I DECLARE CONFIDENTIALITY!

November 4, 2014

You remember that episode, where Michael Scott declares bankruptcy?

Keep that in mind for this lesson, kids.

This happens to all of us, from time to time. A lawyer sends you a letter with some threatening language on it that he thinks accomplishes his goal of making it “confidential.” You know, like this:

CONFIDENTIAL LEGAL NOTICE
PUBLICATION OR DISSEMINATION IS PROHIBITED

The correct legal response is “suck my ass” or whatever you want to say. Ok, fine, how about “your point is invalid”. Let’s go with that. It is nicer, after all. And I’m all about being nice.

Now here’s one thing you can rest assured of: If someone puts that foolishness on their letter, it is because they’re afraid of that letter getting out there. They can’t possibly have confidence in what’s in it. Look, I write a letter, I expect that it might wind up getting slapped on Simple Justice, with Greenfield making fun of it. Even then, I can’t seem to catch every typo. But you know what? If my name is on it, you can bet your ass that I’ll own it.

And here’s why you can make the chucklefuck who signed YOUR letter own it by publishing the shit out of it, if you want.

For starters, saying “This letter constitutes confidential legal communication and may not be published in any manner.” is about as legally compelling as Michael Scott yelling “I DECLARE BANKRUPTCY.” Lawyers do not have magic powers that turn letters into confidential communications. You’re more likely to find a lawyer who can turn water into funk than a lawyer who has the magic spell to make a letter confidential. Sure, there might be some rules that make them inadmissible for certain purposes in litigation. But, you wanna share that letter? Go right the fuck ahead. Unless you’ve agreed to confidentiality, it ain’t confidential.

When I get one, I usually email the other guy and say “I’m not going to respect your request for confidentiality.” I give them a chance to support their position. When they don’t, I ask them if they want to give me something in exchange for confidentiality. So far, no takers.

Then, they realize “holy flaming peckerballs, this Randazza character can see right through the I DECLARE CONFIDENTIALITY trick! Randazza has spell capability? FUCK, he’s not a fighter, he’s a goddamned level 9 Ranger, and he’s got Druid spells! HE JUST CAST THE ‘SEE THROUGH BULLSHIT’ SPELL!!!!!

I know, it's my intellectualize proprietary res judicata!

I know, it’s my intellectualize proprietary res judicata!

So then they try again…

Aha, smart ass. That letter is COPYRIGHTED! I hereby throw the spell of Title 17!

Bush. League. Shit.

If someone pulls that on you, they’re even more full of shit than the guy who just tries the I DECLARE CONFIDENTIALITY spell.

Dumbass rolls a 2.

Here’s why:

It is no secret that the film, The People vs. Larry Flynt is one of my favorite movies of all time. It was required viewing in my classes, back when I did the lawprof thing. New hires need to watch it at my firm. You need to watch it.

Most of my readers are fully aware of the Supreme Court case depicted in the film. However, the lesser known case, mentioned for all of 30 seconds in the film, is the Hustler v. Moral Majority countersuit.

In that case, Jerry Falwell took the “Jerry Falwell Talks About His First Time” Campari parody and sent it to his Moral Majority minions — soliciting donations. Falwell took the entire copyrighted work and used it for a blatantly commercial purpose.

One of Falwell’s top executives conceded that the inclusion of a copy of the ad parody was part of a “marketing approach” to fund-raising, and the court can safely assume that this strategy involved encouraging the faithful to donate money. Hustler v. Moral Majority, 606 F. Supp. 1526, 1534 (C.D. Calif. 1985).

However, the court also found that he was not using the ad to elicit support for purely commercial gain, but even if he was, this did not dissolve his fair use defense.

[T]he court must also consider whether “the alleged infringers copied the material to use it for the same intrinsic purpose for which the copyright owner intended it to be used.” Marcus, 695 F.2d at 1175; Jartech, Inc. v. Clancy, 666 F.2d 403, 407 (9th Cir.), cert. denied 459 U.S. 879, 74 L. Ed. 2d 143, 103 S. Ct. 175 (1982) (same); see Italian Book Corp. v. American Broadcasting Companies, 458 F. Supp. 65, 70 (S.D.N.Y. 1978) (fair use generally sustained if defendant’s use not in competition with the copyrighted use). Under this principle, defendant’s use is more likely to be considered fair if it serves a different function than plaintiff’s.

In distributing the parody Falwell evidently meant to provoke the anger of his followers and to comment on the level of obscenity in the work.

