How The Guy Who Didn't Invent Email Got Memorialized In The Press & The Smithsonian As The Inventor Of Email - 2012-02-22
Late last week, the Washington Post reported that The Smithsonian had acquired "tapes, documentation, copyrights, and over 50,000 lines of code from V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai, who both the Smithsonian and the Washington Post insisted was the "inventor of e-mail." There's just one problem with this: It's not actually true. Lots of internet old-timers quickly started to speak out against this, especially on Dave Farber's Interesting People email list, where they highlighted how it's just not true. As is nicely summarized on Wikipedia's talk page about Ayyadurai, he was responsible for "merely inventing an email management system that he named EMAIL," which came long after email itself. The Washington Post eventually offered the following "clarification":
Clarification: A number of readers have accurately pointed out that electronic messaging predates V. A. Shiva Ayyadurai's work in 1978. However, Ayyadurai holds the copyright to the computer program called "email," establishing him as the creator of the "computer program for [an] electronic mail system" with that name, according to the U.S. Copyright Office.
Except... that "clarification" seems to confuse copyright with patents. Copyright is only over the specific copyrightable work created -- which would be the specific code he used. It does not, in any way, establish him as "the creator" of "the" electronic mail system -- merely an electronic mail system -- and hardly the first one. I could write some sort of email management software tomorrow and copyright that... and it would no more make me an "inventor" of email than Ayyadurai.