NY Company Threatens 800Notes Via UK In Legal Comedy Of Threats & Errors

from the where-to-start? dept

We've recently had our own run-in with a ridiculous threat of a libel lawsuit from the UK, in what appeared to be a clear attempt to intimidate us, rather than an action with any serious legal basis. As we mentioned in that post, thankfully, the US recently passed an important and broad anti-libel tourism law that protects US websites against overreaching foreign libel claims that go against US laws, such as Section 230 safe harbors for service providers.

So, we're always interested in hearing about other similar threats, and here's a doozy that gets more ridiculous the further you read. It starts off with just such a libel tourism attempt, but then devolves into a true comedy of threats and errors, involving misaddressed threats, ridiculous claims of confidentiality and implied threats of copyright lawsuits on publishing the letters that reveal this comedy of errors. Make sure you read through the whole thing.

It starts out with a NY-based company, GDS Publishing, who was apparently upset about the complaints about its telemarketing practices found on the website 800notes.com, specifically calling out the NY-based phone number (212 area code) used by GDS. After GDS complained to Julia Forte, who runs the site, she removed the comments that violated the site's terms of service, but left plenty of the other (non-violating, but still complaining) comments up, which GDS apparently did not appreciate. It then had a UK law firm threaten to sue her in the UK under UK libel laws. Now, it is true that GDS's parent company is based in the UK, but Julia and 800notes are in the US, and thus protected by Section 230 and the libel tourism law. And, while it doesn't even matter, given 800notes' status, this was about actions by the subsidiary, which is incorporated in New York, and all of the actions and complaints concerned that NY company (using a NY phone number).

Already, this seems like a classic case of over-aggressive lawyering, perhaps from someone unaware of the SPEECH Act, or from someone who simply hoped to intimidate an American website into compliance. However, the story gets even more ridiculous. First, the lawyer in question, one Leigh Ellis of Gillhams Solicitors LLP in the UK, apparently made a typo when copying the email address of Ms. Forte from the whois page for 800notes, resulting in him sending the initial complaint to a totally different Julia Forte (who happened to be a lawyer) based in NY, rather than the 800notes Julia Forte (who happens to live in North Carolina). Oops.

After the NY lawyer Julia Forte told Ellis of his mistake, rather than recognizing that he made a mistake, Ellis appears to have both emailed the same (wrong) Julia Forte again, and interpreted the email from the NY lawyer Julia Forte to mean that the North Carolina 800notes Julia Forte was denying her association with the site -- even though the NY lawyer Julia Forte told Ellis that he had the wrong email address. So, instead of correcting the mistake and emailing the correct Julia Forte, he sent a letter to 800notes' webhost, SoftLayer Technologies (pdf), claiming that the content on 800notes was defamatory, and saying that Forte "has informed us that she is not associated with the Website," and asking SoftLayer to confirm that Ms. Forte really is the account holder, and also demanding that SoftLayer take down the content GDS doesn't like, or face defamation charges itself.

Ah, the comedy of errors. Of course, it was the wrong Julia Forte who accurately denied being associated with the website. The correct Julia Forte has no problem standing behind her site. Thankfully, SoftLayer is well aware of the legal issues involved here, and well aware of Section 230 and the SPEECH Act that protects it, as well as Julia Forte, so it passed along the letters to Forte's lawyer, Paul Levy. If only the comedy of threats and errors ended there. But, it did not...

Levy responded in great detail to Ellis (pdf), highlighting the specific legal realities of Section 230 and the SPEECH Act, as well as detailing Ellis' own mistakes in emailing the wrong person. You should read the letter. It gets better and better as it goes along (or just skip to page 3):
Comedy of threats and errors over? Not by a long shot. After receiving Levy's letter, as well as an email correspondence in which Levy noted plans to publish Ellis's original letter to SoftLayer Technologies, Ellis' firm, Gillhams tried to warn Levy that publishing the original letter would be "unlawful" (pdf). Specifically, the law firm claims that since the original letter said "NOT FOR PUBLICATION" across the top, he had no license to publish it, and since all of their emails have a boilerplate "confidentiality notice" at the bottom, it prevents publication.

Of course, such things are simply not legally binding, leading Levy to (1) question whether or not Gillhams is charging GDS Publishing by the hour and (2) highlight how Gillhams appears to have misstated its own confidentiality clause and gotten confused over who might hold any copyright (and, thus, license-rights) to the letter in question. His response is here (pdf), though I'll restate the relevant paragraphs:
My question about whether you have been charging GDS Publishing by the hour is relevant because, in the criticism of your conduct that I am drafting for publication, I am trying to figure out whether your misadventures in trying to send correspondence to Forte, and your subsequent threats directed to SoftLayer, reflect only incompetence, or rather reflect an effort to run the meter at your client's expense. I'd be grateful, therefore, if you would respond to my question.