The C.D. of California also pointed out portions of the Copyright Act’s legislative history, upon which a re-poster of a demand letter can rely:

The court discerns additional support for Falwell’s position in the legislative history to section 107. The House Report states: “When a copyrighted work contains unfair, inaccurate, or derogatory information concerning an individual or institution, the individual or institution may copy and re-produce such parts of the work as are necessary to permit understandable comment on the state-ments made in the work.” House Report, supra, at 73. It would thus be consistent with congressional intent to find that Falwell was entitled to provide his followers with copies of the parody in order effectively to give his views of the derogatory statements it contained.

Accordingly, when a law firm sends you a cease and desist letter accusing you of illegal activity, you can use that letter to provide your own supporters with copies of it in order to effectively give your own views on the issue — and to gather support for your cause. And… to make fun of that shit (because making fun of buffoons is classic fair use)

The legal landscape for I DECLARE CONFIDENTIALITY gets even more gloomy as we continue to read the Hustler case. The First Amendment rears her sexy pouty slutty face. (Yes, I want to bang Lady Liberty. Its a fetish. Constitutional cosplay anyone?)

First amendment considerations also enter into the court’s assessment of the purpose and character of defendants’ use. Although the first amendment does not provide a defense to copyright infringement, when an act of copying occurs in the course of a political, social or moral debate, the public interest in free expression is one factor favoring a finding of fair use. See Keep Thomson Governor Committee v. Citizens for Gallen Committee, 457 F. Supp. 957, 959-60 (D.N.H. 1978) (political committee’s use of a portion of rival candidate’s musical composition amounted to fair use in light of public interest in full debate over election and absence of injury to plaintiff). Cf. Robert Stigwood Group Limited v. O’Reilly, 346 F. Supp. 376, 383-84 (D. Conn. 1972), (priests’ un-authorized copying of rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” was not fair use where facts did not support defendants’ contention that their performance was counterattack to original’s “perverted” version of the Gospel), rev’d on other grounds, 530 F.2d 1096 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 848, 50 L. Ed. 2d 121, 97 S. Ct. 135 (1976).

Similarly, anyone who receives a cease and desist letter, from any lawyer (including me) can certainly claim that there is a debate at hand. Without the debate, there would be no complained-of statements or actions. It does not take Justice Brennan to see the First Amendment protection inherent in the republication of a demand letter in this context.

The purpose of copyright is to create incentives for creative effort. Even copying for noncommercial purposes may impair the copyright holder’s ability to obtain the rewards that Congress intended him to have. But a use that has no demonstrable effect upon the potential market for, or the value of, the copyrighted work need not be prohibited in order to protect the author’s incentive to create. The prohibition of such non-commercial uses would merely inhibit access to ideas without any countervailing benefit. Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios, 104 S. Ct. 774, 793 (1984)

Under the “harm to the market for the original” prong of fair use, if the defendant’s use would tend to diminish sales of the plaintiffs work, then the factor can count against the defendant. However, that only applies if it would supplant the marketplace for the original. For example, if I copied a demand letter and used it as my own, then I might be committing copyright infringement. On the other hand, if I use the demand letter to ridicule the author, and the result of that ridicule is that consumers form the opinion that perhaps it would not not be a wise choice to select that lawyer to represent them, that is protected speech.

Let us return to Hustler v. Falwell:

The court has carefully considered all the evidence placed before it in light of the factors set out in section 107. It concludes that the “‘equitable rule of reason ‘ balance,” Sony Corp., 104 S. Ct. at 795, tilts sharply in favor of a finding of fair use. Any other result would mean applying the copyright laws in an inflexible manner and ignoring fundamental considerations of fairness. The ad parody was a satire about Falwell. He was entitled to use it as he did.

Exactly. The cease and desist is an instrument of attack upon the recipient. Any court that would find that this is copyright infringement should be reversed or impeached.

Okay counselor, but do you have a case that is exactly on point?

As a matter of fact, I do.

In Online Policy Group v. Diebold, the Northern District of California held that “fair use is not an infringement of copyright.” This is a slight tilt from the more common “fair use is an affirmative defense” logic. The N.D.Calif. held that the copying of the copyrighted materials (Diebold email archives) was so clearly fair use that “[n]o reasonable copyright holder could have believed that [they] were protected by copyright.” The court in that case held that a DMCA notice and take down was defective and that the sender was liable for material misrepresentation. § 512(f) FTW.

Conclusion

In short, while this is not legal advice, I’d say that if you want to reproduce a cease and desist letter as an act of self-defense or criticism, you should feel comfortable that the fair use defense will back you up.

And if you are the author of a cease and desist letter, don’t write anything that you don’t want the entire world to see.

