by Mike Masnick
Mon, Jan 28th 2008 12:20am
On Friday, I wrote about a lawyer, John Dozier, issuing a press release claiming that you could copyright a cease and desist letter, and suggesting that anyone posting such a letter could face huge fines. Dozier's firm was also the law firm who filed a lawsuit against a gripes site, accusing the site (not the individual contributors) of defamation. It's also the same lawyer who claimed that the HTML on his website was covered by copyright and banned people from viewing it. Given all of that, I certainly should have known better than to simply take this lawyer's press release at face value. Thankfully, Joe Gratz has helped clear up the situation. The lawsuit that Dozier was referring to was not the one that had originally gained attention over the question of copyrights on cease-and-desists, but a different and much more complicated case, which we wrote about last month. You can click through to see the details (it's too complicated to repeat here). However, as Gratz explains, this latest ruling in that case simply stated that, since the cease-and-desist had been registered at the copyright office, the firm (in that case) had met the low prima facie bar to show infringement. Basically, all the court said was that if the letter had been successfully registered at the copyright office, then the copyright holder had ticked off the necessary checkmark to move the case forward. That does not mean that cease-and-desists are automatically copyrightable. It does not mean that posting a cease-and-desist you receive is not protected under fair use. Also, in that same case, the judge later denied using the copyright claim to unmask the anonymous blogger they were trying to reveal. Of course, Gratz also notes that Dozier conveniently left that part out of the edited version of the court's decision he uploaded to his site. So, while it's still not a great decision, it's not as crazy as it originally sounded... and it will act as a good reminder not to take press releases like this at face value. Update: Paul Alan Levy at Public Citizen weighs in as well.
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