TV Station Tells Blogger To Delete Twitter Message Or Face Legal Action

from the uh,-that's-not-how-it-works dept

Tragically, over the years, we’ve been on the receiving end of an unfair share of totally bogus legal threats from angry individuals and companies. In fact, just last week we got two such threats. We’ve almost never posted any details about the threats, as I prefer to give the threatener (usually someone enraged by something said in the comments, rather than by us directly) the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they wrote the threat in a moment of emotional anger. I hope that when they realize that there is no legal basis for the threat, they’ll back down. So far, no one has gone further than sending a threat. Some ignore our responses, some agree that they have no real intention of suing. But it still amazes me how quickly and how frequently people break out the “we’ll sue you!” with no legal basis whatsoever. Luckily, in our case, we’re pretty sure when we’re in the clear, and (this is important) we have relationships with smart lawyers who do an excellent job representing us when we receive such threats. Not everyone is so lucky, and no matter how “safe” you are, being on the receiving end of a legal threat is never fun, especially if you are a small business or just an individual.

davebarnes alerts us to a story of just such a situation involving an anonymous blogger in Oregon, who had heard about some “embarrassing” videos involving some local TV anchors. In looking for the videos, the blogger discovered the YouTube account in question had been closed, and sent out a Twitter message asking if anyone had seen the videos before the account was closed. In response, the blogger received a legal threat from the news director of the TV station demanding the removal of the Twitter message (which simply asked if anyone had seen the video and linked to a shuttered YouTube account).

There was absolutely no legal basis for the threat, but the blogger admitted:

Her legal threat told me she was unpredictable, and she was the only one in the conversation with the resources to go to court. It didn’t matter that I had done nothing wrong; I would have no way to deal with a lawsuit, frivolous or not, while still finding time to operate my website and work at my paying job.

So, even though the blogger knew the threat was frivolous, he was still in the position of worrying about whether or not it would still be brought to court. That’s a huge problem. Even worse is that the news director of the TV station broke out the ridiculous threat in the first place — especially stunning that a professional reporter would make such a threat. In followup emails, the news director tried to suggest that the lawsuit would have been against the original poster of the video, but that’s not what the original letter said:

The “kointastic behind the scenes video” lifted by one of your followers from YouTube, was stolen. That is the property of KOIN Local 6. Kindly remove that posting and link so that we don’t have to pursue legal action.

That certainly implies that the “legal action” would be against the blogger for posting the Twitter message. We live in a litigious age, obviously. But pulling out the big guns of threatening legal action on no legitimate basis is becoming way too common. Unfortunately, the reason why it’s so common is that it’s quite scary to receive a legal threat (even one with no basis), and many people quickly cave and give in. Hopefully, as more people are educated concerning their own rights, they’ll push back — but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

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Comments on “TV Station Tells Blogger To Delete Twitter Message Or Face Legal Action”

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69 Comments
Planetwebfoot (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yes, you can delete a twitter message, but by time you have deleted it, it may have been viewed by thousands of people, and now with Google’s real time updates millions of people may have viewed the comment.

I have to agree with you Mike, when someone is threatened with a lawsuit its so easy to think of the worst case scenario, so backing down is easier than defending our rights.

Dan Zee (profile) says:

Time honored legal ploy

This is just one of the disadvantages of the US legal system. You can use threats of legal action to make people back down and even give up their legal rights, because who has $20,000-$60,000 just to present a defense at a legal proceeding?

This is what the Recording Industry Association of America has been doing, sending out thousands of threat letters to either pay $1,000-$8,000 or face a legal bill of $40,000 and fines up into the millions if you lose! Most people opt for the blackmail payment.

And Disney has done this for years. I remember they sued a restaurant in Maine because it called itself Pinocchio’s! Pinocchio is a character from a book that’s in the public domain, and the restaurant was not using Disney’s version on anything. In that case, Disney backed down a little and agreed to pay for all new signage if the restaurant changed its name.

Anonymous Coward says:

There is no bullying going on here.

The video was stolen, it shouldn’t be out there, and a discussion about “who has a copy” or anything like that is perpetuating the theft of the video.

There are times when you guys need to learn a little respect.

As for the legal threats, I think that “so that we don’t have to pursue legal action” is a pretty standard part of any “take it down” letter, as there has to be an “or else”. They would probably still have at least some grounds to work from legally, certainly enough to run up some lawyer dollars on both sides.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“actually shouldn’t the GP’s post be “anonymous reporter”?”

Probably….

One other thing came to mind, isn’t the video a news story now? Lets find the Video, redo it as a news report, and then repost it. Fair use anyone ….. I remember the Stolen Videos of Pamela Anderson and Paris Hilton Video’s being used by the networks.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“actually shouldn’t the GP’s post be “anonymous reporter”?”

Probably….

One other thing came to mind, isn’t the video a news story now? Lets find the Video, redo it as a news report, and then repost it. Fair use anyone ….. I remember the Stolen Videos of Pamela Anderson and Paris Hilton Video’s being used by the news networks in the exact same way…..