Bottom line, no court has ever held I DECLARE CONFIDENTIALITY to be valid, nor has any court supported the “DON’T MAKE FUN OF ME BECAUSE COPYRIGHT” position – but an undisturbed case, relying on mountains of precedent, refutes it.

Lena, meet Barbara.

Lena, meet Barbra.

So with that, here’s a really stupid demand letter from Lena Dunham’s attorneys. It isn’t just dumb because it tries the aforementioned tricks — but substantively, dood… really? You’re supposed to be a better lawyer than that.

Short version of the story: Lena Dunham wrote a book in which she arguably wrote about doing some sketchy shit with her little sister. Truth Revolt wrote about it. The quotes from the book back up the Truth Revolt article. Dunham got all snippy about it. (source)

Yeah, that was pretty fucking stupid.

Its not stupid that she did it. She was a child. Ok. I can live with that. Its not even stupid that she wrote about it. Respect to her. (Ok, not really, book sounds like a piece of shit) But, what the monkeys-eating-their-own-feces-fuck was she thinking in authorizing a law firm to make a stink about it? Stupid. Well, unless they had a meeting and said “hey, Lena, want us to totally fiddle-fuck you by making you look like an asshole? Well then, have we got a plan for you!” If that happened, then GENIUS!

This article constitutes confidential legal communication and may not be published in any manner.

(just kidding)


Germany limits piracy penalties

July 5, 2013

Germany has limited individual piracy penalties to about $1,300 a pop. (source). On one side, I think that’s a reasonable penalty for stealing a song or a movie. On the other hand, it isn’t if there are procedural hurdles to actually being able to enforce even that low amount. I don’t know German civil procedure, so no idea on that.


First Amendment vs. Disabilities Act

May 12, 2013

(From Charles Platt) Is this a real threat, or just posturing? The ADA has already been extended far beyond the areas in which is was first designed to apply. I can certainly imagine regulations compelling web sites to be “equally accessible” to the disabled. Discussion here.


Alleged Copyright Troll’s Day in Court

March 12, 2013

No matter your opinion on U.S. copyright law, it is the law of the land. Copying a work without consent may be unlawful and subject the copier to damages. On this blog, and others, we’ve seen instances of legitimate and illegitimate copyright claims.

An entirely separate issue is the manner by which copyright claims are enforced. In the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, there have been concerns raised regarding certain attorneys, their firms, and (as the judge termed it) their “shell” companies. Yesterday, a hearing was held at which certain non-appearing attorneys affiliated with Prenda Law were invited to attend, as well as an attorney formerly associated with that firm. Ken White at Popehat attended and his writeup is here: http://www.popehat.com/2013/03/11/brett-gibbs-gets-his-day-in-court-but-prenda-law-is-the-star/

This is a case in which the Plaintiff even dismissed the case against the Defendant, but the Court is exploring whether there was fraud committed by the Plaintiff or its counsel in consolidated and related matters. Hearings like this generally do not occur, and apparently the non-appearing attorneys affiliated with Prenda appeared by counsel, rather than in person, which may have violated the court’s order (although they made a last-minute filing arguing they could not properly be compelled to attend). What is particularly interesting is that the subject lawyers and Plaintiffs have been intimately involved with the development of how Bittorrent claims are prosecuted, including early discovery orders, mass joinder, etc. Of note, it has become practice for a content provider to sue John Does, because all that is available is the IP address used to access a covered work. A subpoena is issued to the ISP, who may provide the identity of an account holder. Common practice is then to make a demand on the account holder or amend the complaint to identify them by name. Of concern by this court and others is that the account holder may not be the infringer. A content provider may need to engage in further discovery and investigation to find out who may have had access to the internet connection prior to naming the person as defendant. Recent rulings have suggested that just as you cannot simply sue the person who owns a telephone for a call that may have given rise to liability, you must sue the caller, you cannot simply sue the internet account holder. This court has questioned the Plaintiff’s and its attorneys’ efforts in identifying the infringer. Additional procedural concerns are raised in this case over who financially benefits in the litigation and how content has been transferred.

The docket in Ingenuity 13 v Doe, 2:12-cv-08333 is here:

http://ia601508.us.archive.org/28/items/gov.uscourts.cacd.543744/gov.uscourts.cacd.543744.docket.html


Finally, someone uses “IP Troll” properly

January 9, 2013

Lee Cheng, Chief Legal Officer of online retailer Newegg, said:

“A troll is a type of entity that doesn’t sell a product, or transfer value of any sort. All they offer is the right to not be sued. It’s protection money. To put it bluntly, it’s extortion.” (source)

Righthaven produced nothing but lawsuits. The term is properly applied to them. Porn companies, record companies, and other companies trying to stop infringement, or trying to recoup losses from infringement are not properly so-labeled.


