Lawyers Who Tried To Get Into The Mass 'Pre-Settlement' Game Threaten WordPress
from the let-me-explain-safe-harbors dept
Lots of attention has been paid to Davenport Lyons and ACS:Law as two UK law firms that have sent out thousands of “pre-settlement” threat letters, demanding payment to avoid a lawsuit over copyright infringement. There was a third firm in the UK that briefly popped up trying to do the same thing: Tilly Bailey & Irvine (TBI). A ton of complaints were filed against TBI and even members of the House of Lords in the UK called them the “new entrants to the hall of infamy.” After that, TBI “reluctantly agreed” to stop these kinds of campaigns, due to “the amount of adverse publicity” that came with it. Apparently TBI is a big law firm that’s been around for nearly two centuries, and it realized that smearing its name this way probably wasn’t a good idea.
However, since then, it’s tried pretty much everything possible to pretend that it never did anything. Its latest move is to threaten WordPress.com for hosting a blog that was critical of TBI. The ACSBore blog has been following the law firms involved in these types of actions and uncovering all sorts of embarrassing stuff at times.
However, in one post, the blogger behind the site put up a “wanted” poster of a TBI lawyer who had been involved in the pre-settlement letter campaign along with a blog post quite critical of the firm. Rather than go after him directly, TBI is using a bit of third party liability trickery, claiming first that using the image of one of its lawyers in a “wanted poster” is copyright infringement, and secondly, that the nature of the wanted poster was defamatory. TBI claimed that Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com would be liable for defamation.
Of course, Automattic is a US-based company, and it almost certainly would not be liable under either issue. On the defamation claim, it’s clearly protected by Section 230. On the copyright claim… well… just a year ago we wrote about an almost identical situation, with some company execs suing a guy who created “Wanted” posters out of their corporate photos. The company claimed copyright infringement, but the court noted it was fair use. Unfortunately, Automattic accepted the complaint as a DMCA takedown and removed the content to avoid liability. Perhaps the ACSBore owner will file a counternotice and get the image put back up.
TBI is also trying to find out the identity of who is behind the ACSBore blog. WordPress is standing behind its user on that front, though, saying: “We will not, under any circumstance, disclose any contact/personal/private details of our bloggers without a U.S. Court Order, and this has not been presented to us.”
For a company that was worried about its reputation, you would think it would learn that trying to intimidate critics is probably going to backfire badly and give you an even worse reputation than whatever it was you did in the first place. If TBI is really worried about bad publicity, it should ignore the critics — not try to bully them legally into shutting up.