“The video was stolen, it shouldn’t be out there, and a discussion about “who has a copy” or anything like that is perpetuating the theft of the video.”

“There are times when you guys need to learn a little respect.” … Goose meet Gander ….

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

(Hello Coward! Welcome to the Internet.)
So…
If I hear a rumor that somebody has made an illegal copy of a pre-release album from some rockstar and I’m all like “Wow, who did that?” or I say “I wonder who has a copy of that?” or I shorten it to “Who has a copy of that?” then I’m perpetuating the theft of the video??

Holy crap! Please, explain logically how that works, ’cause I gotta tell ya, I just don’t see it.

DS says:

Re: Re:

Asking if someone saw something, and then linking to a public site where it exists is NOT PERPETRATING THE THEFT OF A VIDEO.

What, is this now fight club, where the first rule is not to talk about it?

There is nothing wrong or illegal with the tweet.

There is no actual law that would force him to take down the tweet.

Using your same logic, I expect a bogus C&D letter to be sent to techdirt, and EVERY COMMENTER on this thread.

Using your same logic, the next time I discuss this with someone at the coffee machine, if you were standing nearby, you would threaten me with legal action.

You need to learn respect yourself.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Legality

> and a discussion about “who has a copy” or anything like that
> is perpetuating the theft of the video

From a legal perspective your comment is absolute bullshit.

> There are times when you guys need to learn a little respect.

While respect may be desirable, it’s not legally required and cannot be obtained through threat.

> They would probably still have at least some grounds to work
> from legally

No, they wouldn’t. If you think they do, feel free to explain what those grounds would be.

Anonymous1 says:

“There is no bullying going on here.”

What do you call threatening someone with legal action over a twitter message, a friendly hello?

“discussion about “who has a copy” or anything like that is perpetuating the theft of the video”

Do you even know the definition of the word “perpetuate” ?! it means,roughly to “aid in continuation of”. Pardon my ignorance on the matter, or the English language, but a theft once done, is done. It can’t be “perpetuated” and any discussion of anything is completely coverered by the 1st Amendment and common sense.

“There are times when you guys need to learn a little respect.”

You need to learn the definiton of common words, and common sense.

“They would probably still have at least some grounds to work from legally, certainly enough to run up some lawyer dollars on both sides.”

So you support frivilous legal action against non-involved parties, and wasting money for intimidation purposes?

That kind of sounds like…what’s the word? Oh yes, bullying!! LOL.

spaceman spiff says:

Threats and the law

Just as it is against the law in the US to make threats against another person or persons, it should also be against the law, backed up by serious penalties, for people and corporations to make baseless legal threats for no reason other than intimidation. This sort of egregious behavior should be slapped down in the most memorable manner possible with stiff fines, censure, and possible jail time. Bullies should not be tolerated, even in the slightest way.

NullOp says:

Does she...

My first question is “Does the news director of the station have the authority to initiate legal action on behalf of the station?” My first guess is, probably not. In any case it’s still not illegal to ask a question in America…even online. The woman was riding the “High Horse” in hopes to intimidate the blogger.

Lucretious (profile) says:

I would’ve left it up simply because he wouldn’t have needed a lawyer to begin with. The case is simply too cut-and-dried, so much so that the defendant would have only needed to present the facts to have it dismissed. the only ones who would be inconvenienced would have been the news outfit having to foot the legal bill for a case without a single legal merit.

Beefcake (profile) says:

As soon as KOIN used public radio spectrum to broadcast the content, it became public property with certain caveats of use granted to KOIN(aka copyright); but not full property rights. As such, the discussion of said broadcast falls under fair use regardless of whether or not (in this case not) the discussion medium is public or private.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“As soon as KOIN used public radio spectrum to broadcast the content”

I think that anything broadcasted over public airwaves should be subject to public domain. If it’s not in the public domain or released under some CC license or something then it should have no place on public airwaves. It’s ridiculous for the government to grant a monopoly on both the distribution channels and on the content being distributed on those channels. This has caused almost everything outside the Internet to be only available at monopoly prices and this is not acceptable.

Yakko Warner says:

Re: Re: Hmm.

“This video has been removed by the user.”

All of them, except that last one, which doesn’t seem to want to load for me behind my proxy. πŸ™

I wonder if “kointastic” got a similar “scare email” and took them down. (If KOIN got Google to do it for them, the message would typically read “This video was removed due to a copyright claim by…”)

Anonymous Coward says:

sorry, no…
you broadcasted something live, someone recorded it.
if during that broadcast something embarrassing happens, too bad… thats part of being in the public eye. dont like it? sit at home and play video games all day long…

but dont come out threatening legal action and tossing out things like threatening emails and verbiage like “stealing our videos”. it just makes you look like an idiot.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Anonymity.

> That is why the founding fathers of the U.S. put forth the
> right to be anonymous in the constitution πŸ™‚

They did? I’ve read the Constitution cover to cover more times than I can count and I’ve never seen a “right to be anonymous” in there.

