Don't Post This Cease-and-Desist Letter, Or Else

from the let's-test-that-theory dept

Greg Beck writes "In an apparent attempt to avoid the Streisand Effect, lawyers sending threat letters sometimes claim that the recipient would violate the firm’s copyright by posting it online. This post is about Public Citizen’s response to one dumb threat letter and its decision to post the letter online despite the copyright claim." It’s funny how popular it has become for lawyers to claim it’s illegal to post or even show anyone their cease-and-desist letters. Remember: just because a lawyer says so, it doesn’t mean it’s true. You can see Public Citizen’s response to the letter (pdf), which lays out a variety of reasons why the cease and desist is ridiculous (it’s yet another attempt to force criticism offline) and ends with a fantastic response to the claim that the original C&D is covered by copyright and cannot be posted online without additional charges: “By this letter, we are inviting you to test the validity of your theory that the writer of a cease and desist letter can avoid public scrutiny by threatening to file a copyright law suit if his letter is disclosed publicly on the internet.” Somehow, I doubt the opposing lawyer will test out this theory.

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Comments on “Don't Post This Cease-and-Desist Letter, Or Else”

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Mike F.M (user link) says:

Can you turn on the lawyers?

Is it possible to turn on lawyers that make false claims like this?

I mean, the general public doesn’t know enough about this subject to know if this claim – or others like it – are true or not. If it turns out that they are false, what can be done to the sneeky lawyer who tried to trick unaware people?

It’s the same as getting, for instance, videos pulled from Youtube when they are obviously fair use. You see plenty of these cases, but does any one really fight back and get the people perpetrating their ideals as facts correctly punished?

ehrichweiss says:

Re: Re: Disbar them...

Honestly I think that if an attorney is either malicious, greedy or a moron and they misrepresented the law, they should be disbarred. Ignorance of the law isn’t an excuse for average everyday citizens so I think we should hold the people who are supposed to be SIGNIFICANTLY more knowledgeable of the law even more accountable than we should.

Mike F.M (user link) says:

RE: Disbar them...

The problem with this is that some of the laws are so vague that it is impossible to specify exactly which way the law might go with certain situations.

It is impossible to write a law that will apply 100% to 100% of cases. There are some that are exact examples of the law – (the majority, one would hope) – but the rest require a decision on the topic.

Enter a judge / jury.

Todd says:

No License... No Reading

Dear Lawfirm,

Regarding your recent letter containing copyrighted content, I seem to not have an appropriate license to read your letter. I sure wish I could respond to whatever allegations you claim, but that would require that I read your letter, of which I do not have a proper license to do.


Your Victim

Eric the Grey says:

Re: copyright

Perhaps you should actually read the site in question? Under the first link, Copyright Basics, there is some interesting information, such as:

Who Can Claim Copyright?

Copyright protection subsists from the time the work is created in fixed form. The copyright in the work of authorship immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work. Only the author or those deriving their rights through the author can rightfully claim copyright.

emphasis mine

However, given that the entire basis of the letter is fiction, perhaps it can be copyrighted…


da says:

Re: Re: copyright

Also following section at

How to Secure a Copyright
Copyright Secured Automatically upon Creation

The way in which copyright protection is secured is frequently misunderstood. No publication or registration or other action in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright. (See following note.) There are, however, certain definite advantages to registration. See “Copyright Registration.”

Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created, and a work is “created” when it is fixed in a copy or phonorecord for the first time. “Copies” are material objects from which a work can be read or visually perceived either directly or with the aid of a machine or device, such as books, manuscripts, sheet music, film, videotape, or microfilm. “Phonorecords” are material objects embodying fixations of sounds (excluding, by statutory definition, motion picture soundtracks), such as cassette tapes, CDs, or LPs. Thus, for example, a song (the “work”) can be fixed in sheet music (“copies”) or in phonograph disks (“phonorecords”), or both. If a work is prepared over a period of time, the part of the work that is fixed on a particular date constitutes the created work as of that date.

Beefcake says:

Outrage is relative to image

If a car mechanic was feeding their customers a load of crap, there would be no shortage of people arguing, threatening, and shouting at them despite having little or no knowledge of the workings of their car and frankly finding the mechanics involved to be mysterious and confusing.

Yet when a lawyer sends a letter, many of those same people comply with the instructions because they have little or no knowledge of the workings of the law and frankly find the mechanics involved to be mysterious and confusing.

It’s amazing how easily impressed we are by the self-conjured image of a person in a suit, as opposed to when presented with the reality of a person in coveralls.

mc says:

Re: Re: Outrage is relative to image

Boy, are you a slow leak. The guy in the suit can cost you money, true. If that is the only thing you value in your life, you lose anyway. The guy in the coveralls can kill you, or cripple you (but then you would get your own suit), and/or anyone who rides in your car. But, since you have such a low regard for anyone not in a suit, bring your car to me – I’ll fix you right up, and it won’t cost you much (not Very much, anyway)…

BlueBearr says:


How about this:

Dear Mr. Morris, Esq.:

I have read your letter dated September 21, 2007. Unfortunately, according to your letter, I do not have the rights to act upon the contents of your letter.