Finally, I note your email referring to confidentiality notices that are contained in your emails. Even if the emails purported to forbid publication, such notices do not override fair use. Sad to say, however, you have misstated the fine print in your own emails. I invite you to re-read that text. The disclaimer says that the emails "may" contain privileged or confidential information, not that they do. I see nothing in the emails that merits treatment as either privileged or confidential in any event. Moreover, they instruct the recipients not to disseminate the emails if they are NOT the intended recipients. By negative implication, these notices tell the intended recipients that they ARE free to disseminate the emails. Your office deliberately sent the emails to me, thus effectively giving me permission to publish them.

Your letter also states that your "clients" are reserving their rights about the publication of your letter and emails. However, I see no reason to believe that your clients own the copyright in your letters. The owner would be you and/or your firm. If you choose to try to enforce the copyright by raising a claim of infringement, you will have to do so in your own name.
As Levy notes in his blog post on the whole situation: "I invite Ellis to bring suit here in the United States and show us that he is right. Ellis is also invited to use the comment feature to reply."


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Trails (profile), Oct 27th, 2010 @ 12:31pm

    Epic

    This is awesome. Gillhams look like a clown troupe. Streisand effect smashing their reputation in 3... 2... 1...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    icon
    Free Capitalist (profile), Oct 27th, 2010 @ 12:38pm

    Looks Serious

    Apparently the UK firm asserts they're actually going after people who made "libellas" comments.

    Sounds sexual... this could get ugly...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    The Infamous Joe (profile), Oct 27th, 2010 @ 12:51pm

    Entrance of the Gladiators

    I couldn't get Entrance of the Gladiators out of my head while reading this story.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    icon
    Don Speekingleesh (profile), Oct 27th, 2010 @ 12:57pm

    Ha. Ellis got lawyered!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    icon
    interval (profile), Oct 27th, 2010 @ 1:06pm

    "Libellas"

    "A series of small little libels, all the same."

    - My New Dictionary

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 27th, 2010 @ 1:29pm

    Arkell V. Pressdram.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    Eugene (profile), Oct 27th, 2010 @ 1:30pm

    This Levy guy struck comedy gold here. It's not often you get to create something hilarious by just dryly pointing out the facts.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 27th, 2010 @ 1:31pm

    Re:

    “We acknowledge your letter of 29th April referring to Mr J. Arkell. We note that Mr Arkell’s attitude to damages will be governed by the nature of our reply and would therefore be grateful if you would inform us what his attitude to damages would be, were he to learn that the nature of our reply is as follows: fuck off.”

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 27th, 2010 @ 1:53pm

    Re:

    Bonus props to him for mentioning hourly rates.

    Any lawyer who can tell someone in professional and legal terms to "stfu" gets my applause, for sure.

    It's a real shame that more lawyers aren't willing to say "stop wasting my time" instead of "cool, I'm clocking more time!"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Oct 27th, 2010 @ 3:14pm

    Re: Re:

    Bonus props to him for mentioning hourly rates.

    Yeah, he basically asked "are you incompetent or unethical?" Wow! I'm betting that question doesn't get answered.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 27th, 2010 @ 3:58pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    There are times when the only way shenanigans get stopped is by holding the culprits personally responsible. Corporate structure should not be allowed to shelter poor judgment or misbehavior from public scrutiny. It's nice to see a bit of that scrutiny here on Techdirt. Sometimes a spade deserves to be called a spade, and a scoundrel deserves to be called a scoundrel.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    icon
    Alias (profile), Oct 27th, 2010 @ 5:02pm

    OMG

    That has to be one of the funnies smackdown letters I've ever read. Good on ya Mr. Levy. +1 Internets to you sir.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 28th, 2010 @ 3:08am

    Masterful

    Just as well I have a hat so that I can tip it to Mr. Levy. Masterful! I just love watching someone just totally own a subject in the face of dumbness.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    icon
    BearGriz72 (profile), Oct 28th, 2010 @ 3:58am

    My 1 Worth

    Mr. Levy should nominate Mr. Leigh Ellis of Gillhams Solicitors LLP for the World Stupidity Awards, sadly it appears that it went inactive in 2007. Unfortunately since nobody died they don't qualify for The Darwin Awards, too bad.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    icon
    BearGriz72 (profile), Oct 28th, 2010 @ 4:01am

    Re: My 1 Worth

    /Headdesk

    {I do not understand why my comment looks fine in preview but when posted I get ��}

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 28th, 2010 @ 7:27am

    Stupid Brits!!! And you wonder why everyone revolted against them? Idiots!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Oct 28th, 2010 @ 10:41am

    Re:

    I hate to rain on your parade, but the idiots in this story are American. Fortunately for us, the heroes in it are American as well.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    An intrigued student, Oct 28th, 2010 @ 2:58pm

    "Specifically, the law firm claims that since the original letter said "NOT FOR PUBLICATION" across the top, he had no license to publish it, and since all of their emails have a boilerplate "confidentiality notice" at the bottom, it prevents publication.

