about something he knows nothing about. What a fucking jackass, and no wonder the comments to his post are so negative:
Arrington is hardly the first American to refuse to participate in UK libel proceedings. See, for instance, Rachel Ehrenfeld whose book about terrorist funding was not even sold in the UK. In response, the New York senate passed a law protecting against foreign libel judgments. A *law* was passed specifically to protect the type of response Arrington made. Maybe this case will cause the same thing to happen in the Californian senate, that should be fun.
If you must pontificate about the law, at least get it right! One of the points about cyberspace is that what is said there is not published where the writer happens to be, but wherever that web page can be read. (Actually, there’s nothing terribly novel in this: the same applies to the written word as well, if the expectation is that the same statement will be re-published in another jurisdiction.) So publication in this case took place in many places: in the US, in the UK and probably in most – if not all – of the other jurisdictions in the world. Since the plaintiff in this case was in the UK, that is the proper place for the case to be heard. You never know: this might even cause some people here both to think twice before they write, and to present their views without silly namecalling.
You know nothing about the law of libel in the US and UK, and you know nothing about the concept of jurisdiction, so I suggest you either get a lawyer to explain it to you, or stop talking about what you don’t understand. The UK’s attempts to assert jurisdiction over speech outside the UK and punish it are absurd. They are sovereign, and can do what they want, but no one else is bound to pay them any attention. ANY idiot can get a judgement filed against someone by default in ANY jurisdiction. I can sue you in Illinois for anything and get a default judgment against you because you are not going to be stupid enough to show up. Then IF I knew you were coming to Illinois, I could get your personal possession’s seized when you get into the state to satisfy the judgment. HOWEVER, and this is a big thing, the judgment is totally invalid, because the court never had valid jurisdiction over you. If you challenge it (and presumably win) the whole thing is tossed out, and if it’s egregious enough, I am subject to sanction for abuse of the legal process. That’s the way it works when political entities have ethically and morally acceptable jurisdictional rules. Our constitution prevents Illinois from asserting jurisdiction over you. The UK’s attempts to asset jurisdiction here are morally and ethically invalid; that’s why the US can pass laws prohibiting the enforcement of those judgments here. I think we have learned from our own civil rights history that just because some political entity passes a law doesn’t meant that law is morally or ethically valid. In fact, the law, at least in the US, recognizes an OBLIGATION to refuse to obey laws that violate acceptable norms.
Then comes Tom Foremski, a former Financial Times journalist who now writes one of the most unread blogs in Silicon Valley. I have no idea what I did to piss him off – probably forgot to respond to an email or failed to put him on a panel at one of our events. He writes “Mr Arrington had said some nasty things about Sam Sethi and so Mr Sethi filed a libel suit in the UK, where he lives. Mr Arrington said that since the UK courts had no jurisdiction in the US he wouldn’t defend himself. He lost the suit and also lost all rights to appeal because he didn’t recognize the courts decision.”
He ends with “Mr Arrington should be aware that using his media platform to say nasty things about someone else carries considerable weight of responsibility…Instead of avoiding the UK or Europe as a whole Mr Arrington should just pay the 80,000 pounds ($135,600) and learn from his mistake. The award has been promised to charity. Pay up, and chalk it up, imho.”
Excuse me what? Sethi defrauds dozens of employees and because I write the truth about it I need to pay something to charity? What planet are you from? What the fuck is wrong with you? Did you even read the things this asshole did to people? If I put you on a panel at TechCrunch50 will you then read the factual basis for the post your are writing? Seriously, I promise, I’ll return your emails in the future. All you have to do in return is read the underlying facts, conveniently linked for you in my posts, before writing nonsense.
Other random commenters around the Internet have suggested other just really stupid things as well. Such as, I wouldn’t have defaulted if there wasn’t truth to the claim. This is all nonsense.
If there were problems with my post I wouldn’t have written it in the first place, or I would have taken it down later, or corrected it. I would not let it sit there, my conscience wouldn’t allow it. The posts need to be there so that people searching for this scum sucking excuse for a person know who he is before they make the absurdly bad decision to do business with him. Where were you, Mr. Howlett, or you Mr. Foremski, when Sethi was committing these atrocious acts?
