The US District Court for the District of Idaho has found that copyright law protects a lawyer demand letter posted online by the recipient (Case No. MS-07-6236-EJL-MHW). The copyright decision, in pertinent part, has been made available by Dozier Internet Law, and is the first known court decision in the US to address the issue directly. The Final Judgment calls into serious question the practice of posting lawyer cease and desist letters online, a common tactic used and touted by First Amendment groups to attack legal efforts at resolving everything from defamation to intellectual property disputes.
In September 2007, Dozier Internet Law, a law firm specializing exclusively in representing business interests on the web, was targeted online by "free speech" and "public participation" interests for asserting copyright ownership rights in a confidential cease and desist letter sent to a "scam reporting site". The issue generated online buzz in the US with commentators such as Google's lead copyright counsel and Ralph Nader's Public Citizen attacking the practice as unlawful, and Dozier Internet Law responding. Bloggers from around the world soon joined the debate, reeling at the thought of losing a valuable counter-attack tool.
The Court, in its decision, found that a copyright had been adequately established in a lawyer's cease and desist letter. The unauthorized publication of the letter, therefore, can expose the publisher to liability. Statutory damages under the US Copyright Act can be as much as $150,000 per occurrence plus attorneys' fees that can average $750,000 through trial. The publisher of the letter raised First Amendment and "fair use" arguments without success.
John W. Dozier, Jr., Esq., President of Dozier Internet Law, PC, was not surprised by the decision. "In today's world, anticipating how the Courts will view 'new age' arguments is not easy. Dozier Internet Law has been using copyright protected cease and desist letters for years with great success in protecting our business clients and preventing an escalation of a situation. The publication of cease and desist letters is an easy way for scofflaws to generate online 'mobosphere' support for illegal activity and, until today, many businesses have been hesitant to take action to address some of the lawlessness online because of possible retaliation and attacks."