What’s the article and section citation for that one?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Anonymity.

Held: Section 3599.09(A)’s prohibition of the distribution of anonymous campaign literature abridges the freedom of speech in violation of the First Amendment. Pp.341-357.

(a) The freedom to publish anonymously is protected by the First Amendment, and, as Talley indicates, extends beyond the literary realm to the advocacy of political causes. Pp.341-343.

http://supreme.justia.com/us/514/334/case.html

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Anonymity.

> Held: Section 3599.09(A)’s prohibition of the distribution of
> anonymous campaign literature abridges the freedom of speech
> in violation of the First Amendment. Pp.341-357.

> (a) The freedom to publish anonymously is protected by the First
> Amendment, and, as Talley indicates, extends beyond the literary
> realm to the advocacy of political causes. Pp.341-343.

I seriously doubt the Founders wrote that case opinion, considering it was written in 1994. I asked what article and section of the Constitution supports the assertion that the Founders put the right to be anonymous in the Constitution.

;) says:

Anonymity.

Sorry I forgot to put the story behind the link.

But today brings news of a case where anonymity on the Net absolutely needs to be protected. It too involves a court subpoena ordering Google to turn over private information; in this case, the names of the owners of tcijournal@gmail.com, the e-mail address for The TCI Journal, a muckracking news site based in the Turks & Caicos Islands.

Apparently, people in T&C don’t spend all their time listening to Jimmy Buffet, eating conch, and drinking mojitos out of hollowed-out pineapples with little umbrellas stuck in them. They also spend time exposing people who allegedly bribe government officials.

Attorneys for one of the alleged bribers, developer Dr. Cem Kinay, are now suing The TCI Journal in California in what some are calling a case of “libel tourism.” (Not to be confused with a defamation vacation.) In other words, the developer in T&C chose to sue in a California court because U.S. courts make it easier to demand a company’s records.

Pretty funny story πŸ™‚

Anonymous Coward says:

Curious literature on wikileaks

Big Pharma inside the WHO: confidential analysis of unreleased WHO Expert Working Group draft reports, 8 Dec 2009

The compilation of documents shows the influence of “Big Pharma” on the policy making decisions of the WHO, the UN body safeguarding public health. These confidential documents were obtained by the drug industry before their public release to WHO member states (scheduled to be released May 2010).

MySpace.com Law Enforcement Investigators Guide, 23 Jun 2006

The PDF file presents the 16-paged “Law Enforcement Investigators Guide” to MySpace. The document was produced by MySpace and is given out to law enforcement representatives on request.
The guide details the information available to investigators on request, including IP address logs and private user communications, the conditions under which this information can be disclosed, as well as information about retention times.

Designerfx (profile) says:

update

I sent an email to the editor (from the link), and got a call back. Basically, the situation is more nuanced than the article leads on. The woman was very polite, too. However, she didn’t understand copyright infringement at all. She thought it was copyright infringement – assuming the individual linking the video as the owner as well, even after I tried to explain to her twice that it wasn’t the case. I’m not sure if she actually understood or not.

Anonymous1 says:

@btr1701: Were you aware that anonymous criticism of the government is one of the founding prinicples of the USA?
Are you suggesting for even a second, that the founders did not support this right? It is inherent. If you’re trying to suggest otherwise, you’re simply dead wrong, in history and facts. Go read a book. Jackass…

colin seeger (user link) says:

Baseless copyright threats

Been at the receiving end of baseless copyright treats too. Fortunately, the Aust. Copyright Act (and most others do too) has a provision allowing victims of baseless copyright threats, to sue the threatening party.

Find the clause in your own copyright statute and remind the sender that it may include them personally as defendant.

Usually works.

CS

Anonymous1 says:

@btr1701: Wrong. The insult is based on a opinion.
The opinion is based on your behavior. You’re acting like a pompous-ass, thus the term “jackass”. Get it?
You simply kept asking the question, but didn’t give any reason as to why it being explicitly in the Constitution mattered or not. You did IMPLY however through your questioning, that it not being in the Constitution made it invalid as a right. Either that, or you’re just playing games. Get it jackass??

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

> The insult is based on a opinion.

The fact that it’s an opinion doesn’t make it any less of an insipid and ad hominem attack, which is, as I said, the last refuge of a puerile mind.

> You’re acting like a pompous-ass

What exactly about anything I’ve posted here qualifies as pompous assholery? Be specific so we can define terms and make sure we’re all on the same page, then we can compare your own posts using that standard and see how they stack up.

Or in the alternative, you could just be refreshingly honest and admit that– like so many on the internet– you define “pompous asshole” as “anyone who disagrees with me or says anything I don’t like”.

> You simply kept asking the question, but didn’t give any reason
> as to why it being explicitly in the Constitution mattered or not.

Because that was what was originally claimed.

> You did IMPLY however through your questioning, that it not being in the Constitution made it invalid as a right.

No, I implied no such thing. You may have mistakenly inferred it, but that error is yours and certainly not my responsibility.

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