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I've received a cease and desist letter for defamation from a local businessperson that I believe to be without legal basis - the actionable statements listed are clearly statements of my opinion. Would it be legal to publish this letter publicly, or send it to a newspaper, to let people know that this businessperson is throwing their legal weight around and bullying community members to try to protect their reputation?

To clarify this is a completely separate question from "is it legal to perform the actions listed in the letter" - I'm asking if sharing the letter itself is legal or illegal.

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    At first, I thought this trivial to answer; then the idea of copyright sprung, unbidden, to mind and now I dare not make an attempt. Commented Feb 21, 2023 at 20:00
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    This is the quintessential (open) response to such a letter: news.lettersofnote.com/p/very-truly-yours
    – Alan
    Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 7:11
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    @Alan I like that, also see the reply given in the case of Arkell v. Pressdram
    – stuart10
    Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 9:35
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    And which country it refering to?
    – convert
    Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 20:21
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    Could you be much more clear, please? The phrase '… the actionable statements listed…' is at best very close to an admission the statements were actionable, because that's exactly what you yourself said. That such '… are clearly statements of my opinion' is itself your opinion and, in the circumstances, hardly conclusive. Commented Feb 23, 2023 at 0:07

2 Answers 2

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Is it legal to publish a cease and desist letter that I have received?

Generally speaking, yes.

My interpretation of your post is that you published your opinion about a business or businessperson, and the businessperson now is trying to intimidate you or deter you from sharing with others your opinion. The phrase "the actionable statements listed are clearly statements of my opinion" is otherwise unclear. Under defamation law, only false statements of fact are actionable whereas statements of opinion are not. The businessperson is not entitled to your silence.

If your criticism is about the business, the cease and desist letter sounds in unfair and misleading practices to the extent that the business is trying to conceal from the public some inconvenient information that you as actual or potential customer possess. Even if you published as a competitor, your statements would have to be untrue and misleading for these to constitute disparagement. See the Black's Law Dictionary definition of disparagement [of Goods].

For the reasons stated in the other answer, copyright issues are not a matter of concern. It is preferable to publish the letter as is. Transparency preempts confusion as to "I said, he said". By contrast, paraphrasing the letter for the purpose of avoiding an imaginary violation of copyright creates a risk of you inadvertently giving him grounds for a claim of defamation.

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    – feetwet
    Commented Feb 23, 2023 at 18:12
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You have no statutory or contractual duty to restrict your responses to the attorney. The prospects that the letter contains material of sufficient originality that it is protected by copyright are low, insofar as such letters tend to be formulaic and the original text may have been written a hundred years ago. Your purpose in disseminating the work is commentary, one of the classical motivating factors behind the copyright concept of "fair use".

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    "Fair use" only applies in some jurisdictions, the OP hasn't specified where this is happening. Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 7:49
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    "Fair Use" is more likely to succeed as a defence if the letter is published alongside a request for help, rather than something like "look what this asshole is doing:"
    – MikeB
    Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 8:25
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    Whether or not fair use applies is somewhat irrelevant... It's hard to imagine a case where any letter, let alone a legal one, would have copyright protection. Unless the letter enclosed a snippet of a book or something the author was working on. Commented Feb 23, 2023 at 15:56
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    @ScottishTapWater "It's hard to imagine a case where any letter, let alone a legal one, would have copyright protection." I think that this statement is false and dangerously misleading - can you provide some grounding for this? IMHO there is a strong consensus that letters definitely do have copyright protection by default, see lexology.com/library/… or rightsofwriters.com/2011/02/… , and fair use is very relevant as that would be the primary reason permitting publishing.
    – Peteris
    Commented Feb 23, 2023 at 19:54
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    I worked for a company that sold copyright-protected letter texts. I've seen copyright protected books for sale providing copyrighted letter texts. I frequently see model contracts protected by copyright. It is certainly the case that lawyers assert copyright on some of their boilerplate text, including "letters".
    – david
    Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 3:26

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