    Of course, such things are simply not legally binding,"

    Got any specific cases that show precedence for this not being legally binding? Or any references?

    Please note that I'm not trying to be glib here, I actually am interested in how this could apply to the boilerplate confidentiality legalese my school appends to all of its emails.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Oct 28th, 2010 @ 3:39pm

    Re:

    How could it be binding? There's no contract entered. I mean, under what law can I be bound by something that someone writes on a letter they sent me?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 28th, 2010 @ 4:42pm

    Re: Re:

    Mr. Leigh Ellis is most definitely British. Read the story, again.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Oct 28th, 2010 @ 4:57pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Oh, yep. HA HA! Stupid Brits!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 29th, 2010 @ 5:49am

    Re: Re:

    I understand the common sense issues with it, however common sense and legal sense seem to diverge at some point. Thus I was looking for legal precedence. Thanks for the feedback though.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Oct 29th, 2010 @ 8:56am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I was talking about laws, not common sense. There's no law (I've ever heard of) that can bind you in that circumstance. Not even a nonsensical one. IANAL but of course if you want solid legal research you already know you're in the wrong place. ;-)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Clutter Guy, Dec 28th, 2010 @ 11:49am

    Have you heard 800 notes possible extortion scam?

    Based on this article from someone who says they worked for 800 notes, they claim 800 notes is a complete scam.

    Please Read here!
    http://www.xcomplaints.com/complaint/www800notescom-cheat-and-scam-c161.html
    Please Read here!

    Ex employee says 800 notes is a scam.

    Is 800 notes posting negative blogs and extorting money?
    According to this article, an ex employee claims 800 notes are purposely defaming companies to extort money from them. The article also claims,
    Julia Forte calls to extort money to take down negative posts she created says an ex employee according to this blog.

    Is Julia Forte involved in illegal scamming operations?

    Why would Public Citizen Litigation Group/ Alan Levy defend an alleged scam like this?


    Based on what the linked blog says, she was directly involved with training
    people to operate this alleged scam. Why is Paul Alan Levy and Public Citizan Litigation Group defending 800 notes and Julia Forte?

    Based on what ex employee posts that 800 notes is a well orchistrated scam. According to the post they create negative blogs then they extort companies for
    money. Why is Paul Alan Levy defending 800 notes alleged scam and Julia Forte??


    If this is true Julia Forte should be in Jail for extortion. Call Public Citizens
    Litigation Group to stop this possible scam, Hopefully, Public Citizens Litigation group who normally defend the little guy will not take donations to defend this alleged scam.If Paul Alan Levy - Public Citizen Litigation
    Group knowingly defends a scam like this Speak up!


    Even if Public Citizen Litigation Group didnt know it was a possible scam upfront, hopefully Paul Alan Levy did his research about this alleged incident where 800 notes called to extort money to remove negative blogs. I hope he
    physically visited their facility and talked to their employees about these
    allegations.

    If you have been negatively affected by 800 notes scam. please contact Public Citizen Litigation Group or Paul Alan Levy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    jwoolman, Jan 3rd, 2011 @ 3:23pm

    Re: Have you heard 800 notes possible extortion scam?

    Oh,my. Just go to 800notes.com and see what it's about. Anybody can post, even scummy telemarketers (and they do), you would have to be dumber than dirt to think you had to pay anybody to deal with negative posts - you can tell your own scummy side of it any time. I've posted there sometimes myself after getting a scummy telemarketer call (or to find out what the caller id number was about). People just report when they've received calls and what happened. Very useful, once I've verified it was a scummy telemarketer via this site (or others like it), I just route my caller id e-mail alert to the trash if that number is in the message.

    Non-scummy non-telemarketers get posts, too, which is also helpful. For instance, I found out via the site that it really was the UPS trace department calling (and not a scummy telemarketer playing pretend) and how to call them back about a lost package. It's a nicely informative site. And it shows the patterns in how the scummy telemarketers work, which must be useful data for somebody.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    mark, Jan 7th, 2011 @ 10:56am

    Re: Have you heard 800 notes possible extortion scam?

