Hilarious Cease And Desist Letter (& Lessons For Lawyers)

Who knew cease and desist (C&D) letters could be so much fun. Above The Law blog did. In fact, they often publish amusing C&D letters. But, this particular one is good for more than just legal satire.

“Teaser: Biglaw smackdown! Snarky footnotes! Spice Girls references! Lollipops!

The American Bankers Association (i.e., that other ABA), through an entity called Accuity, publishes a book called the ABA Key to Routing Numbers of the American Bankers Association (affiliate link). The book is a directory of all the Routing Numbers assigned to banks. Greg Thatcher has a website that takes Routing Numbers and publishes them in an easily searchable form online.”

What do we learn first? Footnotes are useful vesicles of sidebar information.

“Even that we have trouble buying.[7] There isn’t any copyright notice on the download. And you must be aware that information itself isn’t copyrightable. It just isn’t.[8] In fact, there was a case this real important Court decided back in the early ’90s that was about telephone numbers.[9] In that case, a company just took a local phone book and copied it exactly. The publisher of the phone book knew that the company had copied it because the publisher had popped some phony names in there. No kidding, right? And so the publisher sued the thieving company it caught red-handed. And the thieving company won because it was just information.[10]

[7] And we went to law school, which just illustrates how gullible we are.
[8] No matter how much one might want it to be. Even if one wants it like the Spice Girls want a “zigazig ha.”
[9] Feist Publications, Inc., v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991).
[10] I know, right? I remember reading this case and being all like, No way!

Obviously this letter is looking to amuse, but—notice—footnotes carry a different tone than text in the body of the document.

Nevertheless, even this farcical letter isn’t bottom-heavy. Don’t overuse legal footnotes. This letter carries as much weight without the footnotes (although it would definitely be slightly less comical).

For more information about the footnote ratio “rule” (they say it’s 2:1) read this article in the Journal of Legal Education.

Next, this C&D letter reminds us about the 1909 Copyright Act.

“Under the 1909 Act, copyright protection only attaches to published works with a notice of copyright attached.[11]

[11] Stewart v. Abend, 495 U.S. 207, 233 (1990) (“Under the 1909 Act, it was necessary to publish the work with proper notice to obtain copyright.”).”

These days we’re so fixed on potential violations of copyright that we often don’t bother to check too see if there was explicit notice of copyright at all. Law firm professionals should pay attention to detail and always go back to the basics.

Have your clients appropriately copyrighted information? Has your firm?

Circulate these ten facts about copyright to clients. And, quiz the associates in your IP practice every once in awhile, just to be sure those legal education loans aren’t for nothing.

“We know that you don’t really have much to gain from intimidating our client and you will probably leave him alone, which would be a wise choice. The public will see you and your client as big bullies if you pursue action against Greg,” continues the letter.

“…if you do file a complaint an send someone over with a summons, please have them wear something with a bit of purple… we all like purple.”

Law firms, and their big business clients, are frequently seen as bullies. Partly because of the confusing and threatening language they use, and partly because of errors in their public relations management.

Don’t be afraid to hire PR consultants to turn around the image of your firm. Maybe it’s the way your associates draft their briefs. Perhaps it’s the attitude of your lawyers. Or, it could be the way your website is laid out.

In 2013, a study found only one in five Americans believed lawyers contributed to society. Are lawyers the most hated profession, or is it a PR problem?

In the end, your firm has a lot to gain from maintaining a positive reputation, like, for instance, not having your C&D letters become the next victim of Above The Law blog’s public flogging.

Ultimately, this funny C&D letter gets to the point without any anger, threats, or questionable language. Because there’s no reason—especially in law—to forget commonplace courtesy and, of course, a sense of humor.

To read the full C&D letter, go here.

-WB

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