Last week, we received a legal letter from one of the UK’s most prominent law firms, making various threats to try to get us to take down an article. We wanted to show you what it’s like to receive a legal threat, but the law makes it a little tricky. Tricky, but not impossible…
If 2016 has been a good year for anyone other than obituary writers, it’s privacy lawyers.
The number of legal letters that have been fired off in the last two weeks regarding the now-incredibly-infamous celebrity threesome injunction is huge. The lawyers in charge of that particular case have been working day and night to ensure that no mention of this stupid fucking gag goes unchallenged, sending out emails well into the wee small hours to make their presence felt.
We received another rather official looking letter last Friday making it clear that we had incurred the displeasure of a law firm who could make our lives very uncomfortable indeed. There was nothing in the way of actual action, you understand. But it did make it clear they are poised to snitch on us to the Attorney General if we don’t do as they say.
It was a bark-heavy, bite-light attempt to scare us into shutting up (and maybe rack up another couple of billable hours).
You see, the thing is, we’ve done nothing wrong this time. We wrote a perfectly legitimate article about a very common practice in Fleet Street – because it was newsworthy. We didn’t identify anyone or anything covered by the injunction, we very clearly told people how dangerous it was to publicly speculate and we ran it all past our legal team to check it was within the bounds set out by the court.
It was, and we believe that it still is.
Seeing as it is pertinent to the wider story, we thought you might be interested to read the sort of legal letters that arrive when a law firm tries to get publishers to take down material which is perhaps unflattering but perfectly legal.
The trouble is, we put ourselves in danger of being in breach of copyright if we publish the whole thing verbatim – and it would be just awful if we’d got this far only to piss it all up the wall by doing something as silly as reproducing a legal letter.
Thankfully, there are a few workarounds to copyright law. So, if only as an exploratory adventure into the outer edges of the law, let’s see how much of it we’re legally allowed to publish.
The law allows us to duplicate a certain amount of copyrighted material if it is done so for the purpose of news reporting.
As the story about the celebrity injunction is still in the news (it’s been on many front pages this last week, and a topic of conversation on a number of television and radio discussion shows) the content of this letter very much pertains to current affairs. Specifically, current affairs which fall within our purview.
So here’s that bit:
The provisions that protect us here do state that we must acknowledge the original copyright holders, which we do freely and happily: THE LAW FIRM CARTER-RUCK WROTE THIS.
Copyright law also permits the usage of a certain amount of copyrighted material for the purposes of review or criticism. This is the same exemption which allows movie review shows to play clips from copyrighted films when discussing them, or allows book reviewers to quote sections from the books they’re dissecting.
We don’t wish to be mean-spirited, so here’s a review of one of the nicer sections of their letter:
As you can see from this passage, Carter-Ruck’s reputation for being brutish and bullying is perhaps a little undeserved. Here it is clear that – although a touch misguided in their conceit – they are more than capable of conducting themselves entirely reasonably and with a high level of professionalism.
Enclosing the copy of the Order for injunction was also a very kind gesture. It was not a requirement, so we can see that they are generous and thoughtful, as well as being courteous in tone.
8/10. Would recommend.
Again, to fulfill our accreditation commitments, we should say: THE LAW FIRM CARTER-RUCK WROTE THAT AND THEY REMAIN THE SOLE RIGHTHOLDERS.
As well as making provisions for editorial purposes, the law also protects certain artistic works which make use of a reasonable amount of copyrighted material.
So we made one.
Not For Publication (2016) – 210x291mm, Mixed Materials on Card
We have absolutely no intention of selling this piece (it’s unlikely we’d find a buyer with the necessary lack of taste to purchase it), so we can state quite honestly that this artwork has not been created for any commercial purpose. It is a pure expression of art.
Parody, caricature and pastiche are also afforded a degree of legal protection. Comedians, satirists and other such wags are allowed to use small amounts of copyrighted material in order to amuse and entertain.
That being so, we present a new parody comedy character we’re currently workshopping, Fussbudget.
(NB: If anyone from Radio 4 or ITV wants to use Fussbudget the lawyer in any of their satire shows, they are entirely welcome to him. They too will have to credit law firm Carter-Ruck if they choose to use this particular sketch though.)
Original Source Material
The letter then went on to quote some sections from landmark cases to attempt to prove their point – specifically Attorney General v Times Newspapers Ltd  and Attorney General v Leveller Magazine Ltd .
We have gone to the original judgements to copy and paste the sections that they copied and pasted, just to make extra sure that we aren’t in breach of the law firm’s copyright.
Another thing that falls under copyright exemption is the production of materials to help those with disabilities or impairments.
So here’s the next paragraph in Braille.
Sadly, that’s about as far as the law will protect us in this – and we still have two paragraphs and a sign-off to go.
So we’ve bunged the rest in Google Translate, sent it on a world tour of a half-dozen international languages before returning it to English. It now no longer bears an exact enough resemblance to their original words – but it still makes about an equal amount of sense to the original: