News & Awards

Crypto ‘Thought Leader’ Can’t Duck CEO’s Defamation Claims

August 16, 2022

Law360 (October 26, 2021, 6:10 PM EDT) — The founder of blockchain platform Ava Labs can pursue defamation claims against a cryptocurrency marketer and “thought leader” over comments he made on social media, a Florida federal court has found.

Emin Gün Sirer, a Cornell University professor and founder and CEO of Ava Labs, can go forward with his defamation claim and push for punitive damages, over the objections of social media influencer Emre Aksoy, U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom said Monday. Aksoy markets various digital assets on social media platforms such as Telegram and YouTube and dispenses cryptocurrency investing advice, according to Sirer’s complaint.

Sirer sued Aksoy in June, saying that Aksoy had posted a video on his YouTube channel that falsely claimed Sirer, a Turkish citizen, belonged to a political group that has been designated a terrorist organization in Turkey.

According to the complaint, Aksoy knew the statements were false and knew they could harm Sirer, who said the statements hurt his reputation and threatened the safety of himself and his family. That’s enough to survive a motion to dismiss, Judge Bloom found.

“Taken as true, this allegation is sufficient to plausibly state that [Aksoy] acted with actual malice,” the order said.

Sirer alleged that companies pay Aksoy to promote their digital assets, and that one of the projects he was promoting was a competitor to Ava Labs. Days after the contested YouTube video, Aksoy told followers to short AVAX, the digital token associated with Ava Labs, according to the complaint.

Judge Bloom found that the court does have jurisdiction over Aksoy, who lives in Turkey but was served with the lawsuit at the Miami International Airport while traveling to Miami for vacation. Judge Bloom also rejected Aksoy’s argument that his social media activities make him a “media defendant,” which would have entitled him to receive notice in writing before the suit was filed.

“[Aksoy] asserts that his use of various internet platforms to disseminate information and receive real-time revision and feedback qualifies him as a ‘media defendant,'” the order said. “The court is unconvinced that simply because [Aksoy] uses various internet platforms to share information and receive real-time feedback, the court should extend the interpretation of ‘media defendant’ to include him.”

Sirer is seeking compensatory damages and punitive damages, as well as a court order preventing Aksoy from repeating the allegedly defamatory claims and requiring him to remove them from his social media channels.

Sirer’s counsel at Roche Freedman LLP hailed the decision in a statement to Law360 on Tuesday, saying that Aksoy’s statements, though disseminated online, “put our client in real danger, in the real world, and they caused real economic harm.”

“Some people think of crypto as the Wild West, but this case should serve as a warning to online influencers who are paid promoters. You can still be held accountable for the words you use on social media,” Roche Freedman’s Kyle Roche said.

Counsel for Aksoy did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Sirer is represented by Devin (Velvel) Freedman, Kyle Roche and Joseph Delich of Roche Freedman LLP.

Aksoy is represented by Rook Elizabeth Ringer of Lento Law Group PC.

The case is Emin Gün Sirer v. Emre Aksoy, case number 1:21-cv-22280, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

–Editing by Kelly Duncan.