You state in your letter that I am “not authorized to republish this in any manner.” Your letter also says across the top “FOR NEGOTIATION AND SETTLEMENT PURPOSES ONLY.”

Because of the tone of these warnings, I feel that it is inappropriate for me to assume any rights that are not specifically granted to me in your letter. Unfortunately, you do not detail your definition of any of the above restricting terms, and how they relate to the activities that I consider relevant to acting on the contents of your letter. Am I permitted to “review” the contents of the letter? Can I transmit the letter to another location, either physically or in electronic format, for the purposes of more expeditiously reviewing your request? How am I permitted to share the contents with any other individuals (say, any employees, or any site visitors that you claim have posted defamatory content)? May I use the contents to direct activities regarding the content that you regard as defamatory? This are some but by no means all of the usages that I need to have defined in order to be able to consider your request.

Until and unless you fully describe and define any and all activities and usages that have been granted to me in use of your copyrighted material, I cannot act on any information that is contained in this copyrighted document. If in any subsequent communications you fail to fully define all usage rights that I consider relevant to considering your request, I will again withhold action until this oversight is corrected.

Accordingly, I am returning your copyrighted material with this letter, as I cannot be held accountable for its contents being misdirected or misused.


wmaclough says:

Re: Abuse of the law

At least in CA, the law already does. If an attorney intentionally misrepresents the law or facts (not merely arguing for a change in law, but actively makes a false statement on the state of the law) he can be subject to censure by the State Bar. Likewise, an intentional misrepresentation of fact can be grounds for disciplinary action.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t know if all laws are written vaguely or not. Take for instance the UCMJ. Its pretty straight forward to read and understand what its talking about, other than article 134, but that is there really to railroad someone out, or as a tack on when you’ve really upset the PTB. The UCMJ for the most part, can be read and understood by anyone who looks at it. Its ment to be simple and straight to the point. The biggest difference of course, is that its military law, so its streamlined and without as much glut.

Archangel Michael says:

Opened up


This is a LICENSING statement. It licenses the copyrighted work for the purposes of “Negotiation and Settlement”. Which in this case enables me to publish the work as a means to publicize their C & D letter and criticism of it, a common tactic in Negotiations.

I have used the copyright within the guidelines of their copyright license.

Frog Face McQuaid says:

I find it interesting just how much we are willing to give up…
I don’t actually own my car. Well, ok, I do own it, but I cannot use it (on public roads) unless it is legally licenser, registered, insured, and I am licensed…
I don’t own my iPhone, well, same thing…I do own it, but I just cannot use it unless I let Apple and AT&T dictate to me how, when and where.
SO what next?
The big flaw in thinking that there is some protective copyright on a C&D letter is that once it is filed in the courts, it becomes PUBLIC DOMAIN…so much for Copyright.

Lefty says:

There is one thing, however:

I work for an online Electronics Retailer. This is an awesome example of how those with resources often bully those without. But remember: If you go from an open-ended forum to running a site like (just an example, I have no knowledge or intention of looking up to see if such a site actually exists) and you put banner ads, you’ve crossed a line into the for-profit. Then they can come after you. Just food for thought.

Craig Combs (user link) says:

Solution: anti-SLAPP motion to strike

If some lawyer attempted to go after my client with this BS they would get an anti-SLAPP special motion to strike on their desk. My client would get his/her/its attorney’s fees paid.

Such a motion is available in California and in other states as well.

Essentially, it is a way for the small guy to fight Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (big companies trying to shut the little guy up by suing him) by giving other lawyers incentive to take the cases on contingency. If this shit happens to you, contact the EFF; they send out emails to lawyers across the country who may take your defense on contingency.

John says:

Is this extortion

there is a monetary demand in the law firm’s letter, directing payment for all of DirectBuy’s legal expenses. Given the legally pathetic threat, made by a person of the Bar and claiming expertise in this area, does this not constitute extortion and possibly, given the recent decision re Microsoft and BestBuy, a violation of RICO – racketeering??

Rand (user link) says:

Using the Legal Process

I find it sad the so many people will provide a knee-jerk reaction. Yes, as an IP attorney, I have to agree the copyright claim is overboard, although technically the letter would be protected. I have little doubt that a Court would find posting of the threat a fair use.

The better way to get back at the attorneys is to use their own forum against them. Since they are asserting that posting the letter would constitute an infringement, file a declaratory judgment against the firm in your local federal court seeking a declaration that posting the letter would be a fair use. The last thing the attorney wants to be doing is hiring a law firm in your home town to defend a lawsuit that makes him look stupid.

Additionally, add in a declaratory judgment claim that your use of the underlying action was a fair use – or any other defense. Not only is the litigation conducted on your home court, it also lets the judge know right off the bat that the attorney on the other side is a moron who likes to stretch his case a bit.

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