    Clutter Guy obviously works for one of these scamming companies that pester us. He's spread disinformation to discredit valid criticisms of his bosses' unethical practices. He's paid to lie for crooked companies, either that or he owns one of them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Racoonster, Jan 7th, 2011 @ 6:59pm

    Clutter Guy

    Clutter Guy is obviously a

    __ Total fraud and a nimrod to boot. Look at the grammar and structure of the post. It appears to be the ramblings of a mind affected by abuse of modeling glue (and possibly small children). I would suspect that self hate inspired by such revolting personal failings caused him to maintain employment with a scummy company, such as those exposed by 800notes, which he attempts to protect by defaming said forum. Really a sad, misdirected, effort to repair the image of his chosen profession, rather than repair the real problem, his personal actions and habits.
    __ A real hero of the internet. He exposes the powerful forum barons for the libelous scum they are. Using the awesome literary skills he possesses, he shatters the lies in a way that appears effortless. With his powerful intellect, the poor downtrodden International Corporations can finally fight back against the Historically Powerful Website Owners that run roughshod over them. He should be canononized (despite what he may do with small children...)for his courage.

    Please Note: ONLY read the paragraph above that is checked!!

    Private Message to Clutter Guy: After I receive and tally potential payments from "anyone" that would like to "donate" to my "personal charity" (wink, wink), I'll decide where to place the afore mentioned check mark indicating which paragraph should be read here. Hint. Hint.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    comon, Jan 19th, 2011 @ 5:59pm

    Re: Have you heard 800 notes possible extortion scam?

    Someone is really pissed off because their scam has been exposed at the website.

    from http://800notes.com/arts/faq

    "Do you take money for post removal?
    No, we don't. We do not accept any monetary contributions, or any other contributions in exchange for content removal, period. If someone says otherwise, they are not telling the truth. Scammers are not thrilled that their fraud is exposed here, so they take revenge by spreading lies on the Internet."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Bob, Feb 13th, 2011 @ 1:24pm

    1800 is awesome

    Just wanted to say the 1800notes website is awesome. I am a disabled veteran with severe PTSD and I have severe anxiety when the phone rings. This site sets my mind at ease by being able to see which scum telemarketer is calling me.

    I would like to personally think that website and the person who runs it for their service. They are invaluable in this age of phone terrorism.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    OldGrayWolf, Feb 16th, 2011 @ 11:44am

    Re: Re: Have you heard 800 notes possible extortion scam?

    Agree with Mark on this...Clutter Guy is wa-a-ay out there and must think the rest of the reading public has one or two dead brain cells also.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Muttering_something, Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 9:26am

    Clutter Guy = GDS International

    Guarantee it! Check out how GDS has done a whole load of SEO activity to dominate the first few pages of Google for searchs of "GDS scam".... makes you wonder why they'd want to do that.... the plot thickens....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 25th, 2011 @ 5:37pm

    800notesscam.com

    800 notes is the scam (based on pepole that actually worked there) They claim they extort money from companies. Read for yourself at 800notesscam.com

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 25th, 2011 @ 5:45pm

    Is Julia Forte and 800 notes the real scam?

    Based on a blog from 800notesscam.com from someone who works directly for Julia Forte. Julia Forte is the one who runs the scam. They claim she directs her people to create negative blogs about companies then extorts money from them to take it down.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 25th, 2011 @ 5:51pm

    Paul Allen Levy and Public Citizen

    I can not believe that Public Citzen and Paul Allen Levy defend this extortion scam (if what I read at 800notesscam.com is remotely true). They need to stop wasting time and money defending Julia Forte and 800 notes.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    Hijacker, Jan 5th, 2012 @ 2:34pm

    Re: Paul Allen Levy and Public Citizen

    It seems as if someone has hijacked the original Anonymous Coward's name and is now trying to stir up charges that 800notes.com is a scam.

    I'm one of the folks that has both used 800notes.com to check out numbers of dummies that have called me AND posted what's happened to me when I actually answered calls or called the number back.

    If you want to call all of us scammers, go right ahead. I call Ms. Forte a hero for dealing with the likes of you!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    Mason smith, Feb 19th, 2013 @ 12:56pm

    callnotes

    There are many reasons you might need to find the owner of a phone number, ranging from being harassed to being just plain curious. Plenty of companies offer this information for a fee, but whether you are looking for a landline, mobile or toll-free number, you can first try several routes to identify information about that number for free.
    http://callnotes.org

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    BBB, May 9th, 2013 @ 2:51am

    joshua lunsford was fucked in the ass by his uncle

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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