Deadspin Weighs in on Raanan Katz Suit

December 18, 2012
FOR YOUR INFORMATION, THE SUPREME COURT HAS ROUNDLY REJECTED PRIOR RESTRAINT!!!!!

FOR YOUR INFORMATION, THE SUPREME COURT HAS ROUNDLY REJECTED PRIOR RESTRAINT!!!!!

As some of you remember, Raanan Katz sued Google and others for copyright infringement this summer over a Blogger user’s publication of an “unflattering” photograph of him.  Today, popular sports blog Deadspin has the story.

Beyond the copyright suit, the Deadspin piece goes on to discuss a Florida trial court’s order in separate, concurrent litigation that Katz has brought against the same defendant as his copyright suit. 

This is a very complicated case. You know a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous, but in particular, Deadspin addresses a decision by Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit enjoining the defendant from writing further about Katz, since what the Defendant has written thus far is “arguably defamatory.” (source.)

As Randazza is counsel of record in the case, we provide no comment beyond a link to the appellate brief in the case.


Copyright in Tattoo Case: Escobedo v. THQ, Inc.

December 9, 2012
Excerpt from Escobedo v. THQ Inc. lawsuit including "signature moment" shot allegation.

Excerpt from Escobedo v. THQ Inc. lawsuit including “signature moment” shot allegation.

A tattoo artist sued THQ, Inc., the makers of a UFC themed video games, for copyright infringement. The artist tattooed a lion on Carlos Condit’s torso, and claims that it was his original creation. (Complaint at 12) The artist alleges that he created the original design, and owns a registration for the copyright to the design. (Compl. at 16). He claims that by using the work in a video game, depicting Carlos Condit, THQ infringed upon his copyright in the work.

The artist’s attorney said, in a press release,

“People often believe that they own the images that are tattooed on them by tattoo artists,” explains Speth. “In reality, the owner of the tattoo artwork is the creator of the work, unless there is a written assignment of the copyright in the tattoo art.” Escobedo and Condit never had a written agreement. Thus, claims Escobedo in the lawsuit, he remains the owner of the copyright over the image he drew.(source).

Nothing in this statement is false, but that doesn’t mean that this gets you to the correct answer. Here is the correct answer:

1. Ownership of the copyright: If the tattoo artist designed the tattoo, unless the tattoo artist signed a “work for hire” agreement, then the copyright in the tattoo is, presumptively, his intellectual property. No question about it. Therefore, I can’t take a copy of that tattoo and make posters of it. Nor can Condit. I can’t re-license it to other people. On ownership of the copyright, I think the artist wins, hands down.

But, that doesn’t mean that he wins the case.

2. Fair Use: I see very little room to argue that THQ’s use is not fair use. THQ has the right to use Condit’s likeness. That likeness happens to have been augmented with someone else’s copyrighted work. The copyright owner can no sooner prohibit this use than he can prohibit me from using it demonstratively as I have in this piece (doubly so, since I clipped it from his complaint). THQ can’t accurately depict Condit without the tattoo. THQ can not be prohibited from depicting Condit accurately, just because the artist wants more money.

That said, there might be some theoretical claims, but not against THQ.

Condit himself might (I stress MIGHT) have some liability. This is a highly theoretical argument – but I presume that Condit got paid for the right to use his likeness in the video game. Lets say that the agreement has a clause that states that Condit has the legal ability to transfer or license all relevant rights. There *might* be an argument that Condit did not have the right to assign the rights to the ink, and thus the artist gets a portion of Condit’s profits. Again, theory here, and not likely. But, if I had to save the case, I’d argue that.

Right of Publicity: The tattoo has now become part of Condit’s persona. So, could copyright actually limit his right of publicity? Again, an interesting egghead argument to be merged with #3, but essentially, if the artist prevailed against Condit, it would mean that anyone who gets a tattoo without a work for hire agreement has mortgaged a certain portion of their publicity rights to the tattoo artist. I am not seeing that as a winning theory.

Bottom line: Fair use, artist loses. Creative arguments could revive the case under some exotic uses of state law claims, which would (at best) be against Condit, and for a small fraction of what Condit himself earned, but even then, I can’t see them carrying the day.

The case is Christopher Escobedo v. THQ Inc., 2:12-cv- 02470-JAT, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Phoenix).

H/T: TechDirt


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