And don’t even think about arguing that I’m doing this for page views or ad dollars. Almost all of these posts have been here on CrunchNotes, which isn’t even linked to from TechCrunch and doesn’t show any ads beyond our back end partners. No money is being generated from these posts. I’m doing what I believe is right.
UK Libel law is a fucking disaster. The U.S. and other countries have had to spend ridiculous amounts of time protecting their citizens from libel tourism in the UK. Laws have been passed making these judgments explicitly unenforceable. There’s a reason for that.
To defend this lawsuit in the UK, just to show up in court and prove this asshole is a liar and worse, would cost us £500,000 or more. Sethi filed the lawsuit for free, doesn’t pay any legal fees (he has a lawyer that took the case on contingency) and if he loses it’s likely we’d only get a small fraction of those fees reimbursed. Defending this lawsuit in the UK would be a monumentally bad business decision. And it would take weeks or months of our core exec team’s time to deal with it. No thanks.
This isn’t a real lawsuit. And he doesn’t have a real lawyer – his attorney’s main claim to fame is winning a £12,000 libel suit against a man who emailed comments to someone else about his neighbors. £11,000 of that was legal fees against the defendant.
I don’t have time for this crap. All Sethi wants is a way to blame all his troubles on someone else. Even a week ago he was pleading to let this all end and for me to remove our previous posts. But like I said, that isn’t going to happen. This guy needs to realize how much he has hurt people. And, someday, apologize to them.
If you are a blogger and you are helping Sethi with misguided support posts just because you have a problem with me, stop it. Think about what you’re doing.
Now please excuse me while I go back to my job.
Update to our June post on the…absurd…Sam Sethi litigation. Our lawyers sent a letter letting them know that we have no intention of submitting the the jurisdiction of the UK courts, although we’d be happy to litigate his claims here in California. Sethi obtained a default judgment on July 30 and is now messaging people “fyi won my libel case against arrington last thurs. News to break today thought I would tell you first. pls keep mum for now.”
By “won” I guess he means we didn’t show up, as we previously stated, and so the court had no choice but to give him a default judgment. It’s important to reiterate that the courts didn’t determine anything other than the fact that we didn’t show up.
I had a long talk with a number of UK legal experts about whether we should defend the case in the UK even though we aren’t subject to UK jurisdiction. They were fairly confident we’d actually win…but that the total legal costs could exceed £500,000. That’s just not an interesting proposition for us. Meanwhile, I’ve had to cancel my London FOWA speaking engagement, and certainly won’t be visiting that country any time soon. Which is a shame since I have so many friends there.
What’s really the biggest shame is that just a couple of weeks ago Sethi was reaching out to friends of mine asking to figure out how to get out of this mess without destroying his reputation further. My response – the same thing I told him in February – write a post apologizing to the employees he lied to and cheated, and take the blame like a real adult. My advice was that the Internet tends to forgive everything over time, particularly to those who ask for it. But Sethi continues to choose his own path, and insist he did nothing wrong. It’s just a very sad situation. Someday I hope he finds peace with himself and all the people he has hurt.
July 22, 2009
VIA EMAIL AND FIRST CLASS MAIL
United Kingdom WC2R 1AT
Re: TechCrunch: Sam Sethi
Dear Mr. [redacted]
As you know, this firm represents TechCrunch and Michael Arrington in the libel claim filed by your client, Sam Sethi, in the High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, Sanjiv Sethi v. Michael Arrington, et al., No. MQ09 X02558. The purpose of this letter is to inform you that TechCrunch and Mr. Arrington will not, as is their right, submit to the jurisdiction of the English courts in this matter. As we have previously informed you in our letters of March 18 and May 17, 2009, TechCrunch is not susceptible to the jurisdiction of the English courts and the proper forum for your client’s claims would be the State of California, which is the location where the words were both written and published in accordance with the prevailing local laws and standards. As a result, any vindication that your client seeks should properly be sought in the courts of the appropriate California jurisdiction. Accordingly, defendants will not file an Acknowledgment of Service in the High Court of Justice. As we have previously informed you, any judgment that your client may obtain in this matter will be unenforceable in the United States.