The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

"The Copyrighted Demand Letter, Redux"


Paul Alan Levy (Public Citizen) has the latest example:

It's been many years since John Dozier and his associates suffered the humiliation (and subjected their clients to the Streisand Effect) that followed from their habit of appending a threat of copyright infringement litigation to their defamation demand letters, but a newly minted "defamation attorney" from Houston named Paul Sternberg seems determined to follow in their path. The story began when one of his clients, a fellow named Christopher J Nanda, proclaimed on social media that his office window put him in a perfect position to aim his well-oiled automatic rifle at Black Lives Matter protesters in Wisconsin. Jana Hall took issue with this post, and used Twitter to call it to the attention of Nanda's employer, which promptly sacked him.

Sternberg then wrote a letter to both Hall and her husband …, warning that he was going to sue both of them, potentially ruining her husband's business, if she did not take down the tweets, "de-index" the tweets (that is, prevent Google from linking to them, part of the defamation services that his web site promises, circumventing what he claims is protection that web sites enjoy under the Freedom of Information Act [yes, that's what Sternberg's site says -EV]), and promise never to speak online about Nanda ever again. When she posted his demand letter on Twitter, both to call him to task for his threats and to crowd-source her quest for advice on how to respond to them, he angrily threatened her by claiming she had infringed his copyright in the letter, demanding that she remove it, as well, from her Twitter feed.

In a letter to Mr. Sternberg I have explained the error of his ways and urged him to retract his copyright claim. Happily, his web site makes clear that I did not have to explain the Streisand Effect to him….

UPDATE[:] Although Mr. Sternberg did not have the good grace to send Hall a letter retracting his copyright claim, he has now rescinded